Cotto wins battle of wounded knee

NEW YORK -- This could have been a triumphant homecoming for Miguel Cotto, his opportunity to show New York City, his adopted hometown, that the losses, both in the ring and out, of the past couple of years might have dented him, but had hardly broken him.

And in truth, it is quite possible that he was going on to defeat Yuri Foreman even if his gallant opponent had not slipped and twisted his knee in the seventh round, robbing him of the best part of his game, his fluid mobility.

But it did happen, and pandemonium ensued, and the first fight at Yankee Stadium in 34 years ended with a conclusion that could not have fully satisfied anyone.

For six rounds, the Stadium was electric, the fight interesting and, to my eyes, close. Foreman was fighting a careful fight, Cotto a high-pressure one, and both were performing reasonably well.

And then, just at the point that the fight was heating up -- my scorecard had the bout dead even, three rounds apiece, heading into the fateful and nearly fatal seventh -- it suddenly came to a grinding halt.

Foreman slipped, for reasons that remained unclear several hours after the fight. The fighter said he did it while trying to slide out of danger along the ropes. His manager, Murray Wilson, insisted the mishap occurred because of a puddle of water that had accumulated near Cotto's corner and was never adequately wiped up by the commission inspectors.

But both agreed on what was obvious to anyone in Yankee Stadium -- once Foreman lost his legs, he had essentially lost the fight.

The end didn't come, officially, for another round plus 42 seconds, when a beautiful Cotto left hook to the floating ribs along the right side of Foreman's abdomen dropped him to a knee, where referee Arthur Mercante immediately waved the fight over.

And in fact, Mercante had actually stopped the fight once before, after a towel came flying into the ring after Foreman slipped down a second time in Round 7 and got up hobbling, looking for all the world like a man who could not continue to fight.

But in short order, the referee determined that the towel was not thrown by a cornerman, but, as ring announcer Michael Buffer announced to the confused crowd, "from an outside party."

That was probably not true -- after the bout, both Wilson and Joe Grier, Foreman's trainer, took credit for it -- but what was true is that in New York State the corner cannot stop a fight and the referee is under no obligation to respect the towel as a sign of surrender.

"It was not necessary to stop the fight at that point," Mercante said. "The kid is a champion and dead game and he still wanted to fight. I gave him another chance to win."

In truth, however, Foreman's chances disappeared along with his mobility. A light-hitting, swift-fisted boxer, Foreman's entire fight is predicated on his ability to use the perimeter of the ring as a haven and his legs as a means of escape.

Once he lost those, he became a sitting duck for Cotto's heavy left hooks, which swiftly took their toll.

"Anybody who saw the fight knows I beat him twice tonight," Cotto said. "Just look at the scorecards and see if the injury was a factor in this fight."

On the cards, it was not. Two of the judges gave Foreman just one round, the third just two. Considering he had just eight knockouts in his 28-0 record, that meant Foreman was hopelessly behind on points.

"But there was still half the fight to go," Foreman said. "And anything can happen."

But he admitted that the injury, a holdover, he said, from a bicycling accident in Israel when he was 15, not only took his mobility, but his ability to dig into the canvas and get leverage on his punches. "I don't know what I really could have done," he said. "But I was not going to quit."

That he did not, and to Cotto's credit, he dispatched Foreman cleanly and quickly with the ninth-round body shot. But for a man trying to wipe away the image of a shot fighter left behind by his KO losses to Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito, this was less than the resounding victory he needed.

Even promoter Bob Arum, for whom Cotto has been a huge draw in the loyal Hispanic boxing market, acknowledged that Foreman's injury left just enough doubt to justify a rematch.

"But we can't wait for him to recover if the injury is as serious as it appears," Arum said. "So we move on."

That seemed to suit Cotto just fine. "Miguel is back," he said.

But how far back, it is impossible to know. Not until he beats a fighter with two good hands, and two good legs.

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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