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Thursday, March 4, 2010
Foreman to fight Cotto on June 5

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Boxing is making its long-awaited return to Yankee Stadium, where icons like Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis once plied their trade.

WBA junior middleweight champion Yuri Foreman will defend his title against former welterweight champion Miguel Cotto on June 5 at the year-old ballpark in the Bronx, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum told The Associated Press late Thursday night.

Arum promoted the final bout at the old Yankee Stadium across 161st Street when Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton on Sept. 28, 1976. Arum had approached the club several times over the past three decades about staging another event, but George Steinbrenner and club brass had always been tepid about erecting a ring and seating on the immaculate infield grass.

"We have a preliminary agreement with them. Nothing has been signed or finalized," Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost told AP, calling the deal subject to approval from team higher-ups. "We do plan, if things go well, to have it on June 5."

The Yankees wrap up a three-game home series June 3 against the Baltimore Orioles, then the stadium will be turned over to Top Rank. The ring will be erected in right-center field, with seats sold on the field, in the right-field bleachers and down the first base line.

Ringside seats will begin at $400, with the least expensive tickets priced at $50. The stadium will be configured for between 30,000 and 35,000 fans.

"This is a crowning achievement in my career, to do the last fight in '76 and the first fight at the new stadium in 2010," Arum said by phone from Los Angeles. "You can't imagine how good it makes me feel, how special it makes me feel. This is a great thing for my legacy."

Foreman, a self-proclaimed Yankees fan, was born in Belarus but now makes his home in New York, while Cotto has fought numerous times at Madison Square Garden on the eve of the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. The parade this year falls the week after the fight, when the Yankees are at home.

Foreman (28-0) will be making the first defense of the title he won from Daniel Santos on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's fight against Cotto last fall. While he doesn't have widespread name recognition, Foreman -- who is studying to become a rabbi -- does have substantial backing from the large Jewish population that makes up the New York metropolitan area.

He'll need every bit of it against Cotto (34-2), who is considered a hero among the estimated 800,000 people in New York City who trace their roots to Puerto Rico.

"It's going to be an exceptional atmosphere. Miguel is an absolute hero to his community," said Foreman's publicist, Dovid Efune. "Jews and Puerto Ricans getting together for a monumental sporting event, it's a beautiful thing."

The Jewish sabbath does not officially end until sundown on Saturday night, so the main event will not start until about 11:30 p.m.

Coincidentally, the first fight at the old stadium also featured a Jewish fighter: Benny Leonard won a 15-round decision against Lew Tendler on July 24, 1923, about three months after the opening.

"It's historic," Efune said. "For a lot of Jewish fans, boxing is sort of something their grandparents and their parents were involved in, or from their immigrant days. But it's new for this generation, it's new for the youngsters."

One of the main hang-ups for the fight was a scheduling conflict for a bar mitzvah for Scott Ballan, the son of the lead bond lawyer for the financing of the $1.5 billion stadium. The entire family will be guests at the fight, and Foreman and Arum have both agreed to meet with the boy.

The old Yankee Stadium, which is slowly being deconstructed, had a proud boxing tradition.

Rocky Marciano defeated Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore there, and nearly 40,000 turned out to see Willie Pep fight Sandy Saddler. Sugar Ray Robinson was done in by the heat against Joey Maxim in 1952, then by Carmen Basilio five years later in Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year.

Louis fought at Yankee Stadium a dozen times, against the likes of Max Baer, Primo Carnera and Max Schmeling -- the latter generating worldwide attention as the Nazis came to power.

While this fight may not have the same cultural implications, Arum hopes it helps thrust boxing back into the mainstream.

The veteran promoter is staging the first fight at the new Cowboys Stadium near Dallas on March 13, between Pacquiao and former welterweight champion Joshua Clottey. He's also promised New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch that he'll attempt to bring a major fight to the new football stadium in the Meadowlands next spring.

The Jets and Giants will begin playing in their new home this fall.

"We're trying to bring events to the people," Arum said. "We're going to continue to do events in Las Vegas, but you cannot do that exclusively because that doesn't grow the brand of boxing. You need to bring the sport to these exceptional venues."