WBU Lightweight Championship Bout: Noah Zuhdi vs Eduardo Pereira Dos Reis

Fight Recap: Another Dominant Defense for Zuhdi

Fighting in humidity that might have made the NBA Finals jealous, WBU Lightweight Champion Noah Zuhdi successfully defended his crown Friday night after challenger Eduardo Pereira dos Reis yielded to battered ribs and quit on his stool after the fourth round. The TKO victory at OKC Downtown Airpark in Oklahoma City marks Zuhdi’s second defense of the title, but perhaps more importantly, another aced test as he graduates to the upper echelon of the 135-pound class.

The roughhouse battle was not an ideal one for Zuhdi (18-1, 14 KOs) as the crafty Reis (13-2, 8 KOs) was warned but never penalized for headbutts throughout the affair. Every clinch seemed to end in controversial fashion as Reis attempted to get inside Zuhdi’s head by using his own. Undeterred, the champion and his trainer, Dickie Wood, adjusted to the uneven pace set by the challenger. “The head was his third hand in the ring,” Wood joked after the fight. “But this is what we wanted. We wanted someone skilled and tough, someone who would force Noah to figure things out in the ring and improve. I only wish it would’ve gone longer.”

Reis did not have that same desire after the 4th, but he made gutsy decisions in the beginning of the bout. The Brazilian strayed from scripts he authored in past tenacious wars and played the role of counterpuncher in the first two rounds. The strategy worked in catching Zuhdi off guard, but Reis could not catch him enough with his counter right-hands. Subsequent clinches would beget the aforementioned rough tactics.

“From his use of an aggressive stance only to come in to look for a counter, to the pushing with his head to break clinches, it was pretty bizarre,” Zuhdi admitted. “I started out slow at first, but I was studying him. I felt I was significantly stronger and could break him down as the fight progressed.”

Boxer and trainer alike agreed it was time to shift gears. The third stanza saw a change of pace and a picturesque counter right from Zuhdi that drew roars from the Oklahoma crowd, a punch he said they “had been working on during the whole training camp.” The crowd also witnessed him beginning to win the infighting with some thudding blows to the body. By the fourth round, Zuhdi dictated the action and was in championship form while landing stiff jabs, double jabs, and combinations without answers from Reis.

There would be no fifth.

Reis and his corner informed the ref that he could not continue before the beginning of the next round, citing a rib injury. The abrupt ending may not have been the most satisfying one for the fans, but Zuhdi was grateful to see his hard work pay off and his challenger began to break down in the demoralizing fourth round.

“He was a tough guy,” Zuhdi said after the fight. “I was thrilled at the end, knowing that his will had been broken. I’m now 3-0 in title fights. I’m proving that I’m continually progressing against a level of competition that is increasingly higher.”

What comes next for Zuhdi remains to be seen. He still has a couple of necessary rungs to climb to get to the top of the ladder. Still, his exciting fighting style, charisma, and clean resume that includes family man and practicing attorney makes him a unique and popular commodity at the regional level. Yet, nationally televised fight offers have been untimely or fiscally disadvantageous thus far. The bottom line, however, is that he and his results are improving even as his opponents’ skill level improves.

“I can take on the better fighters,” the champion said in regards to what kind of statement Friday night’s performance made. “I’m ready for the challenge.”

Event News and Notes:

-CatBOX Entertainment stablemate Bo Gibbs Jr. continued his winning ways as he earned a lopsided unanimous decision over David Lujan in a six-round bout. Gibbs’ crowd pleasing style has helped him rise to a 11-0 record. Lujan falls to 4-2.

-Zuhdi sparring mate Terry Buterbaugh (10-10-3) fought in a highly contested and entertaining battle with Anthony Hill (1-0). Hill came away with the majority decision.

Journey Through Fight Week: Part 1

When Noah Zuhdi steps between the ropes to defend his WBU Lightweight Championship on June 6 at the OKC Downtown Airpark, casual observers and hardcore fans alike will embrace the battle before them and appreciate the beautiful and brutal representation of determination. They will cheer on two fighters who have made action-packed boxing their calling cards, and they will rightfully respect each punch thrown, each ounce of effort, each drop of sweat perspired.

