Cotto bringing big time action back to the Bronx

THIRTY FOUR years after boxing’s last headline act at Yankee Stadium saw Muhammad Ali handed a controversial points victory over Ken Norton, the sport is preparing to return to the venue tomorrow night.

The stadium may have switched across the street but the ghosts of its most famous fight nights have travelled with it alongside greats like Sugar Ray Robinson and Benny Leonard who once routinely plied their trade.

It was at Yankee Stadium where Rocky Marciano brought an end to his undefeated career with a ninth round stoppage win over Archie Moore in 1955. Gene Tunney also had his final fight there, an 11th round win over Tom Heeney in 1928.

Jack Dempsey knocked out Jack Sharkey at the stadium in 1927. Joe Louis starred at the venue 12 times against fighters like Max Schmeling, Primo Carnera and ‘Two Ton’ Tony Galento. He lost his title there to Ezzard Charles in 1950.

Tomorrow night the spotlight will switch to the hottest New York ticket-seller of the present generation when Miguel Cotto makes his light-middleweight debut in a WBA title fight against the popular, unbeaten Israeli Yuri Foreman.

Promoter Bob Arum expects a crowd of at least 20,000 comprising an ethnic mix of Puerto Ricans, who have supported Cotto’s rise to the top of his sport in their droves, and the only marginally less plentiful Jewish contingent who rally behind Foreman.

There could hardly be a more fitting fight to begin what many long-time observers hope will herald a new golden age for the sport at the stadium.

“Miguel Cotto has sold more boxing tickets than any other pugilist in New York,” said his long-term promoter Arum. “Miguel is the New York attraction. He proves it year after year.

“Yuri Foreman has lived in Brooklyn for a long while and is part of the very large Jewish population in the city. He is an observant Jew and he is going to become a rabbi. He fits into New York better than he fits into Tel Aviv.”

For Cotto it is the big stage he craves for a fight he dare not lose as he seeks to forge a new career at 154lbs after his last fight brought a far from embarrassing final round knockout defeat to Manny Pacquiao in November.

Knowing the importance of his showdown with Foreman, Cotto has secured the services of legendary trainer Emanuel Steward for the first time.

“It means a lot to be fighting in the legendary Yankee Stadium,” enthused Cotto this week. “I go to that place every year and I am very proud of the fans. I am going to feel like a Yankee on this night. I’m going to feel like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.”

For all his sharp boxing skills, Foreman could be made to measure for Cotto as he seeks to put recent setbacks aside and forge a new career for himself at the higher weight.

Although Foreman has won all 28 of his professional fights, only eight of those wins have come by stoppage and his record lists vanquished opponents who operate at levels far removed from that of the man he will face in the historic ring on Saturday.

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