NEW YORK -- Most observers believed the result of Zab Judah's New York homecoming Saturday night at Madison Square Garden was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately for Judah, so did he, as an obvious lack of focus and an inability to deal with the awkward style of Carlos Baldomir cost Judah not only his welterweight titles, but also an April 8 showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Baldomir, an unheralded mandatory challenger from Santa Fe, Argentina, outpointed Judah via unanimous decision, 115-113, 114-113, and 115-112, almost stopping him in the seventh round. Judah lost his WBC belt, but his other two belts, the WBA and IBF, are expected to be vacated.
"This is beautiful," said Baldomir, "a dream come true. I said before that this would be better than a Cinderella story and it is. I'm the Cinderella Man."
"Unanimous?" Judah said. "Come on. I thought I boxed a good, strong fight."
About his opponent though, Judah was respectful.
"He fought a good fight and he was a very game, very strong guy. This was the opportunity of his life."
From the fight-changing seventh round, it was Baldomir's night, and another example of Judah's inability to truly focus on the task at hand when it counts.
Case in point came earlier Saturday night when Judah came out to the MSG Theater ring with his brother Josiah, who was fighting in a four-round undercard bout. This was just a couple of hours before a fight that if won, would set up perhaps the most lucrative bout of his career.
Now it's kaput.
Punctuating the pre-fight instructions from referee Arthur Mercante Jr. with a shot to Baldomir's thigh, Judah fought at a measured pace in the early going as his foe attempted to come to grips with the champion's speed, something that wasn't going so well as Judah easily got in his quick left hand almost at will.
But solving the riddle of Baldomir's unorthodox style was no bargain for the Brooklyn native, and the roaring crowd quieted in round two as the pace dipped. Judah did his best to push the action in the third, but for some reason Baldomir's awkward style was making the fight a series of sloppy clinches, rabbit punches, and the occasional Judah haymaker.
Baldomir got on the board offensively in the fourth, and the Argentinean got bolder with each passing second, even taunting his foe as the hometown crowd started to boo. But Judah got back on track in the fifth, picking his shots and scoring well and even drawing blood on his foe's nose after a clash of heads.
The pattern continued in the sixth, with Judah doing much of the scoring, and Baldomir's chin pointing only giving the champion directions on where to hit him, but the boo-birds were back as the bell sounded.
"This is New York City," said Judah. "The fans here are the toughest in the world."
By round seven, Baldomir was still pointing to his chin and still coming forward. That persistence finally paid off when he drilled Judah with a right hand and put him on rubbery legs. Luckily for Judah, Mercante gave him precious time to continue and Baldomir wasn't able to immediately pursue his attack, which, when finally resumed, saw Judah again staggered and wobbly until the bell rescued him.
"You get hit, you weather the storm," admitted Judah, and he did.
Judah looked to have his legs back under him in the eighth, but Baldomir stalked him defiantly with his hands down as he shot in bombs from all angles. Most missed though, and Judah's quicker counters might have earned him the round and got him back in the fight.
The damage was done though, with Judah's face starting to swell up under the blows of the unheralded challenger, who was unfazed by Judah's punches as continued his forward march. Judah's flaws and Baldomir's steely determination had turned a likely a ho-hum homecoming into a real fight.
Baldomir scored well with both hands in the first half of round ten, while Judah came on strong late. Judah landed his best punch of the fight, a flush left to the face, in the closing seconds.
The reaction from Baldomir? A smirk.
Finally realizing that Baldomir wasn't going anywhere, Judah wisely picked his shots and varied the intensity of his blows in the 11th; it wasn't something that deterred the challenger's aggression, but it did score points and draw blood from another cut on Baldomir's face.
The 12th round was Baldomir's though, as the Argentinean strongman jarred Judah again briefly with wild shots before the final bell rang.
"I thought I had done enough to win," said Baldomir, now 42-9-6 with 12 KOs, "but I was a little bit worried when they were announcing the decision."
Judah, 28, a former junior welterweight world champion, falls to 34-3 with 25 KOs. His previous losses were to Kostya Tszyu and Cory Spinks.