There’s no doubt that Amir Khan is favored to beat Zab Judah when the junior welterweight titleholders clash on July 23 in Las Vegas.
Khan is younger, bigger, faster and arguably stronger, plus the 24-year-old British star has the most-respected trainer of this era, Freddie Roach, in his corner.
Odds makers opened the fight listing Khan at -575 and Judah at +450, essentially making the 33-year-old veteran a 5-to-1 underdog.
The lopsided odds are perhaps justified when taking into account how often Judah has come up short in big fights (against Kostya Tszyu, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Miguel Cotto) or lost to fighters he probably should have defeated (such as Carlos Baldomir and Joshua Clottey).
However, Judah, who is still a world-class puncher, can be considered a “live dog” against Khan, whose chin remains something of a question mark despite winning a close unanimous decision over powerful slugger Marcos Maidana in December.
Khan (25-1, 17 knockouts), who was knocked out in one round by Breidis Prescott in his only loss more than 2½ years ago, barely survived his rocky moments against Maidana, who had the 2004 Olympic silver medalist out on his feet in the dramatic 10th round of their fight of the year candidate.
Khan proved his mettle by surviving those tough final rounds but his chin barely passed the “puncher’s test.” Judah, who has won five in a row, three by stoppage, is confident that Khan’s chin will not hold up against his fast and powerful shots.
“Khan’s been tested once, against Maidana,” Judah told members of the media following the kick-off press conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “Maidana is a hard hitter but he’s also one of the slowest punchers in boxing.
“Maidana doesn’t have my speed or my skill and he was still running Khan out of the ring in the last four rounds of their fight. Khan can’t run from me like he did from Maidana. Sooner or later, I’m going to catch him.”
However, Judah says he has more than a “puncher’s chance” of beating Khan in their HBO-televised showdown at the Mandalay Bay.
The former undisputed welterweight champ provided three reasons he’s a longshot worth betting on:
1. His return to the junior welterweight division, where he’s held three titles and only lost once (his second-round KO to Tszyu back in 2001),
2. His partnership with Main Event’s CEO Kathy Duva, who encouraged the drop back to the 140-pound division and promoted his last three bouts (an ESPN2-televised third-round TKO of Jose Armando Santa Cruz last July, an HBO-televised split decision over undefeated Lucas Mathysse last November and a seventh-round stoppage of Kaizer Mabuza, which earned him the vacant IBF title in March), and
3. His new trainer, Pernell Whitaker, who began working with him before the Mabuza fight.
“I’m a totally different man from when I lost to Mayweather and Cotto,” Judah said. “Back then I was having issues with my former promoter (Don King), which took me off my game and kept me inactive. And I hurt myself when I was suspended after the Mayweather fight (for a deliberate foul and nearly causing a riot in the arena). All I did was hang out and spend my money while I was out of the ring between the Mayweather and Cotto fights.
“I’ve grown up a lot since then. I’m right with God, so my mind is more focused now. I’m back with my original promoter (Duva) and she’s keeping me active with the right fights to get back to where I belong. I feel like I shook the rust off with my last three fights and I’m very comfortable now that I’m back at 140 pounds, my natural weight. I could punch at welterweight but I think I might hit a little harder at 140.”
However, Judah says the fight will be won with his experience, not brute power. Whitaker, a former four-division titleholder who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006, is helping Judah get the most out of his 15 years of pro experience, which includes 49 bouts.
“We interact very well together,” Judah said of his relationship with Whitaker, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist who was known for his slick defense and ring savvy. “Pernell is not one of those trainers who tries to direct his fighters from a chair in the gym. He’s up in the ring with me showing me little moves and helping me with my technique.
“We run together, we play basketball, we talk, and he’s motivating me to equal what he did, which is win six world titles. I’ve got five now. When I beat Khan, I’ll have six. And everybody who wrote me off will have to write me back in.”
Photo by Carlos Delgado / Hoganphotos-Golden Boy Promotions.