The same thing has been said about Zab Judah for years: “If Judah loses this time out, his career as a relevant fighter is finished.” Judah has now amassed seven losses over his 15-plus-year career, yet the dire prognostications have never come to fruition.
Coming off a disappointing fifth-round knockout loss to Amir Khan last summer, talk again turned to the familiar doom-and-gloom prediction for the 34-year-old southpaw – Judah is finished as a relevant fighter.
Only this time around, it seems like it might be true.
Judah (41-7, 28 knockouts) fights in his native Brooklyn, N.Y., as a pro for the first time on Saturday, against 24-year-old unbeaten junior welterweight Vernon Paris (26-0, 15 knockouts) at the Aviator Sports Complex on NBC Sports Network’s Fight Night. And if Judah doesn’t prevail against the dangerous fighter from Detroit, Mich., his homecoming could turn into a farewell.
“I’ve accomplished a lot, five-time champion of the world, two different weight classes, undisputed [at 147],” Judah told RingTV.com. “I would love to go ahead and become six-time champion of the world. My heart is set on it. With the will of God, I will make it happen.”
Judah, THE RING’s No. 6-rated junior welterweight, returned to the 140-pound weight class in 2010, after many years at welterweight, where he was undisputed champion. Judah’s career has been all about peaks and valleys. He wrested the 147-pound throne from Cory Spinks with a knockout victory in Spinks’ hometown of St. Louis in 2005, the pinnacle of Judah’s career. Yet he lost the championship less than a year later in what was supposed to be a routine defense against Carlos Baldomir.
Judah has shown great longevity in the sport, still remaining relevant after all these years. So when his opponent on Saturday calls him old, he scoffs, pointing to so many fighters on the pound-for-pound list older than he.
“[He calls me old], but what does that make a [Floyd] Mayweather, Klitschko [brothers], Bernard Hopkins, Sergio Martinez,” said Judah, who is promoted by Kathy Duva’s Main Events. “What does that make them guys? Those guys are all older than me. Does that make them Grandfather Time? When you speak of old, you speak of longevity. He’s been hearing my name because I’ve been champion of the world since I was 21-years-old. I turned professional at 18.
“He’s been hearing my name for so long. But that’s called greatness. Some guys come in the game, win, lose and they’re gone. Pretty much what will probably happen to him in his career. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.”
Paris, THE RING’s No. 10 junior welterweight, is a rough and tough customer, having been shot and stabbed in altercations in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. Through all the injuries and wounds, Paris earned a spot on the main event of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights last year and capitalized, stopping Tim Coleman to set up the match with Judah.
This fight is for the IBF junior welterweight mandatory position, which would match the winner on Saturday against the winner of the rematch between Khan and Lamont Peterson.
“He’s made it to a level where he’s put himself in the No. 1 position, and I’ll give him credit for that,” said Judah. “But come Saturday night, we’re going to find out [about him].
“There is no way that he can disrespect me. Vernon Paris is still not even known so how can he disrespect me? No matter what he says, he can never take away my legacy and my legendary stuff I’ve done in boxing.”
Judah has once again changed trainers for this bout, splitting with the legendary Pernell Whitaker, who trained him for his last two fights. After being trained by his father Yoel for most of his career, his uncle James Harvey will be the chief second for this bout.
“Pernell’s always with us, but just right now he’s not training for this fight with us,” said Judah. “That’s a call that I made. We’re cool, there is no beef. I love Pernell Whitaker, he’s like an uncle to me.”
Judah doesn’t feel any added pressure for this fight, stating “Every fight is a must win, but I don’t put this fight no different than any other fight.” After his poor performance against Khan, the fight is likely a must win.
For now, Judah is focused on his homecoming to Brooklyn and setting up an opportunity to become a six-time champion, even if many people have already disregarded him as a top fighter.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Judah. “I fought there as an amateur, but never as a professional. We’re going to have the whole Brooklyn area, the whole New York area come out and support. It’s to be a great night of boxing. And at the end of the day, Zab Judah will be victorious.”
Mike Coppinger is a member of the Ring Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo! Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is also a regular contributor to USA TODAY’s boxing coverage. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger.