Showing some love for boxing's bad boy

Zab "Super" Judah might be regarded as one of the brashest, most objectionable personalities in the world of boxing. But, according to Joe Tessitore, there is something endearing about this much-maligned and misunderstood contender.

Updated: April 9, 2007, 7:02 PM ET
By Joe Tessitore | Special to ESPN.com

If you know me at all you'd likely say that I would despise Zab "Super" Judah. Wouldn't you think that I'd find boxing's bad boy deplorable? I don't. Not at all in fact.

I can't tell you why. Something about him makes me feel more sorry than angry. More hopeful than hateful.

Yes it's me. I'm still the guy who for over five years has been sitting next to Teddy Atlas. I nod in agreement all the time alongside boxing's endorser of professionalism, integrity and proper behavior. Now I'm telling you that I'm not bothered by a fighter coming off the second major disciplinary suspension of his career. What gives?

On the sports spectrum of controversial personalities, Zab "Super" Judah is somewhere between T.O., Bode Miller, Allen Iverson and John Rocker. He has achieved and underachieved. He has said things he has meant and many more statements that he should regret. Zab's actions have crossed lines and caused fines.

Zab Judah
Getty Images/Jed JacobsohnZab Judah gets a bad rap for his brash in-ring behavior.

This week Zab is back. His one-year ban levied by the Nevada State Athletic Commission is over. Zab is celebrating with a main event on "Friday Night Fights" against Ruben Galvan (9 p.m., ESPN2). One is a former undisputed champ and two-division titlist. The other is a 34-year-old journeyman coming off a loss.

"What I'm saying now, I'm gonna back it up," says Judah, the 29-year-old Brooklyn native. "I know that when I put 100 percent of Zab Judah into it it's gonna shine. So five years from now me, my daughters and my son are going to look back and laugh and say, 'Look what Daddy did.' I got to make them proud right now."

I don't know that they would be proud regarding his recent past. He was the welterweight champion of the world who lost to Carlos Baldomir. Baldomir is a hardworking fighter who most would agree doesn't have a tenth of Zab's talent.

Worse than the upset loss was the dismissing of reality. Zab says he didn't lose that fight. He's one of those who says, "I lost, but I didn't really lose." Again, why don't I find him detestable?

Of course, it was easy to be a Zab hater in 2001. Zab was a heavy favorite in a title unification bout, but Kostya Tszyu's right hand didn't look at the sports book tote board. After the one-punch knockout, Zab attacked referee Jay Nady. He even threw his corner stool in Nady's direction. Out-of-control bad! I know Jay Nady. I like Jay Nady. Why wasn't I ripped over this?

Then came April 8, 2006. Zab was going up against pound-for-pound best Floyd Mayweather. You know it's a bad night when Floyd is portrayed as the likable one.

In the 10th round, Zab was clearly on the tough end of a losing effort. That's when he threw two well-placed illegal punches. Trainer Roger Mayweather entered the ring and all hell broke loose. It was a riot replete with police, boxing commissioners and many of those "in"-security guards. It was one of those moments when mainstream sportswriters apply the typically lazy "black eye for boxing" line. (As if the 20 times during an MLB season in which a 90 mph fastball to the head causes a base-brawl, it's a pat on the back for the national pastime.)

For his role in the ring riot, Zab was fined a quarter-million dollars and not allowed to fight for one year. I'm supposed to say he deserved it. I disagree completely. Once again, I can't hate on Zab. I thought the penalty was ridiculously harsh.

"The toughest part is not being able to do what I do best. Watching other fighters do what they do, watching titles change hands, watching new guys come out of the blue, hearing people talk about you, hearing people not talk about you, know what I'm saying?" Zab asked.

I know what you are saying Zab. I also know what you should be saying.

You should be saying that you have lost two straight fights. You should be saying that you haven't won a fight since May 2005. You should be saying that you caught a great break here. It's a break that somehow has you coming off a two-year flop with a two-month glory road.

First Zab gets to bounce back with a showcase tune-up fight on ESPN this week. Then in June, Zab fights for a world title against the unbeaten Miguel Cotto.

"Who would have ever thought that one year later Zab Judah would be coming back with a tune-up fight and then back for the WBA welterweight championship of the world and a chance to redeem himself against a tailor-made fighter," Zab added. "Who would have ever thought that?"

Now this is getting bad. Zab even speaks in the third person two times in one of my columns and he still doesn't drive me nuts.

Maybe it's Zab's innocent face. Maybe it's the fact that every time he is in the ring it feels like an event. Maybe it's the fact that he always gives you the sense that there is more to come. Zab makes you feel that there is upside.

"I learned that mentally, I'm definitely a strong person. I'm not a person that takes defeat well. I learned that boxing is my life and that I love it. I love to do it and I miss it," Zab declared.

Maybe that's it. Maybe it's because it's so obvious how much he loves boxing. He loves it the way we do as fans. Maybe it's because I see Zab is just a fan himself in a world-class athlete's body.

I don't know why I don't dislike Zab, but I do know I dislike this type in other sports. Yet in boxing it seems there is always a place for a guy like Zab. That's good and bad, but there is a place for him. And this week that place is "Friday Night Fights."

"April 13th, I'm just gonna come back and show the world that I'm still here," Zab reminds us. "I ain't going nowhere."

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."

Joe Tessitore has been the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and "Wednesday Night Fights" since 2002 and contributes a weekly boxing column to ESPN.com.

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