As I got off the B line on my way to Yankee Stadium, I made the executive decision to wear my tzitzit out, to pay homage to the main event taking place in the outfield of this magnificent ballpark. Yuri Foreman has consistently been seen, wearing his trademark cap, and his tzitzit strings dangling merrily by his sides, at every press conference he attends. He has no shame letting the world know who he is, hey why should I ?
I spot my good friend Dmitriy Salita (the original frum yid of boxing) and all of a sudden we hear the Shofar blown….has the messiah arrived? Would his first stop be Yankee Stadium? Well given what was about to happen….maybe it would be. After all I was wearing my tzitzit out at a boxing match. Foreman was about to start his long walk to the ring, to slug it out with Miguel Cotto, a popular Puerto Rican fighter, in front of a rabid Puerto Rican crowd. Although he was the defending champion, and a resident of NYC, tonight he was in someone else’s backyard. The crowd wasn’t “anti Foreman” as much as they were “pro Cotto.” Dmitriy remarked, “They said because of my Shomer Shabbos status, there would never be an opportunity to fight for a title”…well tonight was about proving “them” wrong…again.
First off, I write about this event not as a first time purveyor of punches thrown in bunches. I am a boxing savant. I have been following boxing since I was a little child, and with my knowledge of the sport, you can call me the “Bert Sugar of the Bais Medrash.” Boxing is unlike defined sports, such as baseball where you have to score runs, or in football where it’s either a touchdown, or it’s not. In those sports, you can’t score any points on style alone. It doesn’t matter if you control the clock the whole game. It’s only scoring points that ultimately matters. Boxing is different, and while it can be frustrating at times, it is an accepted part of the game. Three judges are appointed (some who have never boxed a second in their lives) to decide who will win the fight should it go to the scorecards. All three judges have their own personal preference as to who is performing better. Some like ring generalship, others like power punches, yet others appreciate defensive wizardry and a crisp jab. It is called the sweet science for a reason. It is not supposed to be a barbaric sport like MMA (which I follow as well). In MMA you get no points for not being hit…they boo you. In boxing circles, to bob and weave, and stick and move your way around incoming right crosses, is seen and respected as true art, and a skill that will win you points on the scorecards of most observers.
Yuri Foreman is a master boxer and technician. Yes I said it. He is that good. He is not a power puncher, but more of an accurate busy puncher. Cotto however is a feared power puncher, but not celebrated for his technical skills. Cotto doles out his craft with power, Foreman with agility. Stylistically they are opposites, and the first few rounds were a feeling out frenzy for the two fighters. Cotto won the first 2 rounds. The third was debatable. That’s the key word in boxing…debatable. When a round is close who does it go to? Well that depends on what you like… sugar or splenda sir?
The fourth round saw Foreman starting to find his range and distance, as he started to bounce right hands off Cotto`s head, like the raindrops that were supposed to fall that evening. Range and distance, that’s when speed and footwork start to dictate the pace of a fight. He was settling in. I had foreman taking rounds 4, and 5, Round 6 again debatable. So according to me, and many boxing fans around me, this fight was being fought on even terms going into the 7th round (and to quote the pound for pound king in boxing, Manny Pacquiao “it was a close fight, and I thought it was a draw until Foreman got injured). I even saw Yuri gaining momentum and shaking off the butterflies of this mega event. He looked calm. Calm before the storm….
President Obama should consider making a poster boy out of Foreman for socialized medicine. An old injury, suffered from a bike mishap when he was 15 years old, came back to haunt him in the 7th round. Yuri slipped hard on the canvas; his knee didn’t just give out, as others have wrongfully speculated. The canvas was slick, mostly from absorbing the blood, sweat, and tears of earlier fights that evening. (It should be noted that in Vegas they are constantly wiping down the ring between fights, and between rounds. Ironic that in the boogie down Bronx, the towels only came into the ring to call off the fight, while they should have been used to prolong it. Remember, that the last fight at the stadium was 34 years ago, and while it looked good on TV, there were apparent personnel oversights). Yuri aggravated an old injury that never received proper medical attention. He was an underprivileged teen living in Haifa, and had no family health plan.
Yuri rose, visibly wounded, and unable to put full weight on his leg, but showed no sign of surrender. Let me explain, taking away one of Yuri’s legs, is equal to taking away one of Cotto`s fists. Yuri’s wins fights with his feet, yes, that’s what a speedy boxer uses most. If Cotto would have dislocated his arm do you think he would have lasted the fight out? Not a chance. Personally I think the fight should have been called off then and there. He had no chance of winning after that. His wife thought so too, and was hollering at his trainer Joe Grier to throw in the towel (which he did, then apparently didn’t, then clearly as replays show, did). The cavalier ref Arthur Mercante Jr. asked Yuri if he wanted to continue, “of course replied Foreman,” and this is where Yuri turned an unfortunate moment into something for the ages. I was ringside; I looked around in disbelief, not knowing how something like this could have occurred. I mean he was doing everything he could do. He trained so hard. He was really starting to get into a rhythm. Why would he be on the end of such “bad luck”? It simply wasn’t fair…. I wanted him to WIN this fight, why was this happening?
