Zab Judah is certain that he sparred with Paulie Malignaggi several years ago.
“We were young, we were kids. He was an amateur,” Judah said.
Malignaggi said Judah is wrong. It never happened.
“I remember all the named fighters that I sparred,” Malignaggi said. “I don’t remember sparring Zab. I know when I spar with major fighters. We had different training times (at Gleason’s Gym). I don’t spar southpaws for no reason.’’
Judah is sure it happened.
“After these hands and hooks, amnesia comes on. So people forget. It’s OK. We’ll have to remind people,” Judah said.
Memories will be jogged, along with other vital organs, when Judah and Malignaggi met in an old-fashion, all-Brooklyn welterweight showdown over a scheduled 12 rounds at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Showtime on Saturday night.
“When they made the Barclays Center it was made for this fight,” said Malignaggi. “It’s Brooklyn fighters for Brooklyn fans in Brooklyn.”
Malignaggi is right. It’s very unlikely fight fans in Manhattan, Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx, let alone the rest of the country, will have the same passion as Brooklyn boxing fans about the match up two highly decorated Brooklyn-born amateurs who became noted junior welterweight and welterweight world champions. But the Barclays Center will be rocking on Saturday night.
“It’s a big opportunity for Brooklyn, good opportunity for the Barclays Center, and for boxing. You’ve got two good boxers here,” Judah said. “I know he’s going to come in there and throw a lot of punches. He’s looking to uphold part of the bargain.”
Both Judah and Malignaggi are in the twilight of their careers. Judah, 36, has been at the game a little longer than Malignaggi. He was one win away from making the 1996 U.S. Olympic boxing team, losing to David Diaz in the finals of the U.S. trials and finished his amateur career with a record of 110-5.
Judah was something of a gym legend when Malignaggi was coming up in the amateur ranks. Malignaggi recalls waiting all day at Gleason’s Gym just to watch Judah spar.
“I worked out at 8 o’clock in the morning and he worked out at night. One day I stayed all day and waited for him,” Malignaggi said. “He sparred this guy Victor Rosado, who had fought on the Golden Gloves. He was beating the brakes off this guy. Zab was so fast and so tough. This guy was a top prospect. I left thinking this guy (Judah) is so special and this is why people are talking about him.
“He was the local guy and everybody was trying to follow in his footsteps. You automatically become a fan. You fast forward to the present it kind of blows you way that we’re going to face each other.”
Both Judah and Malignaggi are coming off losses in world title bouts and while there isn’t a major belt on the line in their match the winner will remain viable in the welterweight title picture.
Judah (42-8, 29 knockouts) is a five-time world champion whose career has been defined more by his losses than his victories. His career defining victory, winning the undisputed welterweight championship from Cory Spinks in Spinks’ hometown of St. Louis, was overshadowed by Judah losing that same title to Carlos Baldomir in Judah’s hometown at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Judah said he admires what Malignaggi (32-5, 7 KOs) has accomplished in his career. It is one of the reasons that their promotion has been free of the type of trash talk that marred the previous promotions that both boxers were involved in.
There are no lingering hard feelings between Judah and Danny Garcia for the way things went down in the promotion for their fight at the Barclays Center this past April. Angel Garcia, Danny’s father, went off the rails and verbally attacked Judah, calling him a washed up, four round fighter.
“That’s their strategy that they use time in and time out,” Judah said. “His father felt that going into the fight with Zab it’s no exception. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do being that we were here in New York City. What can I say? He did it. It was a great night of fighting.”
Judah’s philosophical approach comes with being in the pro ranks for 18 years. It is an amazingly long run. But Judah has always had a world of talent and he has always kept himself in outstanding physical condition.
“I’m very proud of that. I’m still campaigning at a high level of boxing. It’s phenomenal. It doesn’t feel like 18 years,” Judah said.
Malignaggi is equally impressed with Judah’s longevity in boxing. But given Judah’s abundant talent Malignaggi believes Judah could have achieved greater things in boxing.
“When push comes to shove he proves that he doesn’t want to do it all. He doesn’t want to be uncomfortable in a fight,” Malignaggi said. “That’s been his problem in his career. Zab works hard and I think Zab gets himself in shape but there comes a time in a fight when things get difficult and you have to push beyond that.
“He has trouble righting the ship when he loses control of it. People say Zab is a four round fighter. That’s not true. If you’re not able to take Zab to that uncomfortable place, he’ll fight you for 12 rounds.”
Judah doesn’t believe Malignaggi has enough pop to make things uncomfortable for him on Saturday night.
“He ain’t got nothing to hold me off,” Judah said. “It’s been proven from the past if you don’t have anything to hold Zab Judah back he’s going to come and he can punch. We’re going to see.”
Yes everyone in Brooklyn will see and the winner will own the borough for at least a night.
Photos / Hoganphotos-Golden Boy, Naoki Fukuda