On many Saturday nights in June, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx is filled with passionate fans. But this Saturday night will be different. The fans won't be there to catch the Yankees, they'll be there to see Miguel Cotto step up to 154 pounds and challenge alphabet titlist Yuri Foreman, as boxing makes its debut at the new Yankee Stadium.
WBA Junior Middleweight Title: Yuri Foreman v. Miguel Cotto (12 Rounds)
Any photo you've seen of these two together (including the one to your right) demonstrates the clear size difference between these two fighters. Miguel Cotto (32-2, 27 KO) was a small welterweight, and is absolutely tiny for a junior middleweight. Yuri Foreman (28-0, 8 KO) is a big, solid 154-pound fighter.
Foreman stands 5'11" with a 72-inch reach, compared to Cotto's 5'7" and 67-inch reach. They're both 29 years of age, but Foreman has taken far, far less punishment in his career -- no punishment at all, really. Foreman's first step onto the true world stage came last November on the Cotto-Pacquiao undercard, when he took the WBA belt from Daniel Santos, who was old, out of shape, and clearly well past the days when he was a very underrated fighter.
For the most part, Foreman has been able to dominate his limited foes, but he has had some trouble with the likes of Andrey Tsurkan and Anthony Thompson, both of whom lost split decisions to Foreman in 2007. There is a question of whether or not Foreman can handle real pressure from a good fighter, one who can bang. Cotto was no monster puncher at 147, and won't be at 154 either, but the Cotto of old was one of the best pressure fighters in boxing.
Cotto will need to be that guy again. After a two-fight stint with Joe Santiago serving as his lead trainer, Cotto is now working with Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, who had been in talks to serve as an adviser to Foreman for this bout. On paper, Foreman, who is tall and likes to use his jab, is more Manny's kind of fighter. But Steward loves a reclamation project, too. The work he's done in recent years with Wladimir Klitschko has been arguably the best work of his career, even including Thomas Hearns. He's taken Klitschko from a very powerful but very susceptible heavyweight to a man who isn't indestructible, but has learned to be damn near impenetrable.
Steward has had his best success with tall guys, guys with big power. But that doesn't mean he can't do well with Miguel Cotto. He's clearly a big believer in Cotto's talent, and having observed Miguel's recent fights from ringside while working for HBO, maybe he sees something important missing in Miguel's game plan. As a novice observer of tactics, my feeling is that Miguel Cotto has just gotten away from what made him the force he was. He was a vicious little guy who targeted the body in a beautifully savage manner, who wore down tough opponents and rarely let them get into their rhythm very effectively. Miguel Cotto beat a very good Shane Mosley in 2007, but since then has been up-and-down.
Cotto has fought five times since the win over Mosley, going 3-2. He easily dispatched of patsy opponents Alfonso Gomez and Michael Jennings, but between those bouts was worn down by Antonio Margarito. The first half of that bout looked like something of a master class from Cotto, who was fighting differently, clearly aware of Margarito's size and power, clearly aware that Antonio did not wear down easily. But as he was building up a sizable score card lead, he was taking punishment the whole time. And eventually the punishment was too much.
After beating Jennings, he fought Joshua Clottey and escaped with a hard-fought split decision, a fight I felt than and feel now that Cotto won, but mostly because Clottey's rounds of inactive indifference allowed that to happen. Miguel Cotto was good and he was tough that night, and he fought very brave, but more than anything I believe Clottey gave the fight away. Again, Cotto was against a guy he couldn't really damage. Clottey went down off-balance in the first round, but that was fluky. And Cotto still wasn't the vicious attacker he used to be.
We all know what happened last November as Manny Pacquiao simply sliced and diced Miguel Cotto down the stretch. Cotto was doing the best he could, but was overwhelmed by Pacquiao's speed, power and offensive genius.
So how does he combat Foreman?
As a Miguel Cotto fan who just wants to see the best Cotto, I hope Manny Steward has him ready to eat jabs on his way in to attack the body. That's the only way Miguel Cotto can overcome the size difference, the fact that he's no longer the fighter he used to be (though Cotto is, I believe, still a hell of a good fighter), and what may be some self-doubt.
And I don't think I can see Yuri Foreman holding up well under a grueling close quarters attack from Cotto, either. Foreman is a nice story and a nice guy, but he is in no way a special talent. He's very sound and doesn't make mistakes, but he's got little pop and lives and dies on being able to outbox the other man. He can outbox Cotto if Cotto isn't sharp, too.
If Yuri Foreman wins this fight, it'll probably be clear, widely scored, and dull. If Miguel Cotto wins this fight, it will be because he brings a major storm onto Foreman that Foreman cannot handle. It might just be that I really believe that Cotto is still a very good fighter, and it could just be that I want that to be the case. But I'm expecting a re-focused, re-energized Miguel Cotto on Saturday night to bang out a decision win and get some of his mojo back. If it goes the way I expect, I also will say I don't think Yuri Foreman will ever reach these heights again. Cotto UD-12
Junior Middleweights: Vanes Martirosyan v. Joe Greene (10 Rounds)
Top prospect Martirosyan (27-0, 17 KO) survived a very tough scrape with veteran Kassim Ouma in January with his undefeated record intact, but it was a close call. It was the first time that the confident, 24-year-old Martirosyan had been tested. Overall, I thought he acquitted himself pretty nicely. Most top prospects get that scare.
Greene (22-0, 14 KO) is taking a risk with this one. Mean Joe's climb up the prospect ladder has hit a speed bump, as he fought just once in 2009 (a win over Delray Raines) and also fought on April 2 against well-known opponent Chris Gray, a tricky sort of guy, to get tuned up for this bout.
Greene's a good fighter, but probably doesn't have the level of polish that Martirosyan does, and certainly doesn't have his pedigree. It's a big measuring stick bout for Greene in particular. Martirosyan is further along in his development, and I think has to be considered the solid favorite. A good fight for both, no matter who wins, will serve to strengthen their profiles, but obviously the winner is very close to a possible title shot in the weak 154-pound weight class. Martirosyan UD-10