Zab Judah's secret weapon? His dad

December, 5, 2013
12/05/13
4:36
PM ET
We fight writers can get into a cynical mode after a few years of hearing recycled trash talk, or promises of superlative performances to come.

Boxers state that their next bout will be their best effort, that this camp has been stellar, that viewers are in for a treat ... blah blah blah. I pride myself on not getting into that mode, because 1) I acknowledge how fortunate I am to be doing this for a living, so I take pains not to slip into that hardened hack type of personality and 2) I think the fighters, who put their lives on the line for our entertainment, deserve the benefit of an open mind from the people covering them.

But, I admit, I’m not typically blown away, or swayed in one direction, when I hear a fighter say, as Zab Judah (42-8 with 29 KOs) did today at a Barclays Center press conference to hype his Saturday “Battle of Brooklyn” clash against Paul Malignaggi (32-5 with 7 KOs), a Brownsville vs. Bensonhurt eliminator, that we can expect to see the “old” version of Judah come fight night.

Not that I don’t respect Judah’s belief in that statement, but so much of the talk before so many fights is empty, and signifies next to nothing. So, I noted that element of Judah’s speech while he had his turn at the mic, and moved on. I heard the 33-year-old Malignaggi say that he gets into warrior mode on fight night, and if it happened that they pitted him against his mum, he’d pop her in the nose when the bell rang, because that’s who he is, a fighter. I heard undercard scrapper Anthony Dirrell, going up against WBC 168-pound champ Sakio Bika, promise to stop the Australian resident, and I heard Bika postulate that he didn’t think Michiganer Dirrell had the testicular fortitude to do that, because he’s the sort who does what he needs to do to win the fight. I heard Austin Trout of New Mexico, but with NYC roots, and Cuban-born Erislandy Lara, vying for a win and a money shot against Canelo Alavarez, both promise they’d get the W in their 154-pound clash. I heard Shawn Porter of Ohio announce that he was the Man, the young, hungry battler ready to embrace his first title shot against Devon Alexander, and I heard the IBF welter champ Alexander, a proud St. Louis resident, say that he had the fight already won, because of his experience and technical superiority. I listened to and chuckled at Bernard Hopkins of Golden Boy, who emceed the event, as he cracked wise, kept it light, butchered pronunciations and cleverly played the devilishly rogueish instigator to stir the pot.

But after all that, I didn’t get a true sense of what Judah meant when he promised the old Zab until I left the arena, as I was headed back to Park Slope to write. Outside, I saw Yoel Judah, Zab’s dad. He said that he is back training Zab, and that it will pay dividends on Saturday. “I know how to trigger him,” Yoel told me. “Nobody else can do it. My brother tried, Pernell Whitaker tried, nobody can do it, that’s why he came back home.”

In fact, I thought Zab had reunited with his dad for his most recent fight, a loss to Danny Garcia. But no, in fact, the last time Yoel trained Zab was for his March 2012 fight against Vernon Paris. Not coincidentally, I don’t think, I was impressed by Zab in that fight, mostly with his hand speed and his ferocity. He looked to hammer Paris, trap him in a corner and unload.

Yoel said we will see the same from his son, now age 36, against Malignaggi. “He’s that guy again, young and hungry and ferocious. To get him motivated, I bring up the streets, Brownsville, the hood. We don’t ask for it, we take it. This guy has something you want, shut him down. I’m going to say things that’s going to make him stand up and beat this kid. When Zab throws combinations he’s unstoppable.”

Zab worked with his uncle, James Harvey, for the Garcia fight in April, and with Hall of Famer Whitaker for his loss to Amir Khan in July 2011. Dad said his son does things for him he can’t and won’t do for anyone else. “It’s a fight, you beat the hell of him, it’s not about sticking it out, stand there popping jabs, go get him! Paulie been stopped by his corner,” Yoel said, “but he’s never been hit on the chin and dropped. That’s what we plan on doing.”
Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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