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Fight Night

June 5, 2010

Tonight is the first boxing match at the new Yankee Stadium. Indeed, it is the first boxing match at either Yankee Stadium since Ali-Norton in 1976.

And The Half Empty Glass will be there.

I wasn’t fully aware of the history of boxing at Yankee Stadium, but according to the NY Times:

As part of HBO’s live show Saturday, Larry Merchant will discuss the 46 separate boxing events at Yankee Stadium, dating to May 12, 1923, a month after the original stadium opened, when Jess Willard scored a technical knockout over Floyd Johnson.

Epic events followed. Max Schmeling of Germany knocked out Louis, an American, in June 1936, and Louis knocked out Schmeling in the rematch 24 months later, in two fights remembered as harbingers of World War II.

The temperature was over 100 degrees on June 25, 1952. Ruby Goldstein, the referee, passed out in the 10th round and Sugar Ray Robinson could not come out for the 14th round against Joey Maxim.

So I would definitely recommend tuning in to see Larry Merchant slur (and perhaps slug) his way through the illustrious history.

Tonight’s main event features Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto, who has lost his last two fights.  One to Antonio Margarito, who was later caught loading up his gloves with plaster of paris, and one to Manny Pacquiao, who has been remarkable, but who seems to have developed a phobia of timely drug testing. Hmm.

Cotto’s opponent is Yuri Foreman, the so-called “Lion of Zion” and a bona fide rabbi who trains out of Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Foreman is unbeaten and holds the title belt, but he comes in as about a 2-1 ‘dog.

So big night in the Bronx. Puerto Rican guy against Jewish guy outdoors on the big ballfield in the Bronx. I can’t wait.

And neither can Bert Sugar:

Not only is it the first fight at Yankee Stadium in 34 years, the last being Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton in 1976, but also a throwback to fights of yesteryear before society was forced to conform to the latest fashion in political correctness. Back then, representatives of one ethnic group fought another for the bragging rights that went with a win – as was the case when a Jewish fighter, Barney Ross, fought an Irish hero, Jimmy McLarnin, or an Italian hero, Tony Canzoneri, back in the ’30s.

It’s not as if promoter Bob Arum was reinventing the boxing wheel by staging a throwback fight pitting Yuri Foreman (above right), an Orthodox Jew studying to become a rabbi, against Miguel Cotto (above left), a popular Puerto Rican fighter, so much as pulling up the sport by its roots to honor another of boxing’s glorious traditions: the outdoor fight. For the original Yankee Stadium was built with boxing, as well as baseball, in mind.

Yankee co-owner Col. Tillinghast l’Hommedieu Huston placed a brick-lined vault under second base housing the electronic, telegraphic and telephone connections necessary for major fights – of which there were several, including Louis-Schmeling II, Louis-Conn II, Robinson-Maxim, Saddler-Pep III and the first fight ever held at the original Stadium the year it opened, 1923, a lightweight title fight between two Jewish fighters, Benny Leonard and Lew Tendler.

There will be no backing and filling from this department. Boxing has several problems, like a heavyweight division on the cusp of being called on account of a lack of interest; too many alphabet soup regulating organizations; and too few big fights.

And there is the supposed erosion of the sport’s popularity due to the rising interest in something called mixed martial arts, a Frankensport made up of disparate disciplines and looking like a bar fight without broken beer bottles. However, despite reports to the contrary, its popularity among ex-wrestling fans who have substituted the cartoon violence of pro wrestling with the real violence of mixed martial arts has barely made a dent in boxing’s appeal.

That appeal will be in evidence tomorrow night when boxing fans, like carrier pigeons returning to a ship’s deck after a storm, return to Yankee Stadium to witness a big fight between two ethnic heroes. And also see why another Foreman, this one “Big” George, says, “Boxing is the sport to which all others aspire.”

Update: I forgot to link to this article, which has a good, detailed, and fairly chilling description of the scene outside the Stadium for the 1976 fight.

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