Zab Judah, right, lands a punch on Ernest Johnson during...

Zab Judah, right, lands a punch on Ernest Johnson during a boxing match at Madison Square Garden. (Nov. 8, 2008) Credit: AP

If this was an audition for a future junior welterweight title shot, Brooklyn's Zab Judah passed with flying colors Friday night at Prudential Center in Newark. Fighting for only the second time in 20 months, it all came back to him quickly as he knocked Jose Armando Santa Cruz down twice in the third round to win by technical knockout at 2:33 of the round.

Following the bout, Main Events promoter Kathy Duva said: "If we could get a title fight now, we'd take it. He's ready. We're very happy."

Judah's father, Yoel, named the 140-pound champions, Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander and Amir Khan, and said, "Line 'em up."

Like father, like son. Zab Judah echoed those thoughts, saying: "I'm just looking to fight the best. I'm going to pick them off one by one."

Judah (39-6, 26 KOs) faced Santa Cruz (28-5, 17 KOs) at a 143-pound catch weight on his way back down to the 140-pound junior welterweight limit if a title is on the line. In the early going, the southpaw Judah was cautious, jabbing and then following up with solid lefts to the body. Santa Cruz looked slow by comparison.

Still feeling his way after an eight-month layoff, Judah ventured a couple of effective three-punch combinations in the second round. In the third round, Santa Cruz tried to use his height advantage and pin Judah to the ropes, managing to land a couple of solid punches.

But Judah was elusive as ever and impossible to cut off as he circled right to stay away from Santa Cruz's right hand. As the third round entered its final minute, Santa Cruz tried to come forward and press his attack. But Judah stuck a short right jab in his face, then threw a lightning bolt of a left uppercut that exploded on Santa Cruz's jaw and dropped him to the canvas.

Santa Cruz managed to get to his feet, but he was clearly in a daze when referee Benji Estevez motioned for the fight to resume. Judah showed he had lost none of the old killer instinct as he came forward and delivered a five-punch combination that started and ended with lefthanded power shots that put Santa Cruz down again and forced Estevez to call a halt.

"I really got behind my jab," Judah said. "I let the jab go. The jab set him up, and I followed with a devastating uppercut and it was over."

Judah's return to prominence is just starting.

Notes & quotes: The boxing world was waiting to see if Floyd Mayweather would meet Top Rank promoter Bob Arum's midnight Pacific Time deadline Friday night to agree to a Nov. 13 bout with Manny Pacquiao. If not, they both will need opponents in the fall. Arum planned a 3 a.m. ET media conference call to announce Pacquiao's plans. Check Newsday.com's Neutral Corner boxing blog for an update . . . On the ESPN undercard, Newark welterweight Alex Perez (12-0, 7 KOs) remained undefeated with a unanimous decision over Miami's Edvan Barros (10-10-1, 7 KOs).

More boxing news