Cotto and Foreman battle in NY (pic Tri Nguyen)
By Matthew Hurley: There is something truly inspiring when an athlete discovers the depths of his will and desire in the face of near insurmountable odds. For a boxer that moment of truth usually comes with a great deal of pain. It’s what separates a pretender from the real thing.
On Saturday night at Yankee Stadium in front of nearly 22,000 enthusiastic fans, Miguel Cotto stopped Yuri Foreman in the ninth round of an interesting bout with a few odd turns to make it even more memorable.
But what happened in the seventh round elevated the stature of Foreman, a light hitting junior middleweight belt holder with a safety-first style who has drawn heavy criticism from many throughout his career for not being more exciting. Foreman has eight knockouts in his twenty-nine bout ledger so shades of Paulie Malignaggi hung in the warm night air out in right field where the ring was set up.
Malignaggi had fought Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden back in 2006. Paulie, with a scant five knockouts in his entire career, looked to be an easy mark for the then surging Cotto. But something happened to Malignaggi as Cotto began to break him down and punish him over twelve brutal rounds – his heart took over when his skills proved futile. Despite a losing effort, Malignaggi gained a ton of respect from all of the naysayers who had labeled him boring or soft.
The same thing happened to Zab Judah who fought Cotto at MSG in 2007. Judah was derided as a head case and a front-runner whose undeniable talent had been squandered by an inability to remain calm and focused in the ring.
Judah took a frightful beating from Cotto over eleven rounds but he never stopped trying. When referee Arthur Mercante Jr., also in the ring for Saturday’s fight, stopped the bout he embraced Judah and called him “champ”. It was easily Judah’s most gallant effort and the loss helped reestablish his reputation (regardless of what came afterward).
Yuri Foreman, whose rabbinical studies had become part of the fight’s marketing scheme, knew going in that his jab and, in particular, his lateral movement were his best weapons against the more accomplished and hard punching Cotto. And for the first several rounds that’s exactly how he fought, on the move. But he also planted his feet on occasion, finding a home for his straight right hand.
It wasn’t a scintillating night of boxing under the New York sky, but it was fast paced and Cotto’s relentless pursuit of his prey kept it compelling.
Then, in the seventh round, Foreman pivoted as he backed towards the ropes and his right knee, supported by a brace, gave out and down he went. From that moment on Foreman’s chances for victory went out the window. He wasn’t winning beforehand but now he was lost.
Yuri hobbled to a neutral corner as Arthur Mercante called time out.
“Walk it off champ,” Mercante said, above the din of the crowd. “Suck it up kid!”
And that’s just what Foreman did. After a brief respite the tough young fighter planted his right foot, desperately looking for leverage, and tried to fight back before his gimpy leg buckled yet again and sent him to the canvas.
“You’re a game guy,” Mercante hollered as Foreman stumbled back into the fray.
Cotto, almost patient to a fault, began launching left hooks to the body as Foreman tried to hang on until the bell.
Foreman, telling his corner he wanted to continue, had discovered the fighter inside of himself. His pride lifted him off his stool and sent him out for more punishment in the eighth round.
At the midpoint of the round a white towel, tossed into the ring by Foreman’s trainer Joe Grier, signaled an end to what had been a gutsy effort. But Mercante, who had no idea who had thrown in the towel, waved the surrender off and cleared the ring.
“The towel came in and I felt it wasn’t necessary,” the referee explained. “I didn’t know then where it came from. There was no need to stop the fight. I felt I did the right thing.”
It was a bizarre scenario, but the fight indeed went on, much to the delight of the crowd which, although pro-Cotto, was now cheering Foreman’s fighting spirit.
But Foreman’s heart could only take him so far. Unable to get out of Cotto’s range he tried to load up on the right hand, but the power just isn’t there.
Before the ninth round trainer Grier hesitated before saying, “If you’re not gonna move, if you’re gonna be in front of him…”
“I just can’t!” Foreman replied.
The ending came quickly, from a vicious left hook to the liver. With one leg already dead beneath him the hook crippled the other and the fight was over.
The end result signaled something of a rebirth for Cotto. His long, exciting career will include at least one more big fight somewhere down the line.
Foreman’s future is more difficult to predict, however his performance on this night earned him a Red Badge of Courage and sometimes, in the eyes of many, that is more important than whether his record shows a win or a loss.
“Thank God for keeping both of us healthy, more or less,” he said in the ring after the stoppage. “It was a lot of pain, a very sharp pain. I couldn’t do a lot of movement.”
HBO’s Max Kellerman, duly impressed with Foreman’s courageous showing asked, “Oftentimes, in these situations, fighters use an injury like this to stop fighting. You continued to fight. Why?”
With a smile he replied, “Listen, I’m a world champion… now a former champion. We’re not quitting. We don’t just quit. We need to fight.”
Foreman’s performance along with the class he showed after suffering his first loss was nothing short of inspiring. How often have we seen overpaid, egomaniacal athletes crumble under pressure and adversity only to look for any excuse to cover up their shortcomings? Too often, it says here. That’s what makes Yuri Foreman’s effort at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night so worthy of the crowd’s applause.
Yuri may never win another title belt. Or he may come out of this frustrating experience a better, grittier fighter; that all remains to be seen. But what he showed in the ring against Miguel Cotto this past weekend, ultimately, was much more important – he did his profession proud.
June 8, 2010