By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Sadam Ali knows what to expect Saturday night.
He was inside Madison Square Garden when another Brooklyn native, Paulie Malignaggi, challenged Miguel Cotto in June 2006. Ali cheered for Malignaggi that night, but remembers being among an extreme minority.
Ali thus has braced himself for being booed in his hometown when he encounters Cotto at The Garden in a 12-round fight for Cotto’s WBO super welterweight title.
“It gets crazy in there,” Ali said before a press conference Thursday at The Garden. “I’m fighting in my hometown, but it’s gonna feel like his because of the support he has over there. Of course I’m gonna have my fans there, too, but with the Puerto Rican fans and it’s his last fight, of course it’s gonna overpower mine. But I’m not gonna let that distract me. At the end of the day, it’s two guys in the ring.”
The 37-year-old Cotto (41-5, 33 KOs) will fight at Madison Square Garden, the Puerto Rican legend’s home away from home, for the 10th time in his career Saturday night (HBO; 10 p.m. ET).
His fight against Ali will be Cotto’s first fight there in nearly 3½ years, though. Cotto hasn’t boxed at The Garden since he upset Sergio Martinez to win the WBC middleweight title in June 2014.
The 29-year-old Ali (25-1, 14 KOs), who has moved up from welterweight for this fight, has fought at The Garden once. He defeated Francisco Santana by unanimous decision in that 10-round fight, which took place on the Wladimir Klitschko-Bryant Jennings undercard in April 2015.
That was a far different atmosphere than what he remembers from the night Cotto beat a game Malignaggi by 12-round unanimous decision.
“I remember just the stadium, the sound,” Ali said. “It looked like Paulie didn’t live in New York. It’s just that way. When you have that support system behind you, it just happens that way. When you’ve made it to be that star, you have that backup. I’m sure I’ll have that, too, one day.”
For now, Ali doesn’t think he’ll be adversely affected by thousands of fans cheering for his opponent Saturday night.
“It could affect some fighters,” Ali said. “It doesn’t affect me, though. I’ve been fighting since I was 8 years old. I’ve been in stadiums where the noise is crazy or you can even have boos here and there. I’ve been through [fights] where people would hate on me and think I won’t be able to do something, but I would still do it. So I don’t see it affecting me in any way. The only thing that can affect me is myself and what I do in that ring. Other than that, nothing else.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.