LIANE HANSEN, host:
In 1976, Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton for the heavyweight championship at Yankee Stadium. That stadium was torn down and a new one has taken its place but there hasn't been boxing at any Yankee Stadium since - until last night.
The WBA light middleweight championship was on the line, and NPR's Mike Pesca was there.
MIKE PESCA: When Sugar Ray Robinson took Paris by storm in the 1950s, his rival was always announced by the presence of his fuchsia-colored Cadillac driven by a chauffeur. Last night in Yankee Stadium, it was the show far(ph) that marked the boxer's arrival.
(Soundbite of horn)
PESCA: The traditional Jewish ram's horn ushered in Yuri Foreman, an observant, in fact, a rabbinical student and the current title holder. Miguel Cotto, inspiration for the hundreds or Puerto Rican flags throughout the stadium, later said it was great fighting in a venue that hosted Ali, Dempsey, Marciano, Joe Lewis and, yes, Sugar Ray Robinson.
Miguel, what did you think about fighting in this venue of Yankee Stadium in front of this crowd?
Mr. MIGUEL COTTO (Boxer): Amazing. Fighting here in Yankee Stadium (unintelligible) for me was like fighting home.
PESCA: Promoter Bob Arum has been toying with the idea of bringing a fight to the stadium for a while. He was a promoter for the last fight, which was a bit of a snooze in the ring but a circus outside. At the time, the New York City police were up in arms about a new contract and union officials had begun staging protests at sporting events.
As Ira Flatow reported for this network, tempers flared worse than the lapels of the era.
IRA FLATOW: As the days go by, the policemen become angrier. Mayor Beames refusal to negotiate at the point of a gun - as he calls it - could make the situation tense and possibly push the policemen into striking, something they hinted at last night.
PESCA: A few days after that report was filed, Ali was to fight Norton at the stadium. Pre-fight sales were okay. If a few thousand seats were sold to walk-up customers, the fight would be profitable. Instead, Bob Arum recalls, police actually egged on criminals and a total of 10 walk-up tickets were sold.
Mr. BOB ARUM (Sports Promoter): Chaos was everywhere. Roaming gangs - it was horrendous. You know, there's an elevated train that ran outside of Yankee Stadium, and they looked down and they saw what was happening and they turned around and went back to Manhattan or back to Westchester. I mean, it was a frightening, frightening experience.
PESCA: So, it was a relief that all the bizarre occurrences of last night were contained in the ring.
(Soundbite of cheering)
PESCA: In the seventh round, Foreman, untouched by Cotto, slipped and badly hurt his knee. He gamely refused to surrender, though his strategy, which once hinged on a slippery elusiveness, was now transformed to flatfooted bombast. He limped through the seventh and felt the sting of several Cotto blows in the eighth.
Foreman's trainer, Joe Greer, was growing worried. He picks up the narrative from there.
Mr. JOE GREER (Trainer, Yuri Foreman): There were three inspectors in that corner and I asked them, I says, how do I go about getting the fight stopped? They couldn't get the referee's attention and I said, I got to get it stopped 'cause he was starting to really get banged up. And I wanted him to leave with some dignity, so I threw it in.
PESCA: The age-old symbol for boxing surrender: Greer threw in the towel. Everyone assumed the fight was over - everyone except the referee, who instructed the fight be resumed.
Unidentified Man #2: (unintelligible) please clear the deck.
PESCA: Try as he might, Foreman did not recover...
(Soundbite of bell ringing)
PESCA: ...and Cotto won by technical knockdown in the ninth.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Mr. MICHAEL BUFFER (Announcer): (unintelligible) welterweight champion of the world, (unintelligible), Puerto Rico, Miguel Cotto.
PESCA: The paid crowd of just over 20,000 was 7,000 under capacity, on a night when threats of thunderstorms may have kept customers away. Promoter Bob Arum says he's eager to bring more fights to the stadium and even announced that the Baseball Hall of Fame would be putting some memorabilia from the bout on display.
That would be Miguel Cotto's shoes, not the towel.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.