I am still savoring the amazing experience of covering a fight at Yankee Stadium. It was a huge thrill to be there for the Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman fight Saturday night, boxing's return to the fabled ballpark for the first time in 34 years.
It was hot, humid and there were threats of rain all day, but it was fantastic. I was thinking at one point during the undercard, "I can't freakin' believe I am sitting in right field -- literally in right field -- of Yankee Stadium to cover a fight."
Before the show began, I was standing at ringside talking with a couple of pals, HBO broadcaster Max Kellerman and HBO producer Jon Crystal. We were marveling at the scene and I busted out my BlackBerry to take a few pictures of the stadium for posterity. As I looked around, it was obvious that several other media members were also taking photos.
As Kellerman said, "You know this is a big deal when all the media guys are taking their own personal pictures."
He was right, and I wasn't done. During one of the undercard bouts I wasn't particularly interested in, I took a walk into center field toward the media entrance to the field. I can't lie: I pretended to make a catch up against the outfield wall, right by the 408-foot sign.
The Yankees kept Monument Park open for the evening. I had never been there before in any of my many trips to the old stadium, so I spent about 20 minutes checking things out. I took pictures of the plaques dedicated to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, among others. A stranger helped me out by taking a picture of me between the monuments for Don Mattingly (my all-time favorite player) and Reggie Jackson. It was pretty cool.
The whole night was fun, and I have to give promoters Bob Arum, Todd duBoef and their staff at Top Rank credit for having the vision and wherewithal to make it happen. I don't think there is another promotional company that would even think about mounting such a challenging promotion, much less actually do it.
And think about this: Top Rank has now done this sort of monumental undertaking twice in the past four months, also opening the amazing Cowboys Stadium for boxing in March for Manny Pacquiao's fight with Joshua Clottey. Between the two stadium fights, Top Rank drew more than 70,000 fans, which is tremendous for the sport.
Top Rank didn't skimp in New York, either. One company official told me they spent more than $400,000 for such things as the lighting, sound system and canopy, all of which really added to the atmosphere, not to mention giving HBO some incredible shots for its broadcast.
Speaking of which, I thought HBO did a tremendous job of capturing the scene and explaining why it was such a big deal to have a fight at Yankee Stadium, which had hosted 46 fight cards in the old building but none since 1976 -- the third Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton fight, which Arum also promoted. (One nice touch, among many, Saturday night: Before the show began, Ali-Norton III played on the giant video board in center field.)
Some of the Yankee Stadium fights were among the most important in boxing history and involved significant fighters including Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano, Jack Dempsey, Benny Leonard, Harry Greb, Henry Armstrong, Ezzard Charles, Sandy Saddler, Willie Pep and Carmen Basilio -- Hall of Famers all.
Officials from baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., also recognized the importance of Saturday's event, asking the fighters to donate memorabilia from the bout. They both happily complied, with Cotto offering his signed shoes and Foreman donating his signed gloves. If neither makes the boxing HOF, they can at least say part of them is in the baseball shrine.
Larry Merchant's piece during the HBO telecast on the history of fights at Yankee Stadium was perfectly done. He ought to know. He was at some of them.
My only quibble was that HBO didn't show any of the national anthems, which I consider an important part of the prefight pageantry (and the woman who sang the Israeli national anthem "Hatikvah" in honor of Foreman was absolutely phenomenal).
It all paid off for HBO, which announced that the fight generated a 3.9 rating, its best boxing rating of the year (and I am also told the highest in about two years). The live broadcast, combined with a Sunday morning replay, was seen by approximately 1.9 million viewers. Considering that HBO paid a license fee of $2.85 million, it got some serious bang for its buck, and Top Rank added another historic fight to its long list of memorable promotions.