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NEW YORK &ndash Sooner or later on Saturday, Miguel Cotto was going to win the World Boxing Association super welterweight title from Yuri Foreman before 20,272 fans in the first fight at Yankee Stadium in nearly 34 years.
That was obvious after Foreman's right knee began buckling underneath him in the middle of the bout and he could barely move.
Foreman wasn't going to beat Cotto in a flatfooted toe-to-toe battle and, after hitting the deck several times when he slipped despite not being punched, that was the only style he could fight.
But even when it appeared Cotto had lifted the title from Foreman in the eighth round, referee Arthur Mercante Jr. forced him to fight a bit longer before he could claim the belt.
"He was hurt and working on one leg, but I kept fighting," Cotto said following a bizarre sequence in the eighth round in which the fight seemingly was stopped after Foreman trainer Joe Grier threw in the towel.
Foreman first slipped on water in Cotto's corner several rounds earlier and fell onto his backside. Later, he slipped while trying to change direction, then slipped a third time as he moved along the ropes near the ringside photographers.
He was moving gingerly on his right ankle and his knee was clearly bothering him. Foreman came into the bout wearing a brace on his right knee to stabilize an old injury, but it didn't give him nearly enough support to fight the kind of fight he needed to defeat Cotto.
If Foreman was to win, he was going to move laterally, fire his jab and smother Cotto and limit his output. He wasn't equipped to fight the shootout that the fight turned into.
"While making side-to-side movements tonight, it gave out and I felt a sharp pain," Foreman said. "Arthur Mercante let me try to work it out. I'm a world champion – now a former world champion – but when you have the title you never quit. I didn't want it to be stopped."
Early in the eighth round, Grier tried to climb the steps in Foreman's corner, apparently in an effort to stop the fight, but he was interrupted by an inspector for the New York Athletic Commission.
Grier grabbed a towel, waited a few seconds, then hurled it into the ring. Cotto raised his arms in victory and Foreman retreated to his corner as the ring quickly filled. Mercante, though, didn't believe the towel came from Grier and didn't feel the fight needed to be stopped at that stage.
"I heard someone yell, 'Stop the fight! Stop the fight!' And then the towel came in," Mercante said.
He wasn't aware it was Grier until after seeing a replay once the fight was ultimately stopped for good in the ninth round.
He ordered ring announcer Michael Buffer to clear the ring and then resumed the bout.
"The towel came in in the heat of the battle when there was a good exchange going," Mercante said. "When the towel came in, I felt it was not necessary to stop the fight. Ten seconds prior, they were yelling, 'Stop the fight, stop the fight,' but there was no need to do that. It was a great fight and that's what the fans came to see."
Foreman finished the eighth round but didn't regain any mobility in the ninth. Cotto hit him with a body shot along the ropes early in the round, knocking Foreman down. It didn't appear as if the punch hurt him as much as his leg simply wouldn't support him. At that point, Mercante finally stopped it just 42 seconds into the round.
Cotto was far ahead on the scorecards – judges Steve Weisfeld and Donald Ackerman had it 79-73 and Tony Paolillo had it 78-74 – and it was clear Foreman wasn't going to get back into the fight under the circumstances.
Despite winning the championship, his third in as many weight classes after world titles at super lightweight and welterweight, Cotto didn't really answer questions about whether he had sufficiently recovered from the beating he took in November at the hands of Manny Pacquiao.
Cotto was coming off three bad beatings in his last four fights, losses to Antonio Margarito and Manny Pacquiao and a split-decision win over Joshua Clottey. Many around him, including those working for Top Rank, privately wondered whether his many battles had left him spent.
In Foreman, he was facing a light-hitting opponent who had not defeated an elite fighter. Still, Foreman was the choice of many boxing experts because his style of moving and fighting defensively figured to bother Cotto.
Cotto wasn't spectacular and Foreman landed many hard punches that bruised Cotto's face, but trainer Emanuel Steward, who was hired after the Pacquiao loss, was satisfied with what he saw.
"I thought Cotto fought the perfect fight," Steward said. "He had a good jab, good footwork and nice body work. I was very pleased."
Cotto is one of the most game fighters in the business and is eager for another major bout. The stadium, more than the fight, was the biggest attraction Saturday.
But his bouts with Pacquiao and Margarito, in particular, were classics and there is at least a possibility he could wind up fighting rematches against either next.
Cotto, though, said he needs time to evaluate where the best fights are and will take the one that makes the most competitive and financial sense.
"We have to wait to see what is better, whether to stay at 154 or go back down to 147," Cotto said. "I am always ready for the big fights."
He'll undoubtedly have at least one more before he calls it a career, but it's unlikely he'll win a championship twice in the same night the way he more or less did on Saturday.
- Miguel Cotto
- Yuri Foreman
- Arthur Mercante