Boxing promoters love to match their young buck with an established yet beatable veteran 'name' and so it is that Zab Judah plays the supposedly amiable dance partner to Amir Khan in this weekend's Vegas showdown.
The trouble with the analogy is that Judah (5.3) doesn't easily fit the mould of ageing has-been. The Brooklynite has always been a volatile character, flawed in many ways but talented, dangerous and it seems, a re-discovered man. Or perhaps he's just grown up. There is no doubt that Judah's relationship with Main Events under the paternal eye of Kathy Duva and his partnership with the excellent Pernell Whitaker as coach have been significant. Judah hasn't been transformed by them but his career has been resurrected.
In 2006-07 the New Yorker was losing big fights to Carlos Baldomir and Miguel Cotto and nearly three years ago it appeared the end of the road when he was hustled out of a fight against Joshua Clottey. The truth is Judah looked like he wanted out that night and a cut afforded him the opportunity. The future looked bleak for the former two-time Welterweight Champion of the World, so his five fight unbeaten run (including two excellent wins at 140lbs) has been something of a minor miracle.
On that recent run Judah has outscored the tough Argentine Lucas Matthysse, who lately gave Devon Alexander a rough ride and he stopped Kaizer Mabuza to win the IBF crown he risks against Khan. On both occasions Judah got up off the canvass to win hinting at a previously lacking mental strength and inner steel. And that is important, for Judah has always been talented; remember this is the guy who gave Floyd Mayweather real bother until the demons took over in 2006. If he can sustain those combined qualities, then there is no doubt that Judah has the skills to give Khan a scare.
Khan (1.24) himself must surely be looking to make the sort of statement that made him headline maker throughout the boxing world after his up and down rumble against Marcos Maidana in late 2010. The Englishman emerged from his messy and controversial follow up win over Paul McCloskey poorer in many ways. His ill-advised confrontation with Sky Sports sees him marginalised a little again to Primetime on Channel 480 for this bout. But this is a fight which should he win, will restore his reputation as well tilting him towards a muted mega fight with Floyd Mayweather himself.
In truth, Khan remains a difficult fighter to assess definitively so rapid has he risen through the ranks. His win over Maidana was dramatic and enthralling but the performance of Eric Morales against the same foe underlines the form probably doesn't amount to much. Imagine what Pacquiao would do to a lummox like Maidana? Still, Khan remains on a steep upward curve and is one of the speediest boxers on the planet. The timing of the match is probably just about right for him too.
Make no mistake though, Judah is a live danger, particularly in the early going. He still carries dig in that sharp, fast left hand and it may be the presence of Whitaker brings an element of composure to the table too. That Khan is likely to make the running ought to suit Judah in counter-punching mode and with 28 KO's in 41 wins, he carries the greater threat in that regard. It wouldn't be a major surprise to see Khan on his backside, if not out (KO/TKO/DQ 8.0).
But for all the vibe and spirit exuding from camp Judah, he is nearly ten years older than Khan and significantly, he has been on the deck in each of those recent headline wins. Indeed it appeared that Mabuza was well on his way to stopping Judah but for a remarkable comeback in round seven and Khan is grease lightning next to Mabuza. As long as he is careful and focused, this fight is Khan's to win or lose.
As ever when we discuss the Bolton Olympian, don't be looking for a spectacular stoppage (priced at 1.96), Khan moves too quickly to be a serious hitter, relying rather on accumulation and pressure. He should be favourite to win by decision, not stoppage, and that surely has to be the call. There may be tough moments for the Brit to overcome but it looks like he's getting ready for the superstars of the sport where the really big fights await.
3pts Khan to win by DEC/TD/DQ @ 3.1
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