Judah vs Clottey: Buying Another Round-Trip Ticket To The Point Of No Return
By Coyote Duran, DoghouseBoxing.com (Aug 2, 2008) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © HBO)  
Zab Judah is a rare breed among rare breeds. Love him or hate him, you have to admit, Judah, 36-5 (25) with two no-contests, has no idea what ‘discouraged’ means. A fighter whose losses edge his victories in terms of impact, Zab continues to keep on keeping on when lesser fighters facing his travails would have evaporated a long time ago from Our Sport.

No stranger to controversy, Judah has flashy, young contender/titlist to volatile mainstay. Yet although the welterweight known as ‘Super’ has certainly been less than lately due to personal shortcomings or just plain coming up short professionally, Zab is still here. And that takes either an insatiable, obsessive drive to be recognized and ultimately respected or immeasurable obstinacy.

Tonight, on HBO’s ‘Boxing After Dark’ (9:30 ET/8:30 central), Judah faces a fighter with both traits in Joshua Clottey, 34-2 (20) with one no-contest.

Obviously, Clottey isn’t what you’d call a ‘household name’ of contention but the name is where the sketchiness ends. As far as solid welters go, the Bronx resident, via Ghana, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any top 147-pounders today.
You can ask new WBA welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito. But that’s later. Back to Judah.

There’s no question as to whether or not Judah is a skilled practitioner. He is; but a strange behavioral evolution (or devolution) took hold since losing the IBF junior welterweight title to Kostya Tszyu back in 2001. It was almost like that one significant loss launched an irreparable paranoia that desperately gripped his emotions and self-control.

Since the Tszyu loss (plus subsequent suspension and fine), Judah has taken his countercultured presence and augmented it into an ideological offense and defense; despite moving seven pounds north to extreme highs and deep lows. With such a vast span between the emotional and professional, one has to blame that much to blame rests on Judah’s shoulders.
Without suggesting that Judah is bipolar in the psychological sense, we can gather that there’s a bipolarity to his approach to boxing today; and it’s often a conditioned response that takes very little to initiate contrary to the Pavlovian school of thought. To be fair, in life, Judah’s reactions are almost a common sense reflex.

Dig: You’ve got a hot, iron skillet on the stove top. You then grab the handle without even thinking about an oven mitt. Do you learn from it? You bet. At least you’d better. When Judah gets burned, he burns often because each mistake in the kitchen is different from the previous one (losing to Cory Spinks in 2004, whacking Carlos Baldomir during the pre-fight ‘handshake’ and losing that fight, the loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. /in-the-ring chaos/suspension/fine, loss to Cotto)
But Judah learns from these events and becomes something unique. Instead of letting a loss, no matter how debilitating, dictate the future, he uses it to humble himself; giving him patience, focus and maturity. It’s selective, but it’s there (beating Spinks in their rematch for the Undisputed Welterweight Championship, giving Floyd an early rounds challenge, revealing heart and zeal against Cotto and the willingness to face Shane Mosley; despite an injury).

Still, Judah hasn’t scored a knockout win in the past two-and-a-half years through six fights, where three losses and a no-contest take residence as well. And against a hardened steamroller like Clottey, will Judah sustain the energy and speed necessary to dazzle and score? Will Judah have a breakdown when faced with the fact that unless Clottey suffers another hand injury, ala the Margarito fight, there few weaknesses to exploit, no matter how fast one is?

It could still happen; one could only hope. In December of 2006, then-WBO titlist Margarito would make his seventh defense against Clottey in a fight that had Clottey solidly solving ‘The Most Feared Welterweight On The Planet (at the time).’ As bum luck and crippled fate would have it, in the biggest fight of his career, the Ghanaian would injure both hands; allowing ‘The Tijuana Tornado’ the opening he needed and Clottey the loss he didn’t; since losing via disqualification in November of 1999 to former Undisputed Champion Carlos Baldomir.

There is much credit given (or should be) in stepping to Clottey; much like going against any of his previous opponents, belt or not. In light of the Mosley fight going bust, Judah could’ve taken a lesser opponent. True to his nature, Judah didn’t hesitate to face ‘The Hitter.’ The IBF belt up for grabs is merely an added bonus.

Zab Judah and Joshua Clottey, for their differences, are tremendously similar. You couldn’t get two different fighters together in a squared circle but it just can’t be helped to think that they were molded from the same clay. For speed and technical know-how, you can’t beat Judah. For calculated contact and a chin you couldn’t dent with a runaway comet, Clottey’s definitely your guy.

Unfortunately for Judah, he doesn’t have a spare comet floating around and hasn’t shaken the memory of the last ‘rock head’ he faced in Baldomir. If skills alone won the day, Judah would be a Pound-For-Pound king for years but history knows better (regardless of the boast his shoulder tattoo claims). Tonight against Clottey, we’ll very likely see the wiser Zab Judah do his finest, at this stage, but will still come up short. How short depends on his performance which will have a direct and absolute effect on his future in the sport. What’s hard to accept is that with each loss, Judah comes closer to becoming the fighter that’s described as a ‘tough test for an up-and-comer.’ That’s not good enough for him nor will he accept it.

Still, Zab might surprise us; as he has often done. That’s the real reason he’s still here when others simply give in when faced with and/or beaten by less. Judah doesn’t know when to quit and that’s something we truly (and sometimes, begrudgingly) admire about him. He knows where to buy the round-trip ticket to The Point Of No Return and amassed many a frequent-flier point.

But tonight, the wings get clipped and the boarding pass gets revoked. Tomorrow, Zab Judah shrugs his shoulders and still finds a way back on the plane.

Questions or comments,
e-mail Coyote at: artofthepaw@yahoo.com
Visit Coyote at: myspace.com/coyote_duran

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