Yet, most of them will not recognize or contemplate the more important fight: the prolonged battle to prepare.

The fight will not begin Friday night. The fight started in mid-January for Zuhdi. The event that would become “Live Boxing Action Under the Stars” was originally scheduled for March and then postponed to April. Noah began roadwork, a euphemism for long distance running. Two miles of pounding the pavement would turn to three, to five, and then to six miles each day.

Even then, Zuhdi took what could be a peaceful way of training and stepped up the intensity. Focusing on breathing a certain way, cutting times and personal bests—reasons why he has earned the reputation as on one of the best conditioned fighters in the sport.

5:30pm, June 2nd.

Zuhdi makes the one hour trip to Carney, Oklahoma, site of Bo Gibbs Sr.’s gym. Splitting his time here and in Colorado Springs (under the care of trainer Dickie Wood) for this fight was a risky decision, but a proactive one on Zuhdi’s part to maintain balance with boxing, his burgeoning law career, and his family life. The earlier postponements of the fight dictated a unique plan, and he is now making the final rounds of training with the energetic Gibbs, a man of many hats—pastor, entrepreneur, and trainer.

“Bo’s a great positive force in my corner,” Zuhdi explains. “He’s very motivational, very inspiring--knowing what to say and how to say it while delivering it with passion and enthusiasm. He’s made a big impact on this team. He played an integral part in training with me, preparing me for this fight and giving me his all.” Gibbs’ son, Bo

Gibbs Jr., is also in training for his semi-main event bout. He and a couple of curious on-lookers are the only other people in the gym as Zuhdi strikes Gibbs Sr.’s mitts in the ring at a blistering pace for nine rounds. Carney is a small town that has lent its support to the fighters. “There’s always local people here, popping their head in, and it’s warming,” Zuhdi says about the environment. “I appreciate the people here embracing me and welcoming me into their community.

“I’ve always been a big believer in that it’s not where you train. It’s how you train. I believe you can get just as much in Carney, Oklahoma, as you can get in boxing hotbeds in Las Vegas and New York. It’s a really cool setup—it’s less than an hour away from Oklahoma City, but it’s out in the country. There’s nothing around. This solitude—it’s enjoyable.”

Even though he abstains, for the most part, from the law office during fight week, the schedule can still take its toll. After a day of meditation and mental exercises, roadwork, running errands, and a two hour training session with Gibbs where Zuhdi transformed into a fierce pitbull inside the ring, Zuhdi can finally find a place of peace at home with his wife and son…before starting all over again the next day.

In order to be prepared for the fight, Zuhdi needed a good foundation, a supportive team. When making the unique decision to push the fight back two months, he went to his father and promoter, Bill Zuhdi.

“My father has been critical to the success of my career,” Zuhdi observed. “I told him what I wanted, and he immediately came back to me with June 6, Oklahoma City Airpark, date and venue. It made things easy and even a little exciting. The Airpark is really becoming the hotbed for events in OKC.”

After a cooling down period after all of the training in Colorado Springs in February and March, Zuhdi resumed his training regimen in Oklahoma in mid April. Shortly thereafter, the bout with Eduardo Pereira dos Reis was announced. A “no egos allowed” approach seeped into camp as head trainer Dickie Wood accommodated Zuhdi’s needs and laid out a gameplan from Colorado while Gibbs put it into action in Oklahoma with his guidance and enlisting Shadi Shawareb, a local prospect, for sparring. Each part of Team Zuhdi worked selflessly to the goal of a successful fight and event.

Ultimately, the most selfless component of Team Zuhdi may be someone without spotlighted boxing credentials—Zuhdi’s wife, Sara. A lawyer in her own right, her strength has helped him throughout his journey, especially over the course of the last few weeks with Zuhdi’s travel, work, and media demands.