I got my answer in a flash after sulking for almost a day and a half over Yuri’s “bad luck”. Man is not to be judged in his moments of greatest triumph, his ideals are not really respected, when they go untested. You only know the man, and what he represents when the going gets tough. When things out of your control take over and leave you with a knot in your stomach. You look skyward and say why? Why didn’t I get the job? “I tried my hardest didn’t I”? Why didn’t I get that account? “I really could use the money.” Do we stop and think hey…maybe I wanted it, but it wouldn’t be good for me? Maybe, just maybe, there is a G-D in the world who decides what is ultimately good for us, and all we need to do is our best. Should we slip and fall on something that we could not fathom seeing, do we get up and point fingers, do we blame others, or do we accept the fact that we only fall, so we can rise up again. It is the war of man, the war of day to day struggles, some big, and some small. And who we are, and what we stand for, show its face when adversity strikes.
Does any one of us ever have that opportunity on a world stage, in a single moment, to show the world what we really are made of? Would we want to be tested in our faith and courage in public? Yuri Foreman got his chance, and he got his test, and as he rose from the canvas he was unknowingly carrying the fears of many Yids from around the world with him. Was he going to be lampooned as a quitter in the press the next day? Were there going to be slip and fall lawyers up in the ring, or worse yet, would his reaction, cause me to get my butt whupped by the angry mob. He rose to fight; he did not point fingers at the boxing commission (as many did) for letting logos on the ring apron which makes the surface slippery. He rose to fight; he did not blame the organizers for not having the ring wiped down between rounds as you customarily (always) see in fights. He rose to fight; he could have claimed he was unable to continue (quite true) but he chose to rise and to fight on. The crowd saw a wounded warrior, with the heart of a lion, and you can’t fool a crowd. I don’t know Yuri’s thoughts in those moments of battle, and I am not calling him a saint. But I am sure he was given an opportunity and a test by G-D to showcase to the world, that I am an Orthodox Jewish world champion, studying for the Rabbinate, and being such, I conduct myself in a manner different than you are accustomed to seeing in professional sports.
I was ringside, and I am telling you it was a Kiddush Hashem, of enormous magnitude. If you disagree and you weren’t at the fight ringside, then your opinion is not based on facts. Go read the boxing blogs as I have been poring over. There is not an anti-Semitic comment to be found, just respect and admiration. Articles that first had Cotto dominating the fight (are you kidding me) slowly started turning to what if questions. What if he hadn’t slipped? What would have happened in the later rounds? The New York Times had the fight even in Monday’s article, as did many others. His quiet acceptance of the situation, and the humility and grace with how he handled himself during the fight, and post fight, won over boxing scribes, the tough Bronx crowd, and furthered the respect and admiration he has been receiving in the Jewish Community. But lets remember for a moment, who caused the slip….can you imagine how proud he is?
Hey we all heard the pre fight cynicism; you call yourself a Rabbinical student? C’mon how can you box? How can you be a fighter, peacemaker, and a scholar? “You must be a hypocrite”….well maybe yes maybe no, was the attitude of many before the fight. Was it just Madison Avenue hype? Could the kid actually be a spiritual person and punch people in the noggin for a living? Why can’t he just be an accountant? Well folks, wake up and smell the Manishevitz, because chances are you and I will never have the opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem (elevation and sanctification of g-d`s name) on that scale. If we are a people of g-d, then what we do and how we react to things, say to the world this is g-d`s way, this is who we represent. We soldier up and we fight on, and we try our hardest to do our best, yet we leave the ultimate good to be decided by a higher power.
That message was more resounding than any haymaker thrown that evening.
Limping out for the 9th round, literally any and all booing turned to cheers for both combatants. Those watching all knew it was just a matter of time until his knee would give out again. Hobbled and unable to dance away from incoming punches, the fight was called off, although Foreman (according to the ref) still wanted to fight on. Truthfully there was no reason to fight on; because both men had achieved the victory they were destined for on that evening.
One won a fight, another won a War.
It has been reported today that Yuri Foreman tore the meniscus and stretched ligaments in his right knee when his knee gave out in round seven against Miguel Cotto on Saturday night in Yankee Stadium. He will undergo surgery and be out of action for an undisclosed period.
Does he deserve a rematch when he returns (get well soon Yuri), of course he does. Remember folks he was the defending Champ, and that has always meant something in boxing since time immemorial. Yuri only gets stronger as his fights go on, as I have witnessed many times over. Boxers relying on power to be their main asset, get weaker as the fight goes on. We only got to see half of an exciting, well fought fight. Too many questions are left unanswered, and even the Cotto fans exiting the stadium didn’t celebrate like there was any true victory, but rather an inconclusive, unsatisfying ending. I bravely predict there will be a rematch about this time next year possibly in Yankee Stadium, (hopefully in Jerusalem) and his supporters will come out in droves, to see his hand raised as World Champion once again.