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Mature, lighter Judah returns to ring Friday

Zab Judah, right, lands a punch on Ernest

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

Two-time former world champion Zab Judah returned to his boxing roots with Main Events Tuesday to promote his Friday night ESPN bout against Jose Armando Santa Cruz at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. To those who know him best, Judah seems like a changed man.

Oh, he still can talk up a storm, and there's no shortage of confidence. But the diamonds and gold jewelry that used to adorn him have been tucked away in the safe deposit box and replaced by the picture of a more mature man. A man who is not just a fighter, but a fledgling promotional partner with Main Events and the owner of a boxing gym in Las Vegas, where he now resides.

"I've still got my jewelry, but I'm different now," said Judah, who was dressed in understated fashion. "I have a son now who is 17 months old. What kind of vision are you showing your son? Is he going to think it's cool to be bad and have diamonds and girls? I've got to show him the difference and set my life at a different pace right now."

That includes his approach to training for only his second fight in the past 20 months. Judah (38-6, 26 KOs) said he has been running and training on Mt. Charleston near Las Vegas in preparation for the drop from welterweight to a catch-weight of 143 against Santa Cruz (28-4, 17 KOs). Eventually, he's headed all the way back to the 140-pound junior welterweight class, where he was most successful.

Lifting his shirt to display his rock-hard, ripped abdomen, Judah said, "I buckled down and prepared myself. Come Friday night, I promise a great show."

After losing welterweight title bouts to Carlos Baldomir, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey, the 5-71/2 Judah decided it was time to return to 140 against opponents his own size.

"In actuality, those fighters were bigger than me and stronger than me," Judah said. "When I fought Clottey, I went into the ring weighing 148, and he was every bit of 165. Cotto was the same thing. I said, let me go back to the weight class where I'm comfortable and where I know I can succeed . . . But every time I turned around, you answer your phone and they say, 'OK, we got 2.2 [million],' and I'm like, 'OK, let's do it.' It's hard to say no."

If he wants to get back into the championship mix at 140, Judah knows he must demonstrate to HBO and Showtime that he's serious about this comeback, not to mention about growing his own business in partnership with Main Events.

"It's being about somebody you can build with and figure out your vision," Judah said. "I want to finish my career as strong as I started."

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