NEW YORK CITY — Freakish endings are the order of the day in boxing, at least over the past month in the junior middleweight division. First we he had the catapult fight with Kermit Cintron flying out of the ring against Paul Williams, and after Saturday, now we have the knee injury/rejected towel-throwing fight where Miguel Cotto got a stoppage victory against Yuri Foreman.
That’s not all that made it memorable, though. There was the Yankee Stadium location, of course, where more than 20,000 fans were in attendance according to the event’s promoter, a nice figure but less than the 27,000 the stadium was set up to hold Saturday. Cotto declared afterward that he was back, and he was indeed sharp, outboxing the skillful-boxing Foreman. For those of us who love Cotto, it was good to see him as a good deal more than a ghost of himself from all the punishment he has accumulated in his career. And while Foreman lost the fight, he won over a crowd that had booed him earlier by corageously continuing despite a badly injured knee that made him a sitting duck for Cotto’s bruising power shots. Referee Arthur Mercante Jr. absolutely shouldn’t have let the fight continue after Foreman’s corner threw in the towel, but it gave Foreman an unnecessary opportunity to further show us what he demonstrated by refusing to quit after getting hurt: that he’s not just a good story about a rabbi in training, that he’s not just a fine but feather-fisted boxing craftsman, but that in his heart he is, without question, a true fighter.
The undercard fight on the HBO broadcast, alas, was a good deal less interesting. Cotto-Foreman was strategic, but dramatic. The junior middleweight fight between Vanes Martirosyan started with promise, but offered nothing thereafter to make up for its lack of action.
MIGUEL COTTO-YURI FOREMAN
You can’t talk about this fight without talking about its ending, or endings, plural. In round 7, Foreman twice slipped and twice injured his knee. For Foreman to continue already proved plenty about what heart he had. His corner should have considered stopping the fight after that round. Foreman thrives on movement, because he doesn’t have the guns to duke it out; he has to be clever, nimble. Without movement — and Foreman most certainly couldn’t move, because his knee wobbled when he tried to pivot — Foreman was forced to brawl with Cotto. That was a recipe for a serious ass-kicking, and to his credit, he gave it a try, but got his ass kicked hard that round.
So when the towel came flying in in the 8th, I was pleased. Cotto began celebrating. But Mercante immediately was acting like he wasn’t going to let Foreman’s corner quit for him. This was a bad, bad call from Mercante. His argument was that the fight was still lively, that Foreman was fighting back. But Mercante’s job is to protect the fighters from themselves sometimes. The corner felt the need to protect their man, and Mercante should have let them. Somehow in the interim, Foreman, Mercante and his corner agreed to continue, because Foreman said he wanted to. But that’s not a good enough reason. Foreman was injured, and he was going to keep getting his ass kicked, which is exactly what happened in the 9th. This time, Mercante saw fit after a left hook to the body put Foreman down to stop it.
There was some mystery originally about who threw the towel in, but it was Foreman’s trainer, Joe Grier, who acknowledged it at a news conference afterward (despite promoter Bob Arum saying it was “100 percent clear” that the towel came from someone unaffiliated with Foreman; but then, fact-checking an Arum news conference would be like blocking odor in an Old Spice commercial).
Anyway, Cotto looked very sharp in his first fight with new trainer Emmanuel Steward, and I had him winning every round, unlike some of the judges who gave Foreman a few. I’m not opposed to awarding rounds to feather-fisted boxers, but when the other guy’s punches are clearly so much harder, you have to do more than Foreman was doing. Cotto’s jab was beautiful, and he was catching Foreman with counter lefts throughout. His attack was thoughtful; he picked his spots well and immediately went back to defense when he was done firing. Foreman did some work with his jab and right hook, but none of them thudded like Cotto’s. Cotto almost surely was going to win that fight, even had Foreman not been injured. We may not know if Cotto is as back as he says he is until he fights a big puncher, but he showed at least that he’s not damaged goods. There’s something still there. It may be a lot, or it may be a little, but it’s something.
Foreman, in two consecutive fights — this one, and his dominant, aggressive win over Daniel Santos — has gone from one of the most mocked boxers in the world to someone who just about all fans ought to embrace. There was no faking in him with that knee injury; everyone watching what happened had to recognize that we were witnessing a special display of guts. The Puerto Rican fans who jeered Foreman on his way into the ring (to the tune of Pantera’s “Walk,” of all things) gave him a nice ovation after his interview, where he didn’t make any excuses about why he lost. Foreman wasn’t good enough to beat the most accomplished opponent of his career, but he was competitive, so he also proved more than just his heart.
Foreman may be resting a while, so Cotto may move on to someone else rather than do a rematch, according to Arum. He threw out names like Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., none of whom are particularly appealing as a Cotto opponent because Pacquiao already throttled Cotto, Margarito is serving a U.S. suspension for loading his gloves in a 2009 fight and Chavez sucks. I’d rather see him in against Alfredo Angulo, or Paul Williams, or Sergio Martinez, or Andre Berto. Cotto himself said he will fight at junior middleweight or welterweight, depending on where the big names are. Either way, he picked up a title in his third division Saturday. There was a discussion earlier this week about whether Cotto was worthy of the Hall of Fame. I would have voted “yes” before Saturday. I think he helped his case this weekend.
VANES MARTIROSYAN-JOE GREENE
Through two rounds, this was actually a pretty competitive, well-fought bout between two undefeated youngsters. Through four, I had it even. After four, I hardly cared, because both men were doing so little, especially Greene.
Martirosyan won the last six rounds of the fight on my scorecard, including a 10-8 round in the 10th due to a bunk-ish knockdown, more the result of Martirosyan pushing Greene to the back of the head than a punch. His 1-2 took over the fight in the middle rounds. Greene would land the occasional wild left, but he also kept dropping his hands after landing, allowing Martirosyan to step in with combinations. I’m not sure why Greene disappeared by the middle of the fight; maybe he thought he was winning, and he wasn’t too far if so, as two judges had it far closer than most of us ringside, 96-93. Martirosyan speculated afterward that Greene tasted his power and didn’t want anymore. In the live blog, there was some speculation that maybe he was tired.
Martirosyan proved in the fight that he can win by conservatively outboxing his opponent, even with a swollen face. Greene proved that he’s too wild and has either a mental block or a stamina problem. Not stellar things for me to be saying about either man.
I’ll say this about Martirosyan — he’s frisky. He wants Paul Williams. He also said at the news conference afterward he considered coming into the ring in L.A. Dodgers gear. I don’t like him to beat an elite guy in his division yet, but I suppose showing the ability to win fights in different ways helps him. Freddie Roach, his trainer, said there are some things Martirosyan still needs to work on, and he’s right. I’m not sure Martirosyan ever gets to the next level, but I don’t rule out the possibility, either.