IBF junior welterweight titleholder Zab Judah followed the advice of fellow boxer and friend Nonito Donaire and started working with controversial conditioning and nutrition guru Victor Conte a little more than a month ago.
He has no regrets. Judah (41-6, 28 knockouts) gives Conte credit for his role in helping him prepare for his fight against WBA beltholder Amir Khan (25-0, 17 KOs) Saturday in Las Vegas.
The BALCO founder, who did a prison stint for his work with illegal performance-enhancing drugs in numerous professional sports, ,built a four-year career out of helping athletes to circumvent Olympic-style drug testing policies until BALCO was raided in 2003.
But since being released from prison, Conte appears to have gone legit.
Since 1988, Conte has run SNAC, an acronym for Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning, which is an organization that supplies legal sports nutrition products and supplements.
Now, in addition to Donaire and Judah, the fitness guru is working with a number of world-class athletes — some of whom he has declined to name.
Conte's primary impact on boxers appears to be related to nutrition and high-altitude simulation by the use of a device called the "Hypoxicator," which lends itself to increasing the endurance, energy and recuperative powers of fighters over the course of their bouts.
Conte spoke to RingTV.com about his role with Judah in this Q&A:
RingTV.com: Were you able to personally observe any of the improvements you expect to see displayed by Zab in the ring?
Victor Conte: No, I was not, because I was not physically there in Las Vegas. This was all done by me at a distance. You know, basically how it started and how this came down was that it went this way.
One day, I received a call from Nonito Donaire, who has a beautiful house in Las Vegas. That's how the relationship with Zab Judah started. It began with Nonito calling me with Zab at Nonito’s house. He said, “I'm here with Zab, and Zab has an interest in working with you.”
So when Nonito called, he was there at his home together with Zab. I would guess that was probably five weeks ago that Zab was at Nonito's house.
RingTV.com: Where did things go from there?
VC: Well, arrangements were made, and Zab got tested, and I came up with an individualized nutrition program for Zab specifically to meet his needs and his goals. I have not actually met Zab before, but we communicate and Nonito has been working very closely with Zab. And for the initial week or so, Zab was going to Nonito's house on a daily basis doing hypoxic training there.
Then when Nonito came back to the San Francisco Bay area here, we had a Nonito Donaire meeting, and Zab needed to continue. So Nonito took the hypoxicator to Zab's house. So from that point forward, Zab has been doing it at home and he's been doing that on a daily basis. He takes a photo of himself and we communicate by e-mail and we talk on the phone as well as by text messages.
So any correcting that needs to be done, whether it's hypoxic training or conditioning, we talk, and we make those changes. Nonito has actually been there on a daily basis at the Hit Factory Boxing Gym in Las Vegas with Zab. And, of course, I will be coming to Las Vegas this weekend, and I will be with Nonito at Zab's fight. That will be the first time that I will meet Zab.
RingTV.com: Is what Zab is doing the same as what you are doing with Nonito Donaire, or are there differences?
Now, Zab is also doing the hypoxic training machine. You know, I think that it's important to realize that in the world of boxing, the fighter deserves all of the credit in my opinion. They're the ones who step into the ring alone, and, of course, it's important to have a terrific support team there. But ultimately, I think Zab has done all the things necessary to prepare himself for this fight.
RingTV.com: So how intimate has your involvement been in Zab's preparation?
VC: Well, my interactions with Zab have been limited in the sense that he really, really, really has a lot of confidence going into this fight. As they say, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” I believe that Zab Judah is very well prepared. That's the sense that I get from Zab.
RingTV.com: Why does Zab's body look so ripped and so cut?
VC: Of course I've seen the photos of him, and he looks great. Nonito has said, based on his direct observation, “You know, man, Zab looks big.” That's about being well hydrated and it's about supplying the right nutrition at the right times after he's
So what I'm trying to say is that I'm only playing a small role here, and I don't want this to be blown out of proportion. Over this period of time working with Zab, my opinion is based on my interactions with him.
RingTV.com: How swiftly is your boxing clientele expanding?
VC: As you know, I'm really not a hired gun so to speak. I do the things that I do with athletes who are among a select few. But it's really become a family relationship that I have developed with Nonito. Now, of course I do work with others.
RingTV.com: Can you name any of the others?
VC: Without going into any specific detail, I am working with several new world class boxers, currently, and I've had many opportunities and requests from others. Those are athletes whose associations with me will become public with me very, very soon. I'm very close with Nonito, and I work with other boxing athletes, and I always go to him to get his thoughts.
So there have been others who have come to me as well. So I'm just saying that a lot of people are starting to reach out to me and to communicate with me and they're looking for an opportunity to work with me. A lot of people have read online about my work with Nonito. A lot of people in the boxing world. So without naming names, I've been approached by a lot of different world class fighters.
They are simply looking for the opportunity to work with me. I have not accepted a lot of these opportunities because it's got to be like a family. You know, I'm semi-retired, and I have a business here, and I'm right down the block from the Undisputed Boxing Gym. So I am in the San Franciso Bay area.
And it's just that Nonito has come here for his last three fights to train here in the Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos.
RingTV.com: Do you have a prediction on the fight?
VC: I just have a sense that Zab is at peace, he's relaxed, he's very confident, and I think that he feels very well prepared for this fight. The Khan camp seems to be talking up an early knockout and using all of this sort of bold talk. But I think that if that's what they expect, then they're going to be in for a big surprise. Because Zab is very well prepared by Pernell Whitaker, and this is all coming from Nonito's reports to me, having been there and observed how Zab looks.
I think that Zab is a consummate professional. Zab will probably step into the ring weighing more than he has for his past few fights, and I think that he has the ability to be stronger and faster and more prepared than ever before, and I look for Zab to win.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda