When IBF junior welterweight beltholder Zab Judah disrobes in the ring for Saturday night's bout with WBA counter part Amir Khan, first-time observers might notice the fighter's chiseled upper torso along with his massive, muscular arms.
The 33-year-old veteran’s eye-popping physique is the result of his work with controversial conditioning and nutrition guru Victor Conte, the BALCO founder who did a prison stint for his work with illegal performance-enhancing drugs in numerous professional sports a few years ago.
"I'm just feeling great these days," said Judah (41-6, 28 knockouts). "I'm very much looking forward to the bell going 'Ding-Ding' on Saturday night."
To hear his trainer Pernell Whitaker tell it, Judah, who weighed around 143 pounds at the beginning of the week, will not only be carrying around anvils for arms but is also virtually gliding on winged feet.
"Zab might have more muscularity, but he won't weigh but 140 pounds," Whitaker said during a phone call on Tuesday from the Hit Factory Gym, where he is training Judah. "Zab ain't no damn heavyweight. He is not going to be a gorilla, he's going to be a boxer. (The muscles) won't bother his quickness or his ability to move."
Judah will be after his sixth straight victory and his fourth knockout during that run against the Khan (25-1, 17 KOs), who is on a seven-bout winning streak that includes three stoppages going into their bout at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on HBO.
"God is great, and so far, everything has turned out beautifully. God is blessing me with nothing but great results," said Judah, whose supplementation and special high-altitude training simulation programs are being overseen by Conte. The fitness guru is working with a number of world-class athletes, including ultra-talented bantamweight titleholder Nonito Donaire.
"I've probably been working with Zab for about five weeks now,” Conte told RingTV.com. “I think that he is a very talented fighter and a terrific person. I greatly appreciate the opportunity he has given to me. This should be an exciting fight between two very gifted athletes with excellent teams helping both of them to prepare.
"But I believe Zab will win the fight because of his belief system and experience. I find all of the bold talk by the Khan team to be amusing. Zab is stronger, faster and smarter than ever before and he is highly motivated. If Khan and his team really expect to overwhelm Zab as they claim, then they may be in for a big surprise on fight night."
If one goes by the results he‘s had with Donaire, Conte has an excellent track record with boxers.
Donaire, a former IBF flyweight beltholder and interim 115-pound titlist, debuted at 118 pounds with a fourth-round knockout of former ex-beltholder Wladimir Sidorenko last December. The San Francisco-based Filipino broke the nose of the former Olympian, who was stopped for the first time in his career.
In February, Donaire just as easily scored his 25th consecutive victory and his 10th knockout in his past 12 fights by dethroning highly regarded veteran Fernando Montiel (45-3-2, 35 KOs), of Mexico with a second-round knockout.
"You know, the things that Victor does for me are incredible," said Donaire in February, prior to facing Montiel. "At the same time, the high-altitude simulation, just the overall things that Victor does for me, I'm blessed to have him in my corner. And I'm not afraid to say his name."
Conte made a four-year career out of helping athletes to circumvent Olympic-style drug testing policies until BALCO was raided in 2003, after which he was briefly imprisoned. But has said he has turned over a new leaf.
Since 1988, Conte has run SNAC, an acronym for Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning, which is an organization that he says supplies legal sports nutrition products and supplements.
"I've been with Victor now for a while. We've just been working for a couple of months," said Judah. "Victor's a nice guy despite his rap sheet that people give him. I like him because we're kind of similar in certain ways. People judge us from our past."
Just as Conte claims to be a changed man, so Judah appears to have resurrected a once-troubled career.
Judah's past includes putting a choke hold on referee Jay Nady following a second-round knockout loss to Kostya Tszyu in November 2001 and intentionally hitting Floyd Mayweather Jr. below the belt, which ingnited an in-the-ring brawl during a 12-round decision loss to Mayweather in April 2006.
Conte has said that he is lending his expertise toward anti-doping efforts in sports in general.
"Victor Conte is a very standup guy, and he's a very loyal guy. People will always say that he was known for his steroid cases and X, Y and Z," said Judah. "But you know what? I would put one arm around Victor Conte and stick out the other arm for a blood test. And I know that everything would still turn out great."
In addition to Conte, Judah has in his corner a former four-division titleholder in Whitaker, who will be working Judah's corner for the second straight fight.
"Victor Conte is more or less a conditioner and a motivator, and you know that being in shape and having a great-looking body does not necessarily change your fighting ability," said Judah. "But I think that for my fighting ability, I owe that credit to Pernell Whitaker, and he's the No. 1 guy in that respect.
"That's what's got me in the great shape that I'm in today. As far as my boxing ability, I'm just ready to get busy."
Whitaker, a southpaw defensive wizard who went 41-4-1 (with 17 knockouts), paired with Judah for the first time in March.
That's when Judah ended Kaizer Mabuza’s winning streak at eight fights, stopping the South African for the vacant belt he now owns.
"Everyone's doing their job," said Judah. "And come Saturday night, you're going to see the best Zab Judah that you guys have been looking forward to seeing."
Photos / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com