Cotto overcomes Foreman, bizarre night

NEW YORK -- It was the rebirth of boxing at Yankee Stadium and the rebirth of Miguel Cotto's career.

But Saturday night's fight also was reminiscent of some of the crazier things that have taken place in boxing -- the "Fan Man" who invaded the second Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe heavyweight championship fight and maybe Mike Tyson biting Holyfield's ear to name two.

In the end it was Cotto who took Yuri Foreman's junior middleweight title on a ninth-round TKO before 20,272, but not before everyone thought the fight had ended midway through the eighth round.

What began as a magical night with the return of boxing to the fabled field ended with a bizarre incident in which Foreman's trainer, Joe Grier, threw in the towel to stop the fight because Foreman was hobbling. He had injured his right knee when it gave out on him and he slipped to the canvas in the seventh round.

Foreman was badly favoring the knee, but still fighting, when Grier launched the towel.

The crowd groaned and everyone thought the fight was over.

It would have been an anti-climactic ending to the first big fight at Yankee Stadium since September 1976, when Muhammad Ali outpointed Ken Norton in their rubber match to retain the heavyweight championship across the street at the old stadium in a fight that was promoted by Top Rank's Bob Arum, who also put on Saturday's spectacle.

The ring filled with both camps and officials. Cotto and Foreman even embraced, believing it was over.

But not so fast.

In one of the stranger moments you'll ever see, referee Arthur Mercante Jr., the only man under the rules who can officially stop the fight, refused to call off the bout.

He went to Foreman and asked him if he wanted to continue, and he did. While the crowd was not sure what was happening, the ring was cleared after a delay of a couple of minutes and the fight resumed with about half the round remaining.

"The towel came in the heat of the battle," Mercante said. "They had a good exchange going. I felt it wasn't necessary to stop it. I didn't know where it came from. There was no need to stop the fight. They were in the middle of a great fight. That's what the fans came to see. I felt I did the right thing to let it continue.

"I called time, they had an extra minute to rest. It gave them both time to rest. I went over to Yuri and told him to suck it up. He showed the true heart of champion."

Cotto shrugged off the incident.

"I have to still fight. I cant stop. It's a fight," Cotto said. "The fight has to continue. When the eight round finished, I saw on the [center field] screen [on the replay] his trainer throw the towel in the ring. I still followed instructions. The referee said someone outside the ring threw in the towel."

The fight didn't last much longer, however.

Foreman (28-1, 8 KOs) was still unsteady and Cotto (35-2, 28 KOs) went at him as the ninth round began. He eventually landed a left hook to the body and Foreman went down 42 seconds into the round, seemingly as much from the blow as from his inability to put weight on the leg, and Mercante called off the fight.

"At first I felt rusty and I didn't get into the rhythm, but later I felt better until the accident," said Foreman, who wears a brace on the knee because of an old injury. "[Cotto is] a great fighter.

"It just gave out. It was a lot of pain, very sharp pain. But Arthur Mercante let me go. I just couldn't do a lot of movement."

But Foreman said he never considered quitting because of the injury.

"I'm world champion, now former world champion, but we're not just quitting," Foreman said. "We're word champion. I fight. I didn't want it to stop, I wanted it to continue."

But lost in the weirdness of the night was this fact: Cotto looked great.

The Puerto Rican star and crowd favorite looked as good as he has in years as he moved up from 147 pounds to 154 and won a world title in his third division.

He had his jab working well and threw crisp shots throughout the fight.

"I think we make the plan in Tampa [at training camp] of working with the jab and putting pressure on him, and it worked," Cotto said. "Just follow the instructions of [trainer] Emanuel [Steward]. Stay focused."

Coming into the fight, many wondered what Cotto had left after years of hard fights, including November's 12th-round destruction at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, who was ringside.

Cotto had changed trainers, hiring Steward, and was also still mourning the unexpected January death of his father, Miguel Cotto Sr.

Whatever Cotto has been through though, he put it behind him with a patient and disciplined fight, one he dominated.

Even before Foreman, 29, injured the knee, Cotto was in charge, pounding him with hard left hands. All three judges had him ahead when the fight was stopped, 79-73 (twice) and 78-74. ESPN.com also had him ahead 79-73.

Foreman, a New York-based Orthodox Jew from Belarus studying to become a rabbi, simply didn't have the firepower to do any damage. He's always been a light hitter and the fresh-looking Cotto took whatever he dished out without budging.

Foreman, making the first defense of the belt he won on the Pacquiao-Cotto undercard when he defeated Daniel Santos, went on the offensive in the fourth round. He cracked Cotto with some flush right hands but Cotto, 29, barely blinked. And then he returned fire, landing an uppercut that started blood flowing from Foreman's nose.

But that was about it for Foreman's offense. After he slipped twice in the seventh, his knee aching each time, he tried to fight back but to no avail.

He was clearly in pain in the corner after the seventh round and it was simply a matter of time until the fight would be over -- be it in the eighth or for real in the ninth.

With Cotto seemingly having regained his mojo, there are options for him in two weight classes.

"We have to see what is better, to stay at 154 or go back to 147," Cotto said.

He was proud of what he had done, and why shouldn't he be?

"We worked hard from the beginning and Miguel Cotto is back," he said. "Now, we rest and then we're going to all the big fights, all the good ones.

"Big names. Like always."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.