Zab Judah held the undisputed welterweight championship when 2006 dawned and was certain he'd carry the belts into an early-year showdown against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Judah was scheduled to fight a journeyman Argentinean whom few gave a chance to last more than a handful of rounds.
Along with his father, Yoel, Judah mercilessly mocked Carlos Baldomir, his opponent in that New York bout. They intentionally mispronounced his name, taunted him for his lack of skill and predicted an early knockout.
Baldomir speaks no English, but he was well aware of everything that the Judahs were doing and saying.
Yet, he offered no response.
"Why?" Baldomir said through an interpreter. "What would it have done? There was a time to respond."
And when the time came to respond – in the ring – it was Judah who deserved to be mocked. He came into the bout out of shape, was nearly knocked out, lost his titles on a decision and then whined afterward that promoter Don King made him do too many interviews.
Though he was the object of months of scorn and ridicule from the Judahs, Baldomir took no extra delight in separating Judah from the title.
All he could think about was his own family.
He grew up poor in Argentina and had to sell feather dusters on the street to survive. The championship, he knew, would guarantee him another good payday. That, not revenge, was why he rejoiced so greatly when he was announced as the winner.
But after earning subsequent big paydays in fights with Arturo Gatti and Floyd Mayweather Jr., Baldomir has a different mission now as he prepares to fight Vernon Forrest on Saturday at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash., for the vacant WBC super welterweight title.
Baldomir wants to prove he's not the inept, plodding fighter he appeared against Mayweather – when he lost every round on two of the three judges' cards – but rather the man who vaulted from obscurity to welterweight champion.
"I was very badly (dehydrated) before the Mayweather fight," Baldomir said. "That wasn't the real me in that. I want people to see the real Tata."
Baldomir's wins over Judah and Gatti gained him some measure of notoriety. He's recognized on the streets occasionally in the U.S., something that never happened previously unless one of his relatives was walking in the opposite direction.
But he's mostly now recognized for his ineptitude against Mayweather, when he said his arms and legs were leaden.
"I was in the hospital a week before that fight and a lot of my friends, my trainers, the people who were helping me, were worried about me," Baldomir said. "It's not the way you want to go into a big fight like that, but it's what you have to do.
"I'm not saying I would have won the fight. Mayweather is a great fighter. But it would have been a lot different fight had I not been sick, I guarantee you that."
And so Baldomir says he'll see Mayweather when he looks at Forrest, determined to beat the bad memory back.
Forrest is long and angular with a punishing jab and world-class boxing skills. While Forrest isn't quick like Mayweather, he was fast enough and smart enough to score two victories over Shane Mosley.
Baldomir said he hopes Forrest is on top of his game, because he wants a win to mean something.
"Everyone knows how good he's been," Baldomir said of Forrest. "He's got a great record. A win over him, after what I have done, can not be dismissed."
Baldomir plans to stay in Forrest's face and take whatever punishment he has to accept, in order to win the championship.
It's the belt that Mayweather won from Oscar De La Hoya in May, but decided to give up to concentrate on fighting at welterweight.
And Baldomir, who said he was thankful that Mayweather provided him this latest opportunity, said that makes the title more meaningful.
"If you win (a championship) that (Mayweather) had, you know you have accomplished something," Baldomir said. "That's why I've gone through what I have. I have worked harder for this fight than I have for any fight, because I have a point to prove."
- Carlos Baldomir
- Zab Judah
- Vernon Forrest