NEWARK, N.J.–Former junior welterweight champ Zab Judah rallied to smash Kaizer Mabuza with a crunching left in the 7th round that sent the South African careening through the ropes at the Prudential Center Saturday night.
Judah (41-6, 28 KOs) showed off a much-improved defense that he attributed to working with new trainer and former world champ Pernell Whitaker. The Brooklyn native brought the partisan crowd to its feet and sent them home happy after a stunning reversal in a fight that looked likely to go the distance.
In victory Judah showed enough speed, slickness, and intestinal fortitude to present a formidable challenge for any fighter in the 140 lb. division.
“For six to seven weeks I went to college and I got a Ph.D.,” said Judah referencing his work with Whitaker, who he called one of the greatest defensive fighters of all time. “I graduated with honors tonight. Thank you, baby.”
Zab seemed content to duck, weave and counterpunch in the early rounds as Mabuza (23-7-3, 14 KOs) used his wiry frame and heavy hands to control the fight at a distance. Both men looked to be in excellent shape, with Judah clearly the superior boxer and Mabuza appearing to land the harder blows.
Judah showed a bit more spring in his step to start the 4th but was thrown off-balance by a sweeping right, forcing his glove to the mat briefly and scoring a knockdown for Mabuza. Judah leapt up, incredulous at the ref’s decision but quickly composed himself thanks to some words of wisdom from Whitaker.
“Pernall told me, ‘That’s just one point. You can get that back. It’s nothing.’ He told me to breathe and relax,” Judah said, describing being introduced into Whitaker’s camp by his father as a teenager. The 15-year-old Judah also had the honor of carrying “Sweet Pea’s” belt to the arena before Whitaker’s fight with Oscar De La Hoya.
“One thing I knew: when Pernell came into my camp I had to be humble,” he added.
The 5th round saw Zab employ smarter strategy by staying inside, an awkward proposition for the rangy Mabuza. Mabuza responded in the 6th with a straight right that appeared to hurt Judah momentarily. Whitaker praised his pupil for weathering the storm.
“I told him to keep his cool after the 6th. He showed a good sense of poise in there when you guys thought he was hurt,” Whitaker said. “He didn’t try to be an animal. I told him just stay calm, stay cool, let it go. It’s one point, one round.”
Anxiety among Judah’s supporters seemed to be running high as the two men came out for the 7th. The DJ cued up Ludacris’ immortal classic “Move, Bitch (Get out the Way)” during the break in what proved to be the most prescient moment of the evening. Zab simply smiled in a preview of things to come.
The round saw Mabuza continue the pressure to open until he forced Judah back into the corner. Judah avoided a series of jabs and countered with a perfectly timed short left that struck Mabuza like a thunder bolt, leaving him tangled in the ropes as the count began. Inexplicably, the ref allowed the contest to continue briefly before finally ending the carnage after a series of savage blows from the Brooklyn native.
“One thing about me, I’ve got a devastating left hand,” Judah said after the fight. He called his memory of the knockout incoherent, but said he timed the punch after avoiding Mabuza’s double jab and knew as soon as it landed that the night was over.
Mabuza was a gentleman in defeat, expressing appreciation for the opportunity and offering no excuses. He credited Judah’s experience and welcomed the chance at a rematch, as unlikely as that seems.
“I was controlling the fight, I caught him but didn’t finish him. He just caught me with a nice uppercut, that’s the fight. That’s life,” Mabuza said. “He’s a good mover, has speed, a lot of experience. I’ve never lost for a long time, but that’s the name of the sport. You lose some and you win some.”
Judah’s vicious left promptly transformed ringside conversations that for most of the night were focused on the presence of “Iron” Mike Tyson at ringside and the curious decision to stage a fight in the New Jersey Devils’ practice rink in front of a relatively sparse crowd.
Judah appeared unperturbed by questions about his next fight, once again emphasizing his faith and its primary role his triumph. Main Events Promotions CEO Kathy Duva wasn’t much more specific, throwing out a series of names that included every prominent fighter at 140 lbs. along with Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.
Judah said he plans to stay at 140 lbs., but would be willing to jump into the ring with the Pacman “if they wanna throw a few ends my way.” He positively beamed at the post-fight press conference as he proudly displayed his newly won IBF junior welterweight strap.
“I’m into unifying titles, that’s what I like to do. I like to take a weight class over,” Judah said.
After his performance Saturday in Newark, it’s tough to argue that Super Zab shouldn’t get a shot to do just that in the near future. Amir Khan and Timothy Bradley loom large at the weight, but with his experience and explosiveness Judah should be able to stand toe-to-toe with either man.
On the undercard, middleweight Tarvis Simms of Norwalk, Conn. outlasted a game if crude John Mackey, who like your correspondent hails from the nation’s capital.
Simms (27-1-1, 11 KOs) has only one loss in his professional career, a super middleweight bout he took on short notice to contender Allan Green on Green’s home turf. But despite his inflated record Simms had some trouble with Mackey’s (13-6-2, 6 KOs) strategy of jabbing to the body and failed to make the journeyman pay adequately for missing wildly with his punches at several junctures.
Simms began hurting Mackey with his left in the later rounds, forcing the latter to change his stance to southpaw to greater effect. Both men showed admirable heart and continued to rain blows several seconds after the final bell, but after eight rounds it was an easy decision for Simms.
After the fight Simms credited his opponent’s toughness but said his preparation and conditioning had won the day.
“I’ve as light as I’ve been in five years. I give myself a lot of credit,” Simms said. “I promised for my next fight I’d be more focused.”
Simms suggested he was open to any matchup at middleweight, but like every 160-pounder his eyes are squarely on Argentina’s Sergio Martinez, widely recognized as the class of the division. As courteous and jovial a guy as Simms is we’d would actually hate to see him get his wish. Martinez would be highly unlikely to waste as many openings as Mackey.
Also on the undercard: Jose “Mangu” Peralta scored a 1st round stoppage against Cleveland’s Clifford McPherson after landing what appeared to be a nasty low blow. Sporting vivid blue shorts and a physique both more suited to the kickboxing ring, Mangu (5-1, 3 KOs) drew an uneasy rumble from the crowd as the ref failed to catch what seemed obvious to many on press row. McPherson’s (2-4-1, 1 KO) pained grimace several minutes after the fight was all the proof some ringside observers needed that something untoward had occured.
In addition, Brooklyn light prospect Shemuel Pagan thrilled his vocal supporters by dispatching Marco Garcia (0-4) in the 1st round for his second professional win and first stoppage. Another local pro making his debut, junior middleweight Vinny O’Brien, scored a TKO after David Navarro (0-2) didn’t answer the bell for the 4th round.