Brooklyn vs. the Bronx. Erratic vs. steady. Flashy vs. basic. On the way out vs. on the way in. That’s Zab Judah vs. Joshua Clottey Saturday night on HBO, in a nutshell. It’s also the last potentially exciting fight until September, so savor it, unless you plan to shell out $35 to gamble that talented but feather-fisted 108-pounder Ivan Calderon (6 KOs in 31 wins) will suddenly excite on Aug. 30.
There’s also a replay of Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito, an amazing fight you’d have to be a damned fool not to have seen when it originally aired last weekend. In other words, it’s a good night for fans of one of the most enthralling weight classes in boxing, the welterweights (147 lbs.), with four of its top 10 available for viewing. Considering that the winner of Judah-Clottey probably ends up fighting Margarito Nov. 1, it’s also as good a preview show of that fight you’re going to get. For now, though, let’s stick with a preview of Judah-Clottey.
You never know what you’re going to get with Judah, which simultaneously makes him compelling TV and disappointing. He’s owned two of the fastest hands in the sport for about a decade; early on in his 2006 loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr., he looked the quicker of the pair, and I don’t know if anyone realizes how fast that makes Zab. At his best, you see that he’s one of the most physically gifted boxers to come along in this generation. Because he can punch, too. Everyone gets hurt by Judah once when they fight him, minimum. In his career masterpiece in 2005, he hurt, then finished, Cory Spinks, and in spectacular fashion. The best thing you can say about Judah is that almost every time he steps between the ropes, it’s going to be a good scrap. He’s talented enough to hang with just about anyone, and when he flashes some of his finest stuff, it’s breathtaking.
But so flawed. So flawed. Physically, is part of it: He’s shown a fragile chin at times. Go to YouTube and type in “funny knockouts” or “Zab Judah” to see his world famous “chicken dance” knockout loss to Kotsya Tszyu in 2001, which he replicated five years later when Carlos Baldomir almost sent him down for the count. So hilarious. So hilarious. But Judah took a lot of punishment in a loss to Cotto, so his chin’s not always unreliable. The most unreliable part of Judah is his brain. Post-chicken dance, he hurled a stool at the referee. He lost to Baldomir primarily because he clearly didn’t train that hard. Getting beaten up by Mayweather, he opted for a double-foul combo of low blow and rabbit punch just to stem the tide. It’s not that Judah can’t show mental fortitude, because he put plenty on display by lasting as long as he did against Cotto. It’s just that such exhibits are few and far between. He lost out on a bigger money Shane Mosley fight after reportedly punching through a shower door after a verbal altercation with his father/trainer, requiring a massive amount of stitches. Which is how he ended up fighting Clottey Saturday.
Some people knock Clottey as boring. I’m not in that camp. I can see the argument, though. He comes forward with his gloves held high, rarely getting caught cleanly with a punch. He punches pretty hard, but isn’t some knockout artiste. He grinds people down methodically. I still like the way he plies his trade, really, and it may just be a peculiarity of preference, because I can’t explain it very well. I think something that helps is that I was very impressed by him against Margarito, a fight he was winning until he broke one hand and injured the other. He just waited for Margarito to unload his voluminous leather on his gloves, then counter-punched so smoothly the crowd was doing some oohing and aahing. Maybe I’m a sucker for a good counter-puncher.
The real knock on Clottey is that he hasn’t achieved much in his career. It may not be all his fault. Because some fans don’t like his style, and because he’s a tough out for anyone, he offers the classic high risk/low reward equation that’s like the plague for prizefighters. He has only one big name on his win record, the late, great Diego Corrales, and that was an obviously diminished Chico in 2007, leaping up from 135 pounds. He never had a chance against hardly any welterweight, let alone a guy like Clottey. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch it, because I knew it would be sad. Besides that, Clottey has a dubious disqualification loss to Baldomir (1999) and a loss to Margarito (2007) against big names. Boxers can enhance their stock in losses, for sure, and as awesome as Margarito was last weekend, the way Clottey dominated early speaks well of him. In the end, though, Clottey hasn’t felled any mighty trees. He’s just been consistently good, losing a couple hard ones along the way.
Here’s where alphabet sanctioning organizations like the WBO et al are at their lowest ebb of offensiveness. Clottey is worthy of a title shot. He wouldn’t get another one unless the IBF or somebody gave it to him. The IBF did, when its title became vacant. Judah’s lost some tough ones, but I can’t argue against him getting a title shot, either. The difference is, this is Clottey’s second chance, after losing his first against Margarito. It’s Judah’s, what, millionth? There aren’t a lot of people who think he’d deserve another if he loses this one. Clottey’s making a bid for glory. Judah’s just trying to justify his existence as anything other than a future punching bag to elite youngsters in need of a test.
Would I be surprised if Judah came in out of shape, disinterested? Not at all. It does seem more likely he’ll be focused, and he’ll need to be against Clottey. Cuz I don’t see Clottey coming in out of shape or disinterested. I think it’ll be a good one if it works out that way.
My prediction: Clottey by late technical knockout. Judah used to be a defensive master. Not so much anymore. Clottey and Judah are the same age, basically — 31 and 30 — and Clottey is a defensive master. The fresher Clottey should wear Judah down and break his will, eventually forcing a stoppage after Judah looks good early.
Confidence: 80%. That’s my confidence level on the winner. The how, I’m less sure of. It is possible that Judah can hurt Clottey, but Clottey’s an iron-chinned mofo. I think Judah could win if he goes to the body, which he does exceptionally well when he bothers. It’s also possible that Judah is too speedy for Clottey and could win via a stick and move strategy. But in a conflict where one opponent can take a punch and has a knack for grinding down his man, and the other combatant can’t take a punch and has a knack for getting grinded down, it’s hard for me to see the latter winning.
My allegiance: Dislike Judah’s shtick. Like Clottey, for some reason. Allegiance: Clottey.