Moses stuttered so much that he had his brother speak for him to the pharaoh. Noah got drunk. All the great men in the Book had a weakness to overcome, and so did you. You boxed sometimes as if you believed your own words, as if no one could touch you; you let down your guard, turned off the radar. That old restlessness, the feeling you've always had that you were missing out on something somewhere else—the one that keeps you tapping on your cell phone and pocket e-mail pager when you're talking to someone standing right in front of you—could be deadly in the ring. Jan Bergman dropped you in the second round last year, and Terronn Millett did it in the first round six months later. "See," says Duva, "Zab takes too many chances sometimes. He loses focus, starts listening to the crowd and showboating. You can drop a pin and he'll get distracted. Sometimes he moves his feet too much while he's throwing a punch, and that takes away from his power. But focus is the main problem."
Sure, you became a lunatic after Bergman and Millett knocked you down, Zab. You bounced up and TKO'd them both. Sure, you swept your first 27 fights, 21 by knockouts, and won the IBF crown. The true tests, though, against men who carve up those who lose focus, are only beginning.
First, this Saturday night—seven days after your 24th birthday-comes Kostya Tszyu, and the chance to become the first undisputed junior welterweight champion in 33 years. Tszyu's right hand is devastating, but his straight-ahead style seems made to order for you. Then, for your name to be written in history, you'll have to move up to the welterweight division and meet the formidable champions there: Mosley, Vernon Forrest, Andrew (Six Heads) Lewis. You'll have to prove you can adapt, shift gears and tactics when you're in trouble, as all the great ones have. You'll need a great one in your corner. Will Abba meet the test?
Because it's only him now in your corner, with his brother James as number 2 man. Gone are Duva, who's suing you for breach of contract, and Shields, both let go last year because you found your ears shutting them out, listening for the man who was your reason to box: Abba. Let go because you love the feeling that it's just you and him going to war.
The other Book, the boxing one, says no. Says it's dangerous for a boxer to have his old man screaming in his ear in his moment of greatest peril, his old man telling him what he'd have done—or worse still, afraid to scream in his son's ear, a yes-man blinded by his blood connection. It's working because Abba recedes into the shadows when the cameras come for you, Zab, and because his nearness makes losing unthinkable for you. "I can't let anyone hurt me in front of my father," you say.
Still, what might it do to you, Zab, to the deepest part of you, to look to your corner in your moment of crisis and see the man who can not only lift you but also drop you? Wasn't it only a few years ago that you shrugged off a question your father asked and found yourself on the kitchen floor?
You dismiss any such obstacles. Your lust to dominate, you say, is larger than them all. "A fetish," you call it. "A fetish for control. It's a crazy thought pattern. It's psychotic. This sport is for lunatics. People a quarter past three. Bugged out. God put me here to fight. My goal is, when I'm in my 50s and 60s, people will talk about Ali and Tyson and Zab Judah."
So. The bedtime story didn't work. You're still wired, way past a quarter past three. Your father's still a paradox, a man you'll never unravel, and maybe you don't really want to, because he's the only blueprint for survival, for controlling your fear and becoming a man, that you've got. And because the friction of his contradictions sparks the flame that you take into the ring.
There's no use kidding ourselves. You'll sleep the only way you ever do the night before a fight. Abba will lie down on the bed beside you. You'll finally let go.
You'll get up when daylight comes. You'll be missing two brothers who'd normally be at your side: Ariel and Josiah, both in jail for theft. Daniel, the light heavyweight who hasn't lost in 13 fights, will be there, along with your other brothers, your sister, and mom, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, half-thises and half-thats.