By Thomas Gerbasi
BRONX – It was ironic that in the first boxing match to be held at Yankee Stadium in 34 years, a baseball game broke out, as a bizarre call by Arthur Mercante Jr. – the second in sports this week after Jim Joyce’s missed call that cost the Detroit Tigers’ Armando Galarraga a perfect game - marred an otherwise competitive bout that saw Miguel Cotto win his third divisional title by stopping Yuri Foreman in the ninth round for the WBA junior middleweight title.
“It was the plan we made in Tampa,” said Cotto who was working with trainer Emanuel Steward for the first time. “Working with the jab and putting pressure on him. I just followed the instructions of Emanuel. He’s the guy who knows.”
Before the end though, chaos reigned as a right knee injury suffered by Foreman prompted his corner to throw in the towel in the eighth round, a move of surrender disregarded by Mercante.
“The towel came in in the heat of the battle,” said the referee. “There was no need to stop the fight. At the moment I didn’t know (who threw the towel.) I felt I did the right thing.”
Then the filled ring needed to be emptied and the bout re-started, and Cotto closed the show, but not without a courageous final stand from the Isreal-born Foreman.
“I have to still fight him,” said Cotto. “I can’t stop. I’m sorry because of his knee, but the fight has to go on.”
“I’m not quitting,” said Foreman. “I’m a world champion. I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to continue.”
And before a crowd of 20,272, Foreman and Cotto gave fans their money’s worth in the first Stadium bout since Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton on September 28, 1976.
Not surprisingly, Foreman used every inch of the ring real estate that he could to open the bout, tossing in quick flurries and the occasional jab to keep the stalking Cotto guessing. For his part, Cotto got in a few shots, but not enough to put together a consistent offensive attack.
A patient Cotto didn’t stray from his chosen path in the second, even jarring Foreman briefly with a straight shot to the head. Foreman’s output dipped a bit in response, though he did catch Cotto with a solid counter left in the final minute.
Foreman brought a stiff jab to the party as round three began, and though busier throughout an effective stanza, the impression was that the cool and collected Cotto was just biding his time until the bouncing Foreman slowed down.
Early in round four, Foreman rocked Cotto with a short right hand, drawing an ‘ooh’ from the crowd. Cotto looked to get even and picked up his forward movement, prompting Foreman to wisely backpedal out of range. When Cotto was able to corner Foreman, he scored well, especially to the body, but his spurts weren’t leading to more substantial damage.
Cotto’s combinations started to come more frequently in round five, and his thudding hooks to the head were finding their mark as well. Foreman rebounded in the second half of the frame though with quick flurries that let the challenger know that he was still around.
The sixth was an interesting round, with Foreman landing more punches, but Cotto’s punches apparently doing more in the way of draining the stamina of the champion, setting the stage for the second half of the bout that would decide things.
In the first minute of the seventh round, Foreman hit the deck, apparently injuring his leg. Foreman took a few seconds to walk off the injury and then Cotto pounced, In the midst of the assault, Foreman went down again because of the banged up leg, bringing a momentary halt to the action again. When the bout resumed, Cotto and Foreman met in the middle of the ring and the two slugged it out. Cotto took full advantage of this change of fortune, but the courageous Foreman would not give in and he fired back at the challenger until the bell rang.
Still limping, Foreman came out for the eighth round, forced to alter his strategy and fight Cotto’s fight. And though Foreman appeared to be holding his own, a towel was thrown into the ring by trainer Joe Grier, apparently ending the bout. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. disagreed, called time out, and re-started the bout in one of the most bizarre occurrences in recent history. After the round, ring announcer Michael Buffer told the crowd that the bout continued because the towel was thrown in by an outside source, though replays confirmed that it was Grier who was the culprit.
So the bout continued without incident in the eighth, but early in the ninth, a left hook to the body sent Foreman down again, this time prompting Mercante to halt the bout at the 42 second mark.
“Miguel is back,” said Cotto, who lead by scores of 79-73 twice and 78-74 at the time of the stoppage.
With the win, Cotto improves to 35-2 with 28 KOs; Foreman falls to 28-1 with 8 KOs.
In what looked, on paper, to be an intriguing clash of unbeaten junior middleweight up and comers turned out to be less than that in reality, but when it was over, former US Olympian Vanes Martirosyan kept his “0”, as he clearly outpointed New York’s Joe Greene over 10 fairly uneventful rounds.
Scores were 96-93 twice and 98-91 for Martirosyan, who retained his NABF and NABO titles.
Both fighters came out fast, burning off some excess energy until settling into a pace that saw Greene chasing and Martirosyan using his height and reach advantage from long range. With under a minute to go, a borderline low blow from Greene brought a brief halt to the action, but Martirosyan shook it off and was back in business by round’s end.