“Sara’s been great,” Zuhdi admitted. “She’s been positive and supportive. She doesn’t just tell me what I want to hear, either. I respect that and how independent she is. She gives me a lot of strength. Without her, none of the things I’ve accomplished would be possible. She’s kind of the unsung hero in all of this. She deserves just as much credit as I do.”

10:00am, June 3rd.

After a long night of rest and typically healthy breakfast at home, Noah proceeds to visualize what’s to come in the next few days. In his mind, mental preparation is just as important as the physical kind. Everything from the ride to Airpark to anticipating the anxieties before fight time to the fight itself is all processed and dissected.

Books and lectures from anyone from basketball coach Phil Jackson to mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn to motivational speaker Darren Hardy litter his house and car as he hones his mental and meditative skills. Zuhdi learns from them and applies their tenets to his own life not just to prepare for the fight, but to calm him down just a bit. He is legitimately nervous, and that is okay.

“Nerves always play a role during fight week,” Zuhdi relents with a grin. “What really helps calm my nerves is meditating, visualizing the fight. Using that nervous energy to stay confident and thinking positive thoughts—some fighters don’t have to go through all that. Everyone deals with nerves differently. But I believe in meditation, along with funneling the nervous energy. It’s what has been successful with me in the past. It’s what I do.

“I perform my best when I’m nervous, when the stakes are high. Always have, from my basketball career into my boxing career. It’s part of the process. This is how I’m wired, and I’m not trying to change how I’m wired. I’m learning how to use it in a way that helps me. That’s what I’m going to continue to do in boxing and in life’s pursuits.”

The meditation is followed up by a run in the sweltering, humid Oklahoma air. He runs 3 miles in about 19 minutes. He pushes himself but does not overexert himself with only a few days remaining until fight time. Plus, he has already made plans to shadowbox for a healthy 12 rounds later in the day.

After implementing his gameplan for 12 rounds shadowboxing, the lightweight champion calls it a day. He will not be posting Facebook updates of his chiseled physique or how demanding this day or the last 8 weeks have been. However, he will retreat into his own thoughts and stick to helpful reminders as he goes to sleep this night.

Zuhdi says of the last thoughts he’ll have tonight, “I always remind myself this was why, when I was in law school, I put in a full day of class and full day of studying and went to the boxing gym to spar. This is why as a lawyer, as a father, and as a husband, I sacrifice so much of my time in an already busy schedule to train and push myself to the limit. It’s to put myself into situations like this. All of these sacrifices I’ve made for so many years, this is why I did it—to make the most of my opportunity like the one on Friday.”

Journey Through Fight Week: Part 2

Despite the accolades he has earned, Noah Zuhdi and his team had to play multiple roles to ensure success for the second defense of his WBU Lightweight Championship. A dad turned into a promoter and advisor. A wife turned into a merchandising designer, designing guru, and confidante. Sparring partners turned into friends. Friends turned into ardent supporters and webmasters. It remains very fitting for the multitasking taking place while in support of a cerebral lawyer and fiery fighter, a man of many trades himself.

“I have a great team,” Zuhdi stated. “Everyone’s really positive. We don’t have any negative people in the camp or around me. Everyone knows what to say at the right time, no one says too much, and no one clams up and doesn’t speak. They instinctively create a comfort zone. I feel like my team does a good job of finding the right balance.”

Appreciative of others and humble of his own role in the journey, the champion and his team had to wait until 48 hours before the fight to finally rest.

7:30pm, June 4.

The day has been slower than usual as time crawls to a standstill, but one unusual task remains—entertaining. An athlete must also be a showman, and if he wants to continue to be a successful athlete, he has to make the media rounds. Up for this evening is an interview with David Garrett for a local radio station. Some of the usual questions are thrown Zuhdi’s way:

The lone loss? Helped him become a better and more focused fighter.

Boxing’s perceived decline in popularity due to MMA? He has nothing but respect for MMA and believes both can co-exist just fine.

What’s next? Hey, let’s focus on this fight first.

