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Veteran Zab Judah out to prove he’s still a top fighter

Judah Khan Prefight News Conference

Steve Marcus

WBA super lightweight champion Amir Khan, left, of Britain and IBF junior welterweight champion Zab Judah of New York pose during a news conference at the Mandalay Bay Events Center Thursday July 21, 2011. The boxers will meet for a unification fight at the arena Saturday.

Zab Judah-Amir Khan

IBF junior welterweight champion Zab Judah of New York yawns during a news conference at the Mandalay Bay Events Center Thursday July 21, 2011. Main Events CEO Kathy Duva is in the background. Judah will defend his title against WBA super lightweight champion Amir Khan at the arena Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Zab Judah is vocal about being labeled past his prime.

That’s how boxers his age are often classified, but the 33-year-old five-time world champion doesn’t think that applies to his career.

He’ll have a chance to prove skeptics wrong Saturday at Mandalay Bay Events Center when he faces a younger Amir Khan in a super lightweight unification bout.

Khan, 24, is considered one of the sport’s rising stars. His young legs could be problematic for the veteran Judah.

Well, maybe not.

“What you have to understand is that I turned professional at 18 years old and was the champion by 20 years old,” said Judah, the current IBF champ. “I have reigned ever since.”

Judah has won his last five fights, capturing the IBF title with a split decision victory against Lucas Matthysse in November 2010 and a seventh-round TKO victory four months later against Kaizer Mabuza to defend the title.

Those wins showed glimpses of Judah during his prime, and Khan’s trainer Freddie Roach noticed on film.

While most of Thursday’s news conference included handlers from both sides playfully exchanging verbal blows, Roach’s assessment was much different. He gave Judah (41-6, 28 KOs) the respect a fighter with his championship pedigree deserves.

“We have a real tough fight ahead of us,” Roach said. “Zab is a tough fighter. We have watched a lot of tapes. Not the old Zab. The new Zab — mostly the last two fights. We know his habits. We know his mistakes. We know his setups. He is a very smart fighter.”

Judah’s last loss was in 2008 to Joshua Clottey. It was his fourth loss in six fights and could have easily ended his career.

“I got my second wind. Saturday night I will give you the best Zab Judah you are looking for,” he said.

But his best might not be good enough to beat Khan (25-1, 17 KOs). Khan is listed as a -500 betting favorite, meaning gamblers would win $1 for every $5 wagered.

Khan, the WBA champion, has won seven straight fights dating to 2006. A silver medalist at the 2004 Olympics, the British fighter has been pegged as one of boxing’s next stars.

A win against Judah would help the development.

“If you hit me once, I will come back and hit you twice harder,” Khan said. “It is just in my blood.”

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