Zab Judah shadow boxes as former stablemate and mentor Pernell Whitaker looks on. Judah, who was once compared to hall-of-fame inductee Whitaker, believes he can regain the 140-pound championship at age 35.
After losing a spot on the 1996 U.S. Olympic squad (to future lightweight beltholder David Diaz), Zab Judah embarked on his pro career and looked so impressive as a prospect that boxing pundits called him “Pernell Whitaker with power.”
He fell short equaling the success of his fellow southpaw (and promotional stablemate for a time), who is now enshrined in the hall of fame, but living up to those lofty expectations was always going to be almost impossible. Still, Judah has accomplished more than most prize fighters – even elite boxers.
Judah has won six world titles – three 140-pound belts, as well as the unified welterweight championship with arguably the best performance of his career when he upset Cory Spinks. Though not to every fans’ taste and with seemingly more lives than the proverbial cat, Judah is always exciting inside the ring while his loquacious demeanor outside it have enabled him to garner several opportunities (more than some would like).
Fast forward to the present day, Judah is entering his 17th year as a pro with his 36th birthday looming this October. This Saturday, after a near three-month postponement, Judah (42-7, 29 knockouts) will enter the ring as a sizeable underdog when he meets upstart Danny Garcia for THE RING magazine, WBC and WBA junior welterweight laurels in the main event of a Showtime-televised card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The two have traded barbs through various media outlets, but here’s what Judah had to candidly say when RingTV.com spoke with him recently.
Anson Wainwright: On Saturday, you have the opportunity to win THE RING magazine, WBC and WBA 140-pound titles. What are your thoughts at the moment on fighting Garcia?
Zab Judah: It’s a great event for boxing. It’s going to be a fantastic night and I’m looking forward to it. He’s a champion. You’ve got to respect him for his accomplishments. It takes a very mighty person to climb through the ropes, so I give him credit for being champion.
AW: How do you feel with regards the fight’s postponement from Feb. 9 until April 27? How has that affected you?
ZJ: It’s not affected me. It’s a part of boxing. Danny got injured or whatever. It happened. Mentally, Team Judah and Zab Judah is very strong for things like this. We’re ready.
AW: At the press conference there was bad blood – mostly between you and Danny’s father Angel. Looking back on that what are your thoughts?
ZJ: Um yeah, it was something that happened. It’s something that’ll never happen to me again. I wasn’t prepared for that situation. I didn’t think it would happen but it happened, but hey, it’s all good.
AW: By fight time it will be 13 months since you last fought. You’re also 35 now. Can you tell us about the time off you’ve had between the Vernon Paris fight and now the Garcia fight?
ZJ: I just worked hard, a lot of sparring. I was prepared to fight (Lamont) Peterson. I went through two different training camps – the Lamont Peterson training camp, then the first training camp for Danny Garcia; three actually, because of the training camp for the second Danny Garcia fight. Now I actually get to fight. So I’ve done a lot of training. We’re ready to go.
AW: Before your last fight when you stopped Vernon Paris, none of your fights had taken place in Brooklyn. In that fight you were supremely motivated. Can you tell us about what it meant to you to fight in front of your people and what it will be like fighting Garcia in front of them?
ZJ: I mean, it’s me. I am Brooklyn, Brooklyn is me. It’s a dream to have the Barclays Center in the middle of a city I ran around and did God knows what for years and now I get to go back and be a type of role model. I have friends, family who’ll come out and enjoy a great night of boxing.
AW: Who are your team members these days? Your manager, trainer, also where are you training for this fight?
ZJ: My team is the dream team. I like to call them the dream team. We’re looking for the rookie of the year award this year. I start with my uncle James Harvey, Morris East, Darryl Finnegan and my benefits manager Bill – that’s team Judah. I train at L.A Boxing/UFC. When you’re looking to get in shape sign up (laughs)!
AW: You grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn. Could you share a little of you’re younger days with us?
ZJ: Yeah, I grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn; Brownsville and Flatbush. It’s a very tough rugged neighborhood, either swim or be drowned. That’s all I can say (laughs).
AW: How did you become interested and take up boxing?
ZJ: I always boxed from (the time I was) 6 years old. I guess it made me mentally tough. You know, street life made me even tougher. This is why I tell you it’s crazy. I was doing things I really I had no business doing, but hey, it is what it is.
AW: You have some friends who were boxing greats, one of course being Mike Tyson, the other, Pernell Whitaker, you trained with for a spell. Could you talk about those relationships and how they influenced you?
ZJ: I mean, what better influence to have than two of the greats. You got Pernell Whitaker a welterweight sensation, defensive wise, and eight-time champion of the world. Then you’ve got Mike Tyson who was at one time known as the “Baddest Man on the Planet.” To have that kind of company is great. I thank God for that. Mike has his one man show April 28the day after I fight. He has his Broadway play in New York City, so he will be at the fight. So once again, we’ll have another spectacular, beautiful night. If you can’t learn from those guys you can’t learn from anybody. Hang the gloves up (laughs)!
AW: What has so far been the proudest moment of your career?
ZJ: I don’t know. I feel like I’ve had a lot of good moments, but I still feel the best is yet to come.
AW : Who was the best fighter you shared a ring with?
ZJ: Floyd Mayweather. His defense (makes him special). His offence is good but it’s defense. The way boxing goes if a man can’t hit you a man can’t beat you.
Who was the hardest puncher?
ZJ: Lucas Matthysse.
AW: There’s a guy who fight’s at lightweight, Adrien Broner. He’s the new kid on the block, what are your thoughts on him?
ZJ: Broner’s a good little fighter. It’s hard to tell because he hasn’t been in with a lot of good opposition yet. I like him. He brings style to the sport. He’s talking it and walking it. That’s what you’re supposed to do. He’s doing a good job.
AW: Tell us a little about yourself away from boxing and what you enjoy doing?
ZJ: I enjoy spending time with my children, and I go to church.
AW: In closing do you have a message for Danny Garcia and his father Angel?
ZJ: I don’t have a message for Angel, I’m not fighting him. For Danny, work hard, see you on the 27th.
Photos / Scott Heavey, Ed Mulholland, Doug Benc, Al Bello-Getty Images