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Brawl in the Bronx has ups, downs

Cotto revives career with solid win over Foreman

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / June 7, 2010

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NEW YORK — His heart was willing and strong, though his face bloodied and slightly swollen around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Had that been the sum of Yuri Foreman’s general constitution, the future rabbi could have kept going, kept punching.

“Listen,’’ he would say later, “I wanted to continue to fight.’’

But with a right knee that only divine intervention might have healed, the brave Russian-born super welterweight knew his minutes were few, his chances fewer.

“He was still in the fight,’’ Foreman’s trainer, Joe Grier, somberly noted after his charge succumbed to Miguel Cotto Saturday night in a surreal, slightly comedic ending to the first night of boxing at the new Yankee Stadium. “With tremendous heart, he fought back, but he was no longer Yuri Foreman.’’

Before 20,272, the end came early in the ninth round when referee Arthur Mercante Jr., concerned that nothing good could come of a hobbled boxer at the mercy of Cotto’s powerful offerings, awarded the TKO to the Puerto Rican icon. The fight appeared to be over in the eighth, when Grier tossed in a towel. But in New York, the referee has discretion to stop a fight even after the towel has been tossed in. After a three-minute delay to sort out the flying laundry and assess Foreman’s ability to continue, Mercante instructed the combatants to continue.

“There was no need to stop the fight,’’ said Mercante, reflecting on the chaos of the eighth round, which had Foreman limping noticeably after tumbling to the canvas twice in the previous round. “They were in the middle of a great exchange. It was a great fight. I felt I did the right thing.’’

After some frantic medical attention and debate in his corner following the eighth round, Foreman (28-1, 8 KOs) bravely soldiered out for Round 9. By that point, however, the sport had transformed from boxing to skeet shooting, and Cotto (35-2, 28 KOs) was all but barking “Pull!’’ before loading up his lefts and rights, most targeted at Foreman’s head. Finally, just 12 minutes past midnight in a fight that began at 11:35 p.m., Mercante stopped it with 2:18 remaining in the round.

Foreman, whose wife earlier implored his corner to call it quits, surrendered the World Boxing Association super welterweight title.

“Everybody who said Miguel Cotto is finished . . . everybody failed,’’ said the new champ, who had been pummeled in two of his three previous bouts at lighter weight classes.

Had Foreman’s knee not buckled, he still would have lost, provided Cotto kept scoring at the pace he demonstrated through the first six-plus rounds. He clearly had control, despite the taller, springier Foreman constantly dancing around the ring and dodging his sharp thrusts and parries. It was one of those sidesteps, in the opening minute of the seventh round, that initially brought Foreman to the floor. One second he was floating like a butterfly, the next slamming to the ground like a piano hurled off the roof of a Bronx apartment building.

“Old injury, since I was a kid,’’ recalled Foreman, who wore a black brace on his knee. “I fell on my bike when I was 15 years old. I’m always wearing a knee brace to prevent it. It happened a long time ago.’’

Though the ending was anticlimactic, if not somewhat hollow, the show was a success. The last open-air fight in the Bronx (at least as a promoted pay event), was staged at Yankee Stadium in 1976, when Muhammad Ali won a unanimous decision over Ken Norton. Three-plus decades later, inside the shiny $1.5 billion new home of the Pinstripers, the eight-fight card went off without a hitch — other than Foreman’s fight-finishing limp.

A persistent strong breeze turned a hot, muggy night pleasant, helping to rekindle memories of some of the great Bronx bouts through the decades. A massive canopy, hoisted some three-plus stories over the ring, was illuminated in ever-changing colors, adding a pleasing bow over the fights. The crowd, sparse when the first bout went off at 6:45 p.m., built steadily throughout the eve. The park was configured to hold only 27,000 maximum, and ultimately it filled to about 75 percent capacity.

“A great, great night,’’ said a sullen Foreman. “I was very proud to be in the arena.’’

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.