What’s in a name?
In boxing, a fighter’s name can mean a lot. Money. Opportunities. And perhaps most of all: bragging rights.
“I understand that there are these young guys who would rather beat a name like Zab Judah than win a world title. To them, that just solidifies them as much as being a champion of the world by beating me,” said Judah, 34, who will be facing a man 10 years his junior in Paris.
“I understand that. But … I’m excited again. I feel like I’m back at 22 years old. I promise you, man, I will come in there and give you guys the excitement that I did when I was 22.”
That’s the age at which an undefeated Judah captured his first crown, the vacant IBF junior welterweight title, with a fourth-round stoppage of Jan Piet Bergman in February of 2000.
Judah defended that belt five times, with four knockouts, before being dethroned via second-round stoppage against Kostya Tszyu in November of 2001.
But even now, at a point when many consider Judah (41-7, 28 knockouts) to be at the twilight of his career, he believes that he can still be a force in the talented 140-pound division.
“Anybody that knows me knows that winning means more to me than anything,” said Judah. “I don’t care who it is, the opportunity at hand means that Zab Judah has to step in there and be the best Zab Judah that he can be.”
A former RING welterweight champion, as well as ex-holder of the WBA, WBC and IBF welterweight and WBO junior welterweight titles, Judah will face Paris (26-0, 15 KOs) in an IBF eliminator on the NBC Sports Network’s “Fight Night” from the Aviator Sports Complex in Judah’s native Brooklyn, N.Y.
The last time Judah fought in his home town was as a teenager.
“This is the first time that I’ll be fighting in Brooklyn as a professional. You know, it’s a great feeling,” said Judah. “The last time that I think that I think that I fought in Brooklyn was around the days of the Golden Gloves.”
Judah regained the IBF junior welterweight belt by beating Kaizer Mabuza last year, but lost it by fifth-round knockout against Amir Khan in his most recent fight, ending a streak of five straight wins, three of them by knockout, since a ninth-round technical decision loss to Joshua Clottey in August of 2008.
“I think that people kind of forget that just last July, I was a champion of the world, you know?,” said Judah.
“Now, I’m coming back to rightfully get back what was mine. Every fighter steps into the ring trying to gain as much as the other fighter. Vernon Paris means the same thing as Amir Khan.”
Judah hopes to recapture his youth against Paris, citing boxers well-known for capturing titles much later in their careers as examples.
“If you watch the great Bernard Hopkins, Bernard Hopkins does it time after time. George Foreman has shown the world. He’s done it. But I’m not even comparing myself to those guys, age-wise,” said Judah.
“But at 34 years of age right now, it’s funny how they’ll call you old. I’m just 34 years old. I don’t understand what’s old about me.”
Judah vows to personify the “Super” in his nickname against Paris.
“We’ll go in there and bring back the Zab Judah of the old. I feel like I’m Super Man going into the booth, and when he came out, he was back into Super Man again,” said Judah. “This is Zab Judah all over again. I’m retreating back to my roots of Brooklyn, and when I come out of the booth, it’s going to be with flying colors again.”
Judah’s past includes losses to world champions such as Clottey, Tszyu, Miguel Cotto, Carlos Baldomir, Cory Spinks and Floyd Mayweather Jr., with the setbacks against Cotto and Clottey, Mayweather, Spinks and Baldomir taking place in the welterweight division.
“At 140, that’s the weight class that I feel great at,” said Judah. “I feel like I could go out and eat filet mignon or a burger, and still weigh 140 pounds. This is my solid, natural weight, and I don’t plan on leaving it no more.”
Judah believes that his experiences, good and bad, will make him too troublesome for Paris.
“What’s old? Old is experience and experience is great. Experience is the key factor in winning. Come March 24, Vernon Paris is going to see that,” said Judah. “He’s going to be in the depths of water that he’s never seen before and there will be no bottom for him to stand on.”
Photos by Emily Harney, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org