A Grande Time at the Olde Stadium: Yuri Foreman vs. Miguel Cotto, New York vs. the World
Some things go down in history because they're remarkable: Baby scales Mount Everest, by accident! Some things go down in history because of what they are, whether anyone cares or not: The third summit meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia is happening right now, as a matter of fact. More rarely, an event that's going into the history books by default finds itself blessed with some measure of remarkability. And those are the things that people actually remember.
Boxing returned to Yankee Stadium last Saturday night for the first time in 34 years. That's a historical footnote, automatically. Yuri Foreman, Orthodox Jew, rabbi-in-training, and unlikely world super welterweight champ, was matched against Miguel Cotto, a recently deposed champ himself and Puerto Rico's biggest boxing draw. Cotto's gotten beaten up severely and/or cut horrifically in each of his last three fights, but as promoter Bob Arum noted at the press conference, every Cotto fight sells 110,000 pay-per-views on the island of Puerto Rico alone. So fuck brain cells, let's rumble.
Fortunately for Cotto, Foreman is not the type of fighter prone to actually hurting people. His best attributes are not his fists, but his legs. Foreman bounces side to side as well as anyone fighting today, and his general game plan is to bounce and bounce and bounce circles around his opponent for 12 rounds, stopping every now and then to leap in and throw a couple of quick punches before leaping back and out of the way again. Foreman has a reputation as a light puncher, but he is capable of knocking a man down, provided that he propels himself forward off his back leg and jumps into the punch so that all 154 of his pounds are behind it.
Cotto, on the other hand, is perfectly capable of mangling any boxer on the planet, in the normal fashion. Or was. He was a world-class fighter and multiple champ for nearly a decade, but a nasty beating from Antonio Margarito in 2008 and another from Manny Pacquiao in his last fight had many people whispering that Cotto should think about retirement. And he should; he's a beat too slow to hang with the world's best fighters now, and he's certainly arrived at the point at which each blow absorbed will likely result in some significant quality-of-life declines a decade or three down the road.
Still, the point of this fight was to get the Puerto Rican fans into the Yankee Stadium seats, and supplement that with those who would come out for the sheer novelty of an Orthodox Jewish champ. This was a New York event, and New York was determined to represent in all of its brash glory. Perversely, it turned out to be a terrible night for New York fighters. The undercard began with Jonathan "Little Big Man" Cuba, of New York, New York, being knocked down once, then turning toward the crowd to make a bold jack-off motion with his boxing gloves at some of his detractors, before being knocked senseless again. He staggered out with a TKO and a broken nose. Tommy Rainone, a classic Long Islander who's no stranger to the tanning salon or the place that gives you blond highlights in your hair, suffered a rather humiliating defeat at the hands of Denver's Terry Baterbraugh, a pale skinhead with an ugly, brawling style and even uglier trunks -- the ugliest trunks I've ever seen, in fact, consisting of overlapping strips of purple and green and red plaid in the style of a poor man's kilt. Later, James Moore, out of Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, could not quite handle the nonstop machinelike forward progress of Pawel Wolak, who advances on his opponents and smothers them with hooks; and "Mean" Joe Greene, an undefeated Queens favorite who came out rocking Yankees pinstripes, was picked apart painfully by Vanes Martirosyan, an Armenian with an exceptionally flat nose and a killer right hand that curved on the way to its target, like a Sidewinder missile.
On this, New York boxing's showcase night, in the home of the mighty New York Yankees, four New York fighters had limped back to the locker room defeated. New York's last hope: Yuri Foreman, Brooklyn's fightin' rabbi. Though he was the hometown kid, the 20,000 fans that night leaned heavily toward Cotto. As a stadium half full of restless violence aficionados waited for the final bout to begin, a lone Israeli flag that was raised up in the middle deck brought on a harsh chorus of boos from the surrounding thousand or so boricuas, followed by several minutes of frenzied Puerto Rican flag wavings and chants of "Cotto, Cotto."
Here, at last, was the requisite nationalistic tension! Frankie Negron sung the Puerto Rican anthem, soulfully. A famous Israeli singer whose name I didn't catch -- Shaba something, though not Shabba Ranks, which would have been awesome -- sang the Israeli anthem, operatically. Sixteen year-old Andrea Rosario followed with the U.S. anthem, and was so overcome with the moment that she added an extra "brave" at the end, more shouted with patriotic fervor than sung in any recognizable musical key. A last-minute spurt of Jewish fans had raised the Israeli flag quotient in the stadium to a semi-respectable level. The angry smell of history was in the air.