Last Saturday I went to the first boxing card in the new Yankee Stadium. The main event featured Yuri Foreman and Miguel Cotto. I was once in San Juan, but there more Puerto Ricans in and around Yankee Stadium for the fight.
I sat three rows from the top of the huge stadium. My seat was even higher than the gigantic scoreboard. It was muggy as hell. The evening included your typical fight in the stands and rush of police to the scene. I guess one guy really thought Terry Buterbaugh deserved his unanimous decision victory and the other guy thought Tommy Rainone was robbed. But one thing's for sure; they were both drunk. A reporter interviewed me for my prediction on the fight. With an apologetic smile, he asked who I was picking and I declared my allegiance for Foreman in front of a section of curious Cotto supporters.
Some of the non-Puerto Ricans included a small group of Irish guys sitting behind me who frequent the bar that James Moore tends. There was also a large group of Poles to my left supporting Pawel Wolak. In the upper deck, we could barely hear the announcers or the ring music, but that was the one decision we could kind of make out. As soon as the name Pawel was announced, one of the Irish guys behind me began to cheer in ecstasy until he was told that James Moore had actually lost. That prompted the line of the night, "How drunk are you to mistake 'Pawel' for 'James'?"
At one point, a nebbishy guy with slacks, binoculars, and one of those old timey caps sat in our section. He was greeted with the sarcastic question, "Who are you rooting for?" Another person declared, "Looks like we have a Foreman fan." I was wearing a shirt with Tel Aviv written on it in Yuri Foreman's black and yellow. I definitely garnered looks and whispers. But the crowd was generally gracious.
I did receive some razzing though. As the crowd erupted when Cotto made his ring walk, one guy tapped me on the shoulder and sarcastically asked, "Why aren't you joining in?" I gave a sheepish smile. While screaming my head off as Yuri entered, he advised me that, "he can't hear you." I retorted, "Cotto couldn't hear you." He fired back, "But he could hear all of us." I had to concede the point. But a guy to my right came to my defense, "Hey, he's a true fan!" which was greeted by a number of affirmative head nods.
It was thrilling to stay seated through each national anthem. Apparently, Puerto Rico, despite not being a nation, has a national anthem. The Israeli anthem was greeted with chants of “Cotto!” Most people stood for the U.S. anthem.
The first punch thrown was a jab that snapped back Foreman's head. In return, Foreman stuck out a weak jab that came up short, and I had flashbacks to Khan-Salita. Thankfully, history did not repeat itself.
The crowd went crazy every time Cotto threw, but I felt Yuri blocked a lot of Cotto's efforts early on. Still Cotto won the first two rounds unquestionably. There were some cries of, "He's a bum," during those first few rounds. People were unhappy with Yuri's constant movement. Others approved, “He’s a slippery fucker.” Yuri won the 3rd round in my estimation and no one can deny him the 4th. Cotto adjusted in the 5th though, but Yuri was competitive. He just needed to find the rhythm he established during the 3rd and 4th rounds.
Then it happened. He went down in the 7th. I knew Yuri's chances were over at that point. The guy needs to move to be successful and he couldn't move. I thought it was an ankle at first. Turns out it was a torn meniscus. Yuri couldn't move, so he decided to go out on his laurels and trade with Cotto. As Yuri kept fighting, a Puerto Rican fan yelled, "I respect that! I respect him!" Everyone agreed.
In the 8th, the towel came in and everyone entered the ring. I didn't want to be subjected to all the coming razzing, so I stood up to go. I gave a shrug to one Cotto fan. He answered, "It was a good fight though. Good fight." I began the long walk out of the stadium.
On the way down, someone yelled, "The fight's back on." I figured it was a hoax. Someone else yelled the same thing and a few people fell for the bait. I heard a loud cheer, guessing Cotto's interview had just finished. Someone said, "I guess they restarted it just so Cotto could end it with a body shot." I had my suspicions at that point, but it wasn't until I called my brother that I learned the truth.
I'm proud of Yuri, but disappointed. I guess many of us underestimated Cotto's greatness. We thought he had too many tough fights and his reflexes would be slowed. I had dreams of stardom for my favorite fighter. It was not to be. But he gained tons of respect. When I came back to boxing a couple of years ago, Yuri was the guy I decided would be my favorite. In that sense, it's very vindicating. You always want to be proud of the guy you root for. I am.