By Cliff Rold
It’s not the “House that Ruth Built” anymore. Not quite. Old Yankee Stadium is gone now, the latest casualty of the encroachment of tomorrow. There will be those who say it’s about greed, about money, damn the history.
They’d be right.
History doesn’t pay as well as luxury boxes. It isn’t erased by new structures either and, as New York sports fans well know, the name is where the value ultimately lies.
Given its long existence, today’s Madison Square Garden probably feels like an inseparable part of the New York landscape. It’s not. It is simply the latest version of the Garden to exist, Garden IV for the purists.
Inside it’s hallowed halls though, it’s just the Garden. Even if all the spirits inside it may not have played on the very same court, may not have battled at the very same ring center, it’s still the Garden. The legacy of the name is as valuable as the ground itself.
It is with that feeling that this Saturday’s HBO show will take place. The sight lines might not be what they were for Gehrig and Mantle, for Ali and Norton, but by God it’s still Yankee Stadium. It will say so on the ticket stubs.
Miguel Cotto’s challenge of Yuri Foreman for the WBA junior middleweight belt is an interesting enough fight on its own. Cotto (34-2, 27 KO) coming off a devastating loss at Welterweight to Manny Pacquiao to challenge for a belt in his third weight class has powerful narrative. The preeminent Puerto Rican star of his era facing a Jewish titlist in Foreman (28-0, 8 KO) would be a hot summer night in New York in any era.
New York always sold bundles of tickets with ethnic rivalries. This fight fits well with the legacy, if not the overall quality, of battles like Benny Leonard-Lew Tendler. It may struggle to reach the same peaks as some of the Yankee classics though.
How could it not. It’s been almost 34 years since the great venue has seen prizefighters do their thing. In the years before 1976, Yankee Stadium…
…saw an aging Jack Dempsey step in off losing the Heavyweight championship to Gene Tunney for a showdown with young contender Jack Sharkey in 1927. Behind on points and being soundly outboxed, Dempsey went to the cup. Sharkey appeared to be turning to complain about the foul and Dempsey proved why fighters must ‘defend themselves at all times.’ He let Sharkey have it. Ten count. TKO7.
…saw Joe Louis. Boy, did it see Joe Louis. Under the Bronx lights, Louis would be stopped by Max Schmeling in 1936 and ravage Schmeling in the return two years later. Louis’s comeback win against Sharkey in between, struggle with Tommy Farr, off the floor knockout of Two-Ton Tony Galento, rematch knockouts of Arturo Godoy, Billy Conn, and Jersey Joe Walcott, all filled the Yankee stands. His one-too-many return against Ezzard Charles played host as well.
…saw what still may be the greatest Middleweight war ever raged. The Man of Steel, Tony Zale, had taken the crown with him into the trenches of World War II. In his absence, Rocky Graziano had built a solid following with dramatic knockouts and a Horatio Alger archetype of a story. Together over six rounds, Zale and Graziano became Zale-Graziano, the first chapter in what would be three epics allowing the warriors involved to become one of the rare adjective rivalries in boxing. Zale won in six. The fans at Yankee Stadium that night won forever.
…saw, in Yankee’s last fistic night a less than glorious encounter and yet an enduring part of the legend. Muhammad Ali had conquered Zaire, survived Manila, but could never quite solve Ken Norton. He certainly didn’t on September 28, 1976. In one of the most debated and decried decisions of the 20th century, Ali retained his crown over fifteen rounds in his only appearance under Yankee’s open sky.
There has been plenty written about boxing’s recent returns to mega-venues. Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler put over 50,000 in Millennium Stadium in 2007. The Heavyweight Klitschko brothers are making a habit of stadium filling in Germany. Manny Pacquiao against Joshua Clottey earlier this year may only have been a preview of bigger crowds at the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium in years to come.
None of them are Yankee.
This is the ultimate throwback, a reminder of when June in New York was the Super Bowl period for the sport almost every year, of packed houses not only at Yankee but also at a Polo Grounds which no longer exists. Cotto-Foreman? As noted, it’s an interesting fight on its own. The fight program will say it is the main event.
But, no matter whether it is a classic or simply another night at the fights, it plays second fiddle to the location surrounding the fighters. Saturday night, after over three decades, boxing comes home to Yankee Stadium.
Yankee Stadium is the event.
Cliff’s Notes… Why aren’t more people asking to see Vitali Klitschko-Tomasz Adamek. They could pack house in the U.S. or abroad if a Haye fight isn’t possible or is taken by Wladimir…Joel Casamayor fighting Amir Khan? Why? This can’t be serious in a field as deep as Jr. Welterweight is right now. Dimitry Salita and Paulie Malignaggi followed by the aged Cuban should raise real question marks…It’s a shame that Steve Cunningham-Troy Ross isn’t on U.S. TV. How often has a stellar Cruiserweight fight, on paper, disappointed in the last ten years? Not often and fans could really be missing out…The WBO stripping him doesn’t change the only fact that matters: Sergio Martinez is THE Middleweight Champion of the World until he, not a sanctioning body, says different…Here’s hoping all the BoxingScene readers enjoyed their Memorial Day weekend and enjoy the sight of a fight at freaking Yankee Stadium in 2010.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]