Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cotto Wins An Interesting Stadium Slugfest

The first boxing match at the New Yankee Stadium was not a marquee pairing. Miguel Cotto was a premier welterweight until a plaster-handed Antonio Margarito knocked him down in the eleventh round and quite possibly broke his will. After easily handling Michael Jennings in a rebound fight and winning a close and debatable decision over Joshua Clottey, he got a shot at Manny Pacquiao because the mega-bout with Floyd Mayweather couldn't be put together. Cotto hung in there against Manny, but it was clear early on that they were on different levels, and he fell victim to a TKO in the 12th round.

Yuri Foreman's career, on the other hand, was still ascending coming into last night's fight. Only two and a half years ago, he fought on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Zab Judah bout and coming of a recent win over Daniel Santos to claim the WBA super welterweight chanpionship, finally earned a bout against a name brand fighter. Foreman carried a 28-0 record into the Bronx, but with just eight knockouts, clearly wasn't going to out-slug Cotto, particularly considering that it took Antonio Margarito 11 rounds with illegally hard gloves and Miguel was still standing when Pacquiao won.

This fight was more about the characters and the location, which paired a Jewish fighter who is studying to be a rabbi with a popular Puerto Rican in a baseball stadium in New York City, a city that is home to what are probably the largest populations of both of those ethic groups in the United States.

In the early going Saturday night, Cotto took control. Rolling his shoulders and bouncing on his toes, he kept coming forward and popping the aspiring rabbi with jabs, double jabs and the occassional left hook in the first couple of rounds, pushing him back with each clean shot. As a smooth Cotto stayed in rhythm and on the offensive, Foreman shuffled back and forth on his feet, his elbows suspended awkwardly away from his body, just trying not to get hit too hard.

Midway through the third round, though, Foreman discovered that he could start with his right hand and square up on Cotto's. As the fourth began, Foreman finally landed some solid combinations and hung on to win his first round, although it was around then that his nose started bleeding from both sides.

The fight settled down in the fifth and sixth, with both boxers trading shots, but neither making much of an impact. Had the fight gone the distance, the judges would have likely awarded both to Cotto, but there weren't any standout punches or powerful exchanges in either direction.

The seventh round was what earned Yuri Foreman the respect or the fans in attendance who paid good money to see the fight, with the exception of his wife, who was sitting ringside. About a minute into the round, Foreman's right knee buckled as he tried to plant his foot and he slipped on the canvas. He wears a brace on that joint and it was clear that he was seriously injured. As Yuri hobbled back and forth, referee Arthur Mercante, Jr. offered him the obligatory five minutes to recover but Foreman declined. The announcers seemed sure that Foreman couldn't continue. But he did. And it wasn't just that he stayed in the ring. Without the lateral movement that he relies on so heavily, Foreman stood toe-to-toe with Cotto and traded some powerful blows as the Stadium came to life with the loudest cheers of the night.

With about a minute left in the eighth round, a white towel came flying into the ring from the direction of Foreman's corner, brushed off Cotto's shoulder, and appeared to signal the end of the fight. Trainers, officials and press started flooding the ring, and Cotto even came over to talk to Yuri and congratulate him on a gutsy fight.

However, the fight wasn't over, yet. Mercanti determined that Foreman wanted to continue and he cleared the ring. The PA system in the Stadium announced that the bout was still on, of those still in attendance.

It was only a short reprieve. Foreman lasted into the ninth but was knocked down by a powerful left hook from Cotto less than a minute in. It was inevitable that Cotto was going to win, and it's probably good that Foreman didn't go down after a series of shots to the head.

Although it was immediately apparent that Foreman wasn't in the same class as Cotto, but he showed a lot of heart in the ring. It was the first time he had been beaten and although he took an injury that no one would begrudge him stopping the fight over, he wasn't about to give up. Miguel was the far superior fighter tonight but Yuri undoubtedly won plenty of supporters and respect.

IFs, ANDs & BUTs
  • The Stadium was not even half full, with storms in the area probably limiting walk up sales, but over 20,000 people showed up. From the overhead shots that were shown, there were lots of people sitting on the playing field (I think I heard 9,000 at some point leading up to this) but there were a ton of empty seats. This is one of the reasons I'm lukewarm about the Stadium as a multi-purpose facility. Baseball parks just don't translate well to other sports and events.

  • Appropriately, Fack Youk favorite Max Kellerman did the broadcast. A huge fan of both the Yankees and boxing and a native of New York City, this fight was made for him. After the fight, he said:
    It doesn't quite measure up with the great fights in New York history or Yankee Stadium history, but it does do credit to that history. It adds to that history. It was a better than expected fight, it had an odd kind of ending, but it allowed Cotto to show what he still has left. And it allowed Yuri Foreman to show, for the first time, his guts -- he showed that he's a real fighter.
  • Roy Jones, Jr. was also in the booth. It was the first time I've heard him in that role and although he certainly wasn't up to Lennox Lewis' level, he wasn't too bad as an analyst.

  • When Foreman hurt his knee, you could hear Mercanti say "Suck it up kid. Walk it off". Between that and restarting the fight, you could tell that Mercanti had a lot of respect for Foreman and wanted to see him go out with as much dignity as possible. However, sending a guy in there who was severely diminished could have been really dangerous and, although I'm not expert in boxing, thought it was inadvisable. Foreman obviously wasn't going to win.

  • I'm pretty sure I saw Bob Simon from 60 Minutes in the crowd, so I'm guessing there is a profile on Foreman upcoming. Not that Cotto isn't interesting, but you could put together a pretty compelling lede about a boxing rabbi.

  • After the fight, Foreman thanked God for keeping both fighters healthy, "more or less". You probably tore a ligament in your knee, man. I don't think the Big Man needs a "thank you" for that one.

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