Martirosyan was effective in round two, scoring especially well with well-timed shots to the body that were bothering Greene, but Queens’ ‘Mean Joe’ started to find his rhythm in the third frame, drawing a positive buzz from the crowd that was chanting his nickname, but Martirosyan still finished the round stronger and was landing the harder blows.
A low blow – this time by Martirosyan – halted the action briefly in the fourth frame, and it ended up being perhaps the cleanest punch landed by either man in a lackluster round.
Greene tried to be busier to open the fifth round, but his punches were either falling short of the mark or having no impact on the Californian. Martirosyan wasn’t setting the world on fire either, with his attacks usually ending up in a clinch.
Martirosyan – his left eye bruised - tagged Greene with some hard shots as the second half of the bout got under way, and though the New Yorker wasn’t getting hurt, he was allowing his foe to put points on the board, a pattern that continued through the seventh and eighth, with Greene’s sporadic offensive output not enough to steal the rounds.
Seemingly content with his lead, Martirosyan boxed in the ninth, but finished strong in the final round, punctuating the victory with a questionable flash knockdown just before the bell ending the bout.
With the win, Martirosyan improves to 28-0 with 17 KOs; Greene falls to 22-1 with 14 KOs.
In off-TV action…
New Jersey’s Pawel Wolak was in James Moore’s face for 30 minutes in their junior middleweight bout, and the unyielding pressure of the “Raging Bull” was enough for the 28-year old to pull out a 10 round unanimous decision win.
Scores were 97-93 twice and 96-94 for Wolak.
Much of the cheers in the opening round were for pound-for-pound superstar Manny Pacquiao as he made his way to his ringside seat, but Moore and Wolak were certainly doing their part to earn kudos as they engaged at close range from bell to bell.
Wolak stayed in Moore’s chest for the majority of the second round, and while he certainly got his licks in, the Irishman scored enough with whipping uppercuts and hooks to keep his foe honest.
The speed of the close-quarters brawl didn’t change in round three, but Moore was having more success catching Wolak with long-range combinations as he bulled his way inside, with the result being a more methodical pace in round four that suited him.
Wolak got back to business in the middle rounds, and it looked like Moore was starting to tire under the relentless pressure, while the Poland native wasn’t even breathing heavy as he parked himself in front of Moore and fired away with both hands.
In round eight, Moore was warned by referee Benji Esteves for holding, and though he was falling behind, he kept throwing. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough steam on his fastball to halt Wolak’s forward motion, and his glances at the clock showed that his gas tank was close to empty.
Moore did make it to the final bell, though a victory was not to be his tonight.
With the win, Wolak improves to 27-1 with 17 KOs; Moore falls to 17-3 with 10 KOs.
Puerto Rican lightweight prospect Juan Gonzalez was extended the full route for the first time as a pro against Texas’ Juan Lucio, but still emerged victorious via a four round unanimous decision.
Scores were 39-37 twice and 40-36 for Gonzalez, who improves to 8-0 with 7 KOs; Lucio, who was rocked in the second and fourth rounds but not dropped, falls to 4-1-1 with 2 KOs.
Denver’s Terry Baterbaugh spoiled the home field advantage for Long Island welterweight Tommy Rainone, decisioning the local product unanimously over six rounds.
Scores were 59-55 twice and 60-54 for Baterbaugh, who improves to 6-3-1 with 3 KOs. Rainone falls to 12-4 with 3 KOs.
If iron-willed Korean Jae Sung Lee had more power, he might have scored an upset over New Jersey prospect Jorge Diaz. But his defensive deficiencies, coupled with Diaz’ power, led to a sixth round TKO loss at the hands of the power-punching “King”, who was lucky his own porous defense didn’t wind up costing him in the entertaining featherweight scrap.
The end came at the 1:54 mark of the final round, with referee Sparkle Lee halting the bout after a series of unanswered blows by Diaz, who scored the fight’s only knockdown in the first round.
With the win, Diaz improves to 14-0 with 9 KOs; Lee falls to 10-3-1 with 7 KOs.
Main eventer Miguel Cotto’s 22-year old cousin Abner upped his pro record to 8-0 (4 KOs) with a competitive, but fairly uneventful, unanimous decision win over Midland, Texas’ Edgar Portillo (6-5-1, 4 KOs) in lightweight action.
The six rounder was scored 59-55 twice and 58-56 for Caguas’ Cotto.
In the junior welterweight opener, highly-touted Top Rank prospect Christian Martinez improved to 4-0 (4 KOs) with a fourth round TKO of game New Yorker Jonathan Cuba.
Martinez controlled the bout from the start, but Cuba (2-2, 2 KOs) wouldn’t go away, having some success when he made a brawl out of matters in the third. A knockdown scored by Martinez at the end of the third was the beginning of the end though, with two more knockdowns in the fourth forcing referee Sparkle Lee to halt the bout at the 1:18 mark of the final round.