By Peter Owen Nelson
LAS VEGAS — On Wednesday afternoon, in a raised boxing ring inside a flood-lit bar of the Mandalay Bay Casino, Zab Judah arrived an hour late for his final workout in preparation for his Saturday showdown with Amir Khan (25-1) to unify the WBA junior welterweight crowd with his own IBF strap.
Judah (41-6) has not lost since 2008 to Joshua Clottey at welterweight. He is now three years older, five victories maturer, one weight division lighter, and one world title better. The press awaited his arrival for an hour, but it was only fitting that a man who appears to have turned back the hands of time would appear to have no concept of it.
Performing a light workout, Judah ran several perfunctory rounds of mitts as his head trainer and new defensive guru Pernell Whitaker watched from a neutral corner. The techniques seemed more to be perfunctory than strategic. Perhaps the mitt work could be said to have been “perfunctorily strategic,” an attempt to prevent the Khan camp (which had arrived by then) from seeing anything of use.
With as little fanfare in his exit as his entrance, Judah jumped rope on the floor, as Lakers center Andrew Bynum absorbed the media, having arrived in tow with Khan’s trainer Freddie Roach to continue his off-season boxing regimen.
Khan then climbed into the elevated ring to applause, while Judah’s mother chanted “Suuuuuper Zab!” to him as jealousy flashed across his eyes peering over at Khan’s hoard of admirers. They would not see much work of their champion. Khan did not have a public workout, so much as a public warm-up.
Ninety minutes after lightly shadowboxing for the crowd at Mandalay, Team Khan piled into a Cadillac SUV and headed over the IBA Gym off Flamingo where a private workout was conducted. The Briton would do his final four rounds of mitt work with Roach with no air-conditioning in 110-degree heat.
As Roach mimed Judah’s postures and movements, Khan refined his approach to attack, incorporating feints and angles to exploit Judah’s occasionally blundering footwork. “It’s been a great camp,” said Khan, whose training has lasted ten weeks (two more than he has trained with Roach in some previous camps). The extra preparation appears to have paid dividends, as strength coach Alex Ariza said, “Amir’s exactly where we want him right now.” We will see if Ariza repeats these words after Judah has his say on Saturday night.