Boxing: Yankee Stadium

Jun 1, 2010 7:06 AM

But Cotto vs. Foreman not yet a classic

Play Ball.

 

It’s not been that long since boxing has heard those words – fights in stadiums built for baseball, or other sports, are more frequent than you think.

Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built, was not just another stadium, and boxing events there had a tendency to be as historic as a Joe DiMaggio hitting streak.

Maybe the most famous fight in history, certainly one of the most significant of the 20th Century, took place in the old ball park across the Harlem River from Manhattan. That’s when Joe Louis, in the rematch, knocked out Max Schmeling in the opening round of what has come to be billed as the prelude to World War II.

The new Yankee Stadium will get its boxing feet wet this Saturday in a bout that is a few levels less significant.

Hell, if it weren’t for the venue, and the fact that it will be the first Yankee Stadium fight (not counting Billy Martin vs. Reggie Jackson) since 1976, it would hardly be worth writing about – or handicapping.

I won’t be there. The last Yankee Stadium fight, I almost got killed outside Muhammad Ali’s dressing room. New York’s Finest were on strike, security was nonexistent and I was crushed face-first into the concrete wall outside of Ali’s room where I waited with millions of gate-crashers and pickpockets to get a post-fight interview with the man who had just, very controversially, beaten Ken Norton (like many ringsiders, I scored it 8-7 in rounds for Norton).

I survived the 1976 crush. It is unlikely Yuri Foreman’s unbeaten record will survive next Saturday against the 2-1 or 5-2 favorite, Miguel Cotto. Make no mistake, though. This may not be as easy as it looks for the hard-punching Puerto Rican who, as promoted by Bob Arum, has become the biggest ticket-seller in New York boxing over the last decade.

Cotto, a frequent visitor to the old Stadium on his yearly visits to New York for fights coordinated around Puerto Rican Day, said "I am going to feel like a Yankee on this night, like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter."

"It is unquestionable," said Arum, a grandmaster of understatement, "that Miguel Cotto is the most popular fighter in New York."

Cotto, though moving up from welterweight to 154 pounds, is the obvious puncher in this matchup. Foreman, defending the WBA junior middleweight title he won from Daniel Santos last Nov. 14 – the same night Cotto was being battered and finally stopped in the 12th round by Manny Pacquiao – has only eight stoppages on his 28-0 ledger. It’s been more than four years since he scored his last knockout.

But at 5-feet-11, he has a substantial four-inch height advantage over the short-armed Cotto. And he too will have many supporters in the crowd, representing not only Brooklyn, but Israel – he is that country’s first world boxing champion.

On his tale of the tape, it is written that Foreman’s stance is "orthodox." It is written from right to left, too – Foreman is a rabbinical student. Arum said Foreman "fits in New York City better than he fits in Tel Aviv." That does not matter unless he can fight.

And though his power is not in his punch, his ring talent is very kosher. The kid can box, as Cotto’s new trainer, Emanuel Steward, has acknowledged.

Steward seemed ready to go to work for Foreman, but Cotto made him an offer he could not refuse. This has caused some kvetching in the Foreman camp, but if Cotto shows his usual skills in cutting off rings against slippery foes – like Zab Judah, Paulie Malignaggi and Carlos Quintana – Steward won’t make that much of a difference.

The major doubt about Cotto is that in his loss to Pacquiao, and three fights back to Antonio Margacheato, he took beatings. The guess here is that at 29, same age as Foreman, he still has enough to add another meaningful feather to a cap that already includes such as Sugar Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey, Randall Bailey and a lot of higher quality fighters than Foreman has faced.

The over-under of 10½ rounds slightly favors the go and I am inclined to play it safe and just count on Cotto for the victory.