WHENEVER a boxer showed a chink in Floyd Mayweather’s armour, you savoured and analysed it. But first you doubted it, then replayed it.

So rare were these moments, these collector’s items, that when they emerged, they were typically put under the microscope and scrutinised, later to become textbooks from which others could learn.

The Floyd Mayweather research project started with Jose Luis Castillo, who had his moments in a close 2002 loss, before being updated by DeMarcus Corley, who shook Mayweather with a southpaw hook in 2004, and then Shane Mosley, who did the same with an overhand right in 2010.

Oscar De La Hoya and Marcos Maidana, meanwhile, in 2007 and 2014 respectively, revisited the old Castillo blueprint and tried to roughhouse Mayweather to defeat, yet were, like the rest, close – closer than most – but not close enough.

And then, of course, there was Zab Judah.

zab judah
Zab Judah could always talk a good fight (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

Judah knew Mayweather inside out, having grown up together in the boxing world and competed on the same USA Olympic team in 1996, and would benefit from this familiarity when the pair met in 2006. Their closeness, combined with a southpaw style and hands quick enough to match Mayweather, made Judah a live underdog – on paper and in reality. It allowed Judah to disrupt Mayweather’s flow. It allowed him to win rounds. It had some believing, as Judah took the lead early, he was going to be the man to finally show the way to beat Floyd Mayweather.

“I think he struggled because I was quick and because we knew each other,” Judah told Boxing News. “I knew him, and he knew me. There was nothing that surprised me. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. In ’96, we were best friends – me, him, Zahir (Raheem). I’d been around Floyd at a younger age in different tournaments. He was always Detroit; I was always New York. We always kicked it.

“That’s probably why I felt excellent in there (during the fight). I felt like at the end of it I would get a draw. I really believed that. I didn’t think they would just let me walk out of there with all of that s**t.”

Yet that’s exactly what happened. Judah’s positive start amounted to not much more than a rough outline and false hope and Mayweather, in the end, did what Mayweather tended to do. He adjusted, he took over and he won a world championship fight on points. In amongst it all was an impromptu brawl between the two fighters’ respective corner teams but even that wasn’t enough to put Mayweather off his game.

“Like he says, I won six rounds and he won six rounds,” Judah told Boxing News. “If he won six and I won six, what does that mean?

“I would have accepted a draw. At least then I know I would have messed up his pretty record. Back then he was known as ‘Pretty Boy’ and I would have messed up the ‘Pretty Boy’ record. There was no ‘Money’ Mayweather back then. But it was a great night, a very big night.”

The subject of Floyd Mayweather and Judah’s near miss ranks high on the list of questions posed to the New Yorker in the intervening years. They all say the same, too. I thought you had him. You knocked him down, but it wasn’t called. You were too fast for him. Even so, the fans, like Judah, appreciate the fact a positive four or five rounds was never going to be enough to get the job done against a man who had well and truly mastered going the 12-round distance in Las Vegas.

Kostya Tszyu
Judah and Tszyu met in 2001 (Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus)

Another of the questions regularly posed to Judah centres on his 2001 fight against Kostya Tszyu, the first loss of his 23-year professional career. This one, a far sorer subject, has become easier to deal with over time but remains a something that will perhaps never go away.

Worse, it has become iconic, that loss. All of it. The Tszyu right hand in round two. Judah’s dramatic fall to the canvas. The conversation with referee Jay Nady. The second tumble. The full-blown argument with Nady when it was stopped. The throat grab. The thrown stool. Not one these flashpoints covered Judah in glory, but he was young back then – immature, emotional, lost. It was 18 years ago.

“Being so young, it wasn’t tough (to get over),” said Judah, now 41. “Because I was so young, I didn’t really think about it too much. I was just eager to get back in the ring, eager to show the world that I’m nice. I didn’t have the brains or the ability to be like, Nah, let me relax, think about it and come back slowly. I was more like, Nah, I can’t wait to fight again and prove people wrong.

“I went back to the gym straight after that fight. It was only two rounds, so I was still in good shape. I didn’t take no punishment, nothing. I didn’t get cut. I went back to the gym and was right back to knocking motherf***ers out. Why? Because I was bitter. I shouldn’t have been bitter, but I was. I was trying to prove to people that I was good.”

Kostya Tszyu
Judah, despite his slickness, couldn’t avoid Tszyu’s right hand (Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus)

What Judah really hoped to one day prove was that he was good enough to get revenge on Kostya Tszyu and reverse the toughest loss of his pro career.

Unfortunately for Zab, though, that opportunity never came. Instead, Tszyu, four fights later, lost to Ricky Hatton in Manchester, England and subsequently decided to call it a day.

“When he made his retirement announcement, I was like, Oh, you’re bulls**t, man,” said Judah. “But, you know, later in life I got the opportunity to go over to Moscow, Russia and I ran into Kostya Tszyu and we had a good time. We sat down and spoke.

“That was our first time really sitting down with each other because he was from Russia and I was from America. It was different. It wasn’t like I’d see him at fights or see him at gyms. I’d never see him nowhere.

“So, for that first time we had a proper chance to talk and it just so happened that it was the 15th anniversary of our fight. We had a big thing at one of the malls there. They had two elevators and I came down one side and he came down the other side. Mad fans came to the mall. It was crazy. I actually like Kostya Tszyu. I really do.”

To read the full interview with Zab ‘Super’ Judah as he recovers from a career-ending brain injury suffered during a June 7 fight against Cletus Seldin, grab a copy of this week’s Boxing News (digital, August 13 / print, August 15).