Sports

Fight Night Returns to Yankee Stadium

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Daniel Flores handed a digital camera to afriend and grabbed a place next to Babe Ruth's monument in thefamous park beyond the center-field wall at Yankee Stadium.

This was a no-brainer for the 29-year-old Army officer andMiguel Cotto backer.

"I'm a diehard Cotto fan, Yankee fan, so I had to takeadvantage of the first fight here," Flores said.

Boxing returned to the home of the New York Yankees on Saturdaynight for the first major card in the Bronx since Muhammad Alidefeated Ken Norton at the old stadium on Sept. 28, 1976.

The first official bout at the second-year ballpark was betweena couple of prospects each in their fourth professional fight, wonby 22-year-old local Christian Martinez in a fourth-round knockout.

"I couldn't wait for tonight. It was a tremendous feelingwalking into the stadium," Martinez said. "It's great being thefirst man to ever win a fight in Yankee Stadium. It feelshistoric."

Cotto stopped champion Yuri Foreman in the ninth round of themain event to win the junior middleweight title. The fight featureda wild exchange in the eighth round when someone in Foreman'scorner threw in the towel, and referee Arthur Mercante Jr. angrilytossed it right back out.

Mercante asked Foreman if he wanted to continue, and theaspiring rabbi opted to keep going - leading to a roar from thepreviously distraught crowd of 20,727.

"Amazing, fighting here in Yankee Stadium," Cotto said. "Alot of Puerto Rican fans, like fighting at home."

The main event attracted an eclectic mix of fans in the rows ofseats on every side of the ring in short right field and in thestands circling the foul pole.

Baseball and boxing were interspersed throughout the stands,with Yankees jerseys on sale next to Cotto and Foreman T-shirts.Puerto Rico jerseys and hats from the World Baseball Classic alsowere popular with native son Cotto on the card.

Cotto wore pinstriped trunks, and the crowd even chanted " DerekJeter! Derek Jeter!" at one point during the first round of themain event, saluting the Yankees' captain.

Omid Malekan, 29, bought an Israeli flag when he walked into thestadium to show his support for Foreman, who planned his arrivalfor the fight around his observance of Shabbat. Malekan and hissister, Naz, got some good-natured grief from their Puerto Ricanfriends, but were enjoying the scene on a warm night.

"We've never been to a match before," said Malekan, who liveson Long Island, "so a big part of why we came was the history."

Naz Malekan, 30, boxes for exercise and quickly got into theundercard, shouting at the fighters to keep their hands up.

"It's really great to see the techniques in person," she said.

While college football is on tap for fall, Saturday night's cardwas the first sporting event besides baseball at the new YankeeStadium since it opened last spring.

The old stadium - now just a pile of rubble across the street -was the scene for several significant bouts before Yankees owner

George Steinbrenner became upset about the state of the infieldafter the Ali-Norton fight, and boxing followed the money to LasVegas.

Joe Louis went 10-1 at Babe Ruth's house, avenging his only lossat the ballpark when he knocked out German champion Max Schmelingin the Bronx on June 22, 1938. That memorable fight became afootnote in history books, widely viewed as a setback for the Naziregime coming to power in Europe.

Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey and James Braddock, the CinderellaMan, fought at Yankee Stadium in the 1920s, when baseball'scathedral hosted 14 of its 46 total cards. In later years, JakeLaMotta, Rocky Graziano and Sugar Ray Robinson were on the famousmarquee, and Rocky Marciano won four straight fights at theYankees' home in the 1950s.

Jordan Greif, a 34-year-old customer service manager who livesin Long Island, was on hand for boxing's return to the Bronx. Hewore a contented look as he sipped on a beer and watched anundercard bout from a concourse.

"I just feel like everything is better in New York," he said."Vegas is Vegas, but New York is New York."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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