Judah returns to the squared circle
By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -Forget the credit, folks.
At this point in Zab Judah's career, it's all about the cash.
"Sure, winning another world title would be nice, but I've got every championship belt that there is in my house already. I've won them all," said Judah, a former title-holder at 140 and 147 pounds, in a Tuesday afternoon phone interview.
"It'd be great to win another one. But right now it's all about putting on the best fights with the best fighters out there. When you think about the welterweight division in terms of marquee fighters and marketability, you can't get past my name."
A month shy of his 30th birthday, Judah returns to the ring this weekend in Biloxi, Miss. for a scheduled 10-rounder against Puerto Rican trialhorse Edwin Vazquez, headlining ESPN's final "Friday Night Fights" card of the summer.
The bout marks the Brooklyn native's first action since a violent 11th-round TKO loss to Miguel Cotto in a try for the unbeaten former Olympian's WBA welterweight crown on June 9 at Madison Square Garden.
Not only was the loss just the second by stoppage of Judah's 11-year professional career, it was surely the most punishing as well - featuring assorted low blows and other fouls in addition to incessant legal body work from the 26-year-old Cotto, who scored his 25th KO in 30 wins.
At this point in Zab Judah's career, it's all about the cash.
Still, those bruises may yield him a bounty.
Judah, who is already penciled in for another ESPN tune-up bout in mid-November, hopes to turn the newly garnered respect for his heart and toughness into one last mega-payday with the division's reigning cash machine... Oscar De La Hoya.
The "Golden Boy" made noise recently by saying he expects to return to the ring - as a welterweight - in May of 2008. De La Hoya, who lost via decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. four months ago, hasn't fought at 147 pounds since March 2001.
And, though other names like Mayweather, Ricky Hatton, Cotto, Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams and Kermit Cintron also present viable options for such a guaranteed PPV event, Judah nonetheless sees himself squarely in the mix.
"The fight hasn't presented itself yet, but yes, if it did, that would be the dream fight for me," he said. "I respect him. He comes to fight. I like his style in what he's doing with the boxing business, but he's a guy I pretty much know I can beat. And I'd give it 150 percent.
"I'm known as a guy who does big numbers. When I fought Mr. Mayweather, it was his biggest fight until he fought De La Hoya. And even though Cotto had fought before the Puerto Rican Day parade (in New York City) for three straight years, no one knew it until he fought me."
Hatton will fight Mayweather for the WBC welterweight crown on Dec. 8 in Las Vegas. De La Hoya has already fought Mosley twice and has since made him a business partner with Golden Boy Promotions, which will put on the Cotto-Mosley title bout scheduled for Nov. 10.
Williams beat Margarito by unanimous decision on July 14 to win the WBO's 147-pound crown and improve to 33-0, while Cintron - who holds the IBF belt at 147 - was last active with a two-round title-defense KO of Walter Dario Matthysse the same night.
"To me, the new guys are just not on our level yet," said Judah, who held the IBF light welterweight crown for 21 months in 2000-01 and was IBF/WBC/WBA champ at 147 for 11 months before losing to unheralded Carlos Baldomir in January 2006.
"They've just gotten to the table. We've already been here. We've won world titles and lost them, and then come back to win them again. That's the status we've earned. And once you're in a marquee position and you're at a certain level, timing is everything."
Speaking of Oscar, he's already got an in-ring date for this month.
Seems the fighter-turned-promotional kingpin is also something of a betting man, so much so that he's putting himself on the line in a gender-bending wager with fellow gold medalist and ex-welterweight champ Ray Leonard.
De La Hoya and Leonard have competing interests in two feature bouts beneath next weekend's 130-pound match between Juan Manuel Marquez and Rocky Juarez, and each man has pledged to do a lap as a ring-card girl during the main event should both his fighters lose earlier in the evening.
Leonard will watch two alums of his "Contender" series - Steve Forbes and Sergio Mora - go up against a pair of De La Hoya's promotional properties, Francisco Bojado and Kassim Ouma, in consecutive 10-rounders before the Marquez-Juarez bout for the WBC's super featherweight crown.
Should both Leonard's fighters win, De La Hoya will wear the card-carrying attire between rounds 1 and 2 of the main event. Should De La Hoya's fighters both win, Leonard will take the in-ring walk. If the run-up bouts are split evenly one way or the other, the two men have promised to share the between-rounds responsibilities.
"I can't think of a better way to top off a night of fireworks than by seeing Oscar climb into the ring during the Marquez vs. Juarez fight dressed as a ring-card girl," Leonard said. "I know I'm not the only one who wants to see that."
Forbes was the runner-up to Grady Brewer in the ESPN-broadcast second season of the "Contender" series, while Mora defeated recent WBO super middleweight title challenger Peter Manfredo Jr. for the TV crown in the show's initial season - which was shown on NBC.
