Zab Gets Zapped
Underdog Kostya Tszyu separated Zab Judah from his senses—and his title
If you're of the opinion that Zab Judah is a coming franchise, one of those properties that can move through boxing and generate money and fame at every stop, you might want to reevaluate your position. Following last Saturday's surprising defeat at the hands of Kostya Tszyu, after which Judah threw a glorious tantrum (and a stool), the would-be superstar dropped from everybody's core holding of blue-chip fighters. He's not in any danger of being delisted, but boxing has enough undefeated prospects that it doesn't need to sell kids who lunge after referees when the real fault is in their own chin.
Judah was surprised, as was most of the public, when the much slower Tszyu caught him with two crisp right hands in the closing seconds of the second round in their bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The 24-year-old Judah, who came into the bout undefeated in 27 fights and much the quicker (not to mention more heavily promoted) boxer, was a 3-to-1 favorite to beat the 32-year-old Tszyu (now 28-1-1) and unify the 140-pound division's three tides. The fight was supposed to be, essentially, a certification of Judah's star power, the consolidation of championships meant to announce his coming out into boxing's elite.
However, that second right hand, which the Russian-born Tszyu called a "really easy, nice, flash right hand," put Judah on his can. He had been there before but had never experienced the comprehensive failure of the nervous system that sometimes comes with a knockdown. "I was not hurt," he said, "but sometimes your body does not agree with you." Judah bounced quickly—way too quickly—to his feet, turned to make some sort of appeal to referee Jay Nady and then began, as one ringsider observed, "walking in potholes." With Nady in pursuit, Judah drunkenly staggered in a semicircle, finally collapsing to his knees, to all fours, to his face.
When Nady waved the fight off with one second left in the round (and without a count, as is the ref's prerogative), Judah regained motor skills, if not composure. He went after Nady, re-strained only by Iris father-trainer Yo'el, returned to his corner, stood on his stool briefly, thought better of it, got down and hurled the stool into the center of the ring.
Judah's camp immediately announced plans for a protest, an action that does not seem grounded on anything beyond wishful thinking, and announced the fighter's apologies, although the fighter himself remained irate over the early stoppage. Gary Shaw, Judah's promoter at Main Events, recited a number of rules he felt had been overlooked, but probably all of them were correctly superseded by the fighter's actual knockout and the ref's inclination to preserve life.
It was an odd turn of events, especially because Judah had begun the bout in overwhelming fashion, swarming the seasoned Tszyu. "I thought I was fighting in 3-D," said Judah, who was rightfully impressed with his multidimensional attack. He said he decided to calm down for the long haul, and it was either for that reason or because of a straight right hand from Tszyu toward the end of that first round that Judah fought the second more cautiously. In any case, Tszyu began taking the action to him, winning the round even before his knockout punch.
Tszyu, who now holds the IBF as well as the WBC and WBA belts, also holds the upper hand in negotiations for a rematch. He might remember that he made only half of Judah's $1 million for the bout. A rematch appears inevitable, though, for Judah has nowhere to go but toward redemption, and Tszyu has no bigger paydays to chase than a second meeting with Judah.
In the case of a rematch the circumstances of Saturday's fight may benefit the loser. Judah might have gone on to win had he been given an eight count (although he didn't deserve one). Given the self-protective thinking that is absolutely required in boxing, however, he does have what every young fighter needs coming off his first loss: an excuse.
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