Last night, Miguel Cotto fought Yuri Foreman in the first fight ever at the new Yankee Stadium. Partly because of the venue, the fight had a big buildup. Cotto is one of the great fighters of his generation; among other things, he came into the fight 14-2 in title bouts. But Cotto lost the first two fights of his career during the last two years, to Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao, and some thought that Cotto’s skills were in decline. He fought Foreman, who is several inches taller, at 154 pounds, the heaviest weight of Cotto’s career.
Foreman’s history is unique. Born in Belarus, he grew up in Israel and now lives in New York, where he is studying to be a rabbi. He came into the fight 28-0 and was the WBA title-holder at 154 pounds, but had never fought anyone of Cotto’s elite status. Also, while taller than Cotto, he lacks Cotto’s punching power.
Cotto won the first few rounds, as Foreman had no answer for his jab. Cotto looked as fast as ever and Foreman, a slick boxer, couldn’t keep up. After a few rounds, Foreman settled down and started counterpunching more effectively. By the seventh round, it was a good fight, but with Cotto clearly in the lead. Then disaster struck Foreman: his right knee, on which he wears a brace, gave out as he was moving side-to-side near the ropes. He tumbled to the canvas and was able to get up, but was obviously hobbled by the injury. At the end of the round he limped back to his corner.
In the eighth, Foreman was a sitting duck as he was effectively fighting on one leg. His knee gave out again, and he fell to the canvas. It was obvious that Cotto was closing in for the kill. After Foreman went down for the second time, his wife, Leyla Leidecker, stood up at ringside and yelled for the fight to be stopped. (A digression–it is not unusual for a world-class fighter to have a stunningly beautiful wife, but what is unusual about Mrs. Foreman is that she herself is a former boxer, whom Yuri met in the gym. Who knew?)
This is where things got strange. In the middle of a sharp, even exchange near the center of the ring, Foreman’s corner threw in the towel, figuring he had no chance because of his lack of mobility. You could see the towel come flying into the ring, right past the boxers. The fight appeared to be over, and people flooded into the ring.
But referee Arthur Mercante Jr. is old school. Technically, the referee does not have to accept a corner’s concession, and Mercante could see that Foreman wasn’t seriously hurt. He asked Foreman whether he wanted to continue–you could hear the exchange on the telecast–and Foreman said yes. So Mercante cleared the ring, leaving only Foreman and a rather confused Miguel Cotto, and the round continued.
In the ninth, Foreman continued to fight bravely, but he had no lateral movement and his knee gave out again, sending him once more to the canvas. Mercante stopped the fight–belatedly, in my view–a minute or so into the ninth round, after a devastating Cotto hook knocked Foreman down.
In boxing terms, the real news from the fight is that Cotto is back. He looked as sharp as ever. But the buzz was largely about Foreman’s courageous performance: “Fearless Foreman Falls In 9th.” Afterward, he explained that as a world champion, his only possible course was to fight on. That is, of course, the boxer’s creed: if a fight needs to be stopped, it is up to the corner or the referee to stop it, but the fighter himself will never quit. Last night we saw an old-fashioned demonstration of why, despite all of its faults, some of us still love the sport.