Bojado, a hot prospect after turning pro in January 2001, has won two straight since the nearly three-year layoff that followed a 10-round loss to veteran Jesse James Leija in July 2004. Ouma is returning to the ring for the first time since dropping a unanimous decision to middleweight champ Jermain Taylor last December in Arkansas.
"Ray wanted to bet me that his guys will beat my guys, and I'm extremely confident that he will be the one embarrassing himself as a ring-card girl on Sept. 15," De La Hoya said. "I know Bojado and Ouma will win because I never make a bet I can't win."
Welcome back to the heavyweight mix, David Tua.
With 10 wins and a draw in the six years since Chris Byrd stopped his most recent shot at title-fight glory, the Samoan-born New Zealand resident could be on the verge of another chance to try on a belt.
The compact 5-foot-10 slugger will meet hometown Michigan product Cerrone Fox in a scheduled 10-rounder on Friday night at the Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt. Pleasant, and could - with a win - move a step closer to a rumored match with recognized division measuring stick Wladimir Klitschko.
Published reports in New Zealand over the weekend claimed that Tua could get a shot at Klitschko as the end result of a cease fire to a complicated legal battle between promoters Cedric Kushner - who works with Tua - and Shelly Finkel, who works with IBF belt-holder Klitschko.
Kushner is suing Finkel for breach of contract after plans for a bout between Klitschko and Shannon Briggs were scuttled last year in favor of the Kazakhstan-born champion's title defense against Calvin Brock. The report claims Kushner would drop the suit if Tua were granted a title shot with Klitschko.
"I drop the suit, they give us the fight. That's the plan," Kushner said. "It would be a win-win for them. Klitschko is due to fight in the first two months of next year and they are still searching for an opponent. I'll be looking to use all the leverage I can to get David the shot at the title he deserves."
Tua lost a wide decision to Lennox Lewis in a try for the WBC, IBF and IBO heavyweight titles in November 2000, then lost to Byrd in an IBF title eliminator nine months later.
He's defeated the likes of Fres Oquendo (TKO 9), Michael Moorer (KO 1) and Talmadge Griffis (TKO 10) since, and was last active with a one-round stoppage of Saul Montana last month at the South Town Exhibition Center in Sandy, Utah.
"I think Tua could interest us," Finkel said. "He's a big puncher. I know how good he is. If he can do to a higher-ranked boxer what he did to Saul Montana, he would be right on our radar screen."
It's a light weekend for title fights, but a quality one nonetheless.
The Doncaster Dome in Yorkshire, U.K. will host a Friday night clash in the 140-pound division, where popular native son Junior Witter defends his WBC championship for the second time against former WBA belt-holder Vivian Harris.
Witter enters the fray at 35-1-2 overall and on a 20-fight run of success since dropping a unanimous 12-round decision to then-champ Judah in a try for the IBF's crown in June 2000.
He finally reached the top rung of the ladder in September 2006 - defeating veteran DeMarcus Corley for the WBC strap vacated by Mayweather - and has since protected it once, stopping Mexican journeyman Arturo Morua in nine rounds last January in London.
Meanwhile, Harris - a Guyana native now residing in Brooklyn - has won three straight since surrendering his crown via seventh-round KO to Colombian slugger Carlos Maussa on the Mayweather-Gatti undercard in June 2005.
The 5-foot-11 right-hander won his title with a second-round stoppage of Diosbelys Hurtado in October 2002 and defended it three times before the Maussa fight, which ended when he was abruptly flattened with a left hook 43 seconds into the seventh.
He's toppled Marteze Logan, Stevie Johnston and Juan Lazcano since, winning via unanimous 12-round decision over Lazcano in a WBC title eliminator on the Mosley-Collazo undercard on Feb. 10 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Harris is 28-2-1 with 18 KOs.
FitzHitz says: Witter by unanimous decision.
And, to wrap up, I revert back to a career-long habit of shamelessly plugging my hometown.
Powerful light welterweight Nick Casal, born 22 years ago this December in beautiful Niagara Falls, N.Y., will headline a Showtime cable TV card on Friday when he faces Mexican southpaw Antonio de Marco at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.
The bout is the latest on a hoped-for path back to "elite prospect" status for Casal, who won his first 10 bouts as a pro before a one-round KO win over Martinus Clay in outing No. 11 was changed to a no-contest in connection with a failed post-fight drug test.
He's been up and down in eight bouts since the blemish, winning six times - but only twice by knockout - battling to an eight-round draw against Dean White and losing for the first time, via unanimous eight-round verdict, to then-unbeaten Jose Antonio Izquierdo in January.
Casal, now training in Las Vegas with former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, was last active in June, when he won a split eight-round nod over journeyman Priest Smalls in Santa Ynez.
De Marco is 14-1-1 with 11 KOs.
Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at email@example.com. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show, broadcast weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com).