While guarded at times, Zuhdi exudes confidence in these lighthearted interviews. He is routinely asked borderline weird questions from uninformed reporters who have not covered the boxing beat, but he takes it in stride and does his best to help the reporters out. In the case with Garrett, help is unnecessary as they have established a strong rapport in the past. Ten minutes later, Zuhdi’s job as hype man is at an end.

Zuhdi leaves the interview just as his trainer, Dickie Wood, arrives into town from Colorado Springs with another fighter and Zuhdi sparring partner, Terry Buterbaugh. Wood has trained lightweight champions of the past, including the bravest of warriors in Diego “Chico” Corrales and the untiring and tenacious Stevie “Lil’ But Bad” Johnston. Zuhdi embodies many qualities of Wood’s past successful students. Even though they are the right fit for each other, fitting in time for each other became difficult for this upcoming fight.

Postponements, responsibilities, and realities set in. While they worked together throughout March and for a week in May, a normal and continuous training camp in Colorado was out of the realm of possibilities. Zuhdi’s law career and family life deserved his attention.

Still, Wood remains infectiously optimistic.

“I understood what he had to do,” Wood explains of the risky endeavor. “If it was any other fighter, I would’ve been against it. But Noah is such a hard worker and very disciplined. Other fighters, even when they’re (in Colorado), could disappear for a few days or complain about a hang nail and not show up.

“When he showed up last week, it was clear how much he trained. We just had to focus on technique and sharpening skills.”

When pressed about where Noah ranks in terms of discipline, Wood shoots back quickly with, “Number one.”

The relationship between boxer and trainer had been a tenuous one for Zuhdi in the past. Some had succumbed to selfishness, while another tried to lead him into questionable fights on short notice, which is why he was glad he found the final piece of the championship puzzle in Wood and how their partnership continues through this next bout.

“He was 100% on board,” Zuhdi said. “He understands the demands of my law career and family. He told me, ‘We have faced bigger obstacles in the past and have overcome them, and we’ll get through this one as well.’ And that means a lot to me because a lot of trainers are set in their ways. They’re not really adaptable to the fighter’s needs.

“I really appreciate Dickie accommodating my schedule, to give me the confidence that we would be prepared. The last night in Colorado, I had a conversation with him and he assured me that I’m 100% ready and zero reservations about this fight and he’s ready to do this.”

4:00pm, June 5th.

It is time for the joint press conference and weigh-in of the fighters at the Oklahoma History Center, where Zuhdi’s grandfather, Nazih Zuhdi, has an exhibit dedicated to his medical advancements and career. That fact in this setting doubles as an apropos place to lend historical perspective on the fight and as a reminder of the large shoes to he has to fill. Perhaps, that is why he continues to challenge himself.

Zuhdi has had to sacrifice very little in terms of meals and fluids, a rarity among fighters as cutting and making weight weighs on a fighter like an albatross. The aforementioned discipline helps. He steps up to the scale and weighs in at 134.6 pounds. His opponent, Eduardo Reis, comes in at 132 pounds. The fight is set and it is time for the ceremonial pose and stare-down.

Zuhdi confesses, “You see everyone there with their game faces on, trying to intimidate each other. Everyone’s trying to act like they’re not nervous, but they and we are. Everyone is nervous! I always get a kick out of it.”

While overconfident Facebook posts have been authored by Reis in the week leading up to the fight, the stare-down stays tame. Zuhdi is used to the song and dance. “It seems like every fight the other guy has something to say,” Zuhdi says, “There’s usually some form of trash talk. The only guy who didn’t talk trash was Vajda [his last opponent], and that’s probably because he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Hungarian. Yet, he was the most confident opponent I had in the ring and in the way he carried himself.”

“You can talk all the trash in the world, but I’m going to fight the same way. That’s why I never said anything negative publicly in the seven years I’ve been a professional. I’m going to do my talking through actions. My talking, my message, is in the ring.”

The fight at the OKC Downtown Airpark is 24 hours away. Nerves will intensify. Fragile psyches can crumble. A victorious fighter has to rely on muscle memory, instinct, and disciplined training instead. Zuhdi will not have it any other way.