Yuri Foreman was always unlikely to defeat Miguel Cotto in their 154-pound bout Saturday night in front of more than 20,000 spectators at Yankee Stadium. But he was even more unlikely to lose the way he actually did: With class and with heart and with a bad limp.
Foreman, the Belarus-born Orthodox Jew who is training to be a rabbi, was stopped in the ninth round by Cotto, who could well rank as one of the world’s ten best fighters. Foreman spent the first half of the fight relying almost entirely on crafty footwork, and even then he was more likely than not on his way to a loss-by-decision. But in the seventh round, unforced by the uncharacteristically timid Cotto, he slipped, forcing a limp that negated his only advantage and left him vulnerable to Cotto’s powerful, precise punching.
It got so bad that in the eighth round, someone in Foreman’s corner—according to both the New York Times and Tablet Magazine’s Matthew Fishbane, who was ringside, it was Foreman’s wife, who is herself a boxer, who was the catalyst—threw in the towel (yup, that’s where the phrase comes from). The only problem was, Foreman did not want the fight the stop then, and so the referee cleared the ring and allowed the bout to continue until a little bit into the following round, when Foreman’s bleeding nose and clear fate caused the ref (wisely, in my opinion) to step in and hand the fight to the challenging favorite, Cotto. At some point, heroism bleeds into foolishness, even as the hero remains.
“I’m a world champion,” Foreman said afterward. “And now, I’m a former world champion. But when you have a title, you never quit. I didn’t want it to be stopped.”
One imagines that even Cotto’s most diehard Puerto Rican fans—who showered Foreman with boos at the beginning of the fight—truly respected Foreman by the end. The same could be said for boxing analysts, experts, and aficionados everywhere.
It is worth noting that while Foreman’s leg injury was undoubtedly the reason why the fight was stopped, there is a very good chance he would have lost anyway: He seemed for most of the fight to be more in the dodging than punching business, and indeed Cotto looked like he won a significant majority of the first eight rounds (I would have given Foreman no more than one or two of the first six). And for a fighter like Foreman, who even at his best is not a great knockdown puncher (he has only eight KOs out of his 28 professional victories, which is a low proportion), getting behind in rounds is a death sentence.
Foreman was fighting at a weight better suited to him than to his opponent, and he lost, and he would likely have lost even under more usual circumstances. But he also looked completely in his element for six full rounds while standing across one of boxing’s reigning masters. Foreman proved Saturday night that, as of right now, he is not one of boxing’s true elite. He also proved that he has a sturdy chin and a phenomenally big heart, and if you possess those two things, then nothing in your future is out of the question.