Zab Judah still looking to take that next step

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

NEW YORK – On a card filled with talented boxers, it's almost amazing to think that all these years later, the most purely talented of them just still might be Zab Judah.

Judah will challenge champion Danny Garcia Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the WBA-WBC super lightweight titles.

It's no surprise that Judah, now 35, a Las Vegas resident and far more mellow than the angry Brooklynite he once was, is fighting in a significant bout with multiple titles on the line. He has had multiple title reigns at 140 pounds and was, for a while, the undisputed welterweight champion.

For all he's accomplished, though, he's still left his fans wanting more, and feeling as if he had more to give. Virtually all of his biggest fights managed to get away from him in one way or another.

When he's eventually done he'll get some Hall of Fame votes, but he's unlikely to get elected unless he ends his career with a strong closing kick and picks up a few more quality wins. A victory over an impressive young fighter like Garcia would be a good way to begin.

Judah, understandably, doesn't want to dwell on past failures.

[Related: Two big bouts set for Sept. 14]

"This is a phenomenal situation for me, to be at this stage of my career and fighting for the title in my hometown," he said. "It's like I'm living out a dream. I don't think about anything else but about what I need to do to beat this guy. The past is the past. I don't worry about that unless someone brings it up."

But Shakespeare wrote that "what's past is prologue," and it's on Judah to prove Saturday that's not the case.

For years, he's been almost at the top of the heap, but he hasn't been able to take that one final step. He got knocked out in the second round of a 2001 title unification bout with Kostya Tszyu. He was outboxing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and was in charge of their welterweight title fight until Mayweather made an adjustment and came from behind to beat him.

He recovered from the Mayweather loss quickly enough and got a shot at the then-unbeaten Miguel Cotto in 2007. A win there would have been critical, but he was stopped in the 11th.

In Garcia, he'll face a guy who is on the precipice of stardom. He's yet to go through a murderer's row of the top contenders, but he's met every challenge he faced.

Garcia fights as if there is no pressure and as if he is only there to please the crowd. He's not looking to be cautious and win by decision and that's earning him plenty of respect from the fan base.

"I go out there to get knockouts and to put on a show and entertain the fans who come to see me," Garcia said. "People want to be entertained. They love to see knockouts and that's what I try to deliver each and every time."

So far, he's been able to do that. When Garcia took on Amir Khan last year, plenty of questions surrounded him because of his level of opposition. He had impressive wins over Nate Campbell and Erik Morales on his résumé, but both of those came against fighters who were on the backstretch of their careers. Campbell was 39 and just a shell of the fighter he once was; Morales was 35 and in the next-to-last fight of his fabulous career.

It was difficult to know how much emphasis should be put on those fights as he headed into the Khan fight. Even now, Judah notes that Garcia hasn't come close to fighting the same level of competition as he has.

"He's been matched well, and he has a good promoter, a good manager, a good trainer and everyone with him has done their jobs well," Judah said. "But this is a whole other level."

Garcia was able to do to Khan what Judah couldn't. Garcia knocked Khan down three times and stopped him in the fourth round. A year earlier, Khan was impressive in knocking out Judah with a shot to the midsection.

This fight, though, will take Judah to that other level he spoke about. This is the kind of 50-50 fight he needs to win.

Over the course of his 17-year career, Judah is 12-7 in world title fights. He's very good, but he could have been great. Still, he's in the neighborhood of the Hall of Fame.

Judah insists he's far from the finish line, so there is still time to turn around that perception that he's just a nick away from elite.

A good time for him to make his case will be on Saturday in Brooklyn when he takes on Garcia.

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