When Yuri Foreman meets Miguel Cotto in a boxing ring in right field at Yankee Stadium this June, two of New York’s largest ethnic minorities will be represented in what could be the fight of the summer.
Foreman, a Russian Jew who grew up in Israel, is the defending super welterweight champion, but top billing goes to the Puerto Rico-born Cotto a three-time title holder.
The appeal of an inter-ethnic battle royal is not lost on master promoter Bob Arum, who set up the fight.
“It’s great, like the old times when you had Jewish and Irish and Italian fighters,” said Arum. “It made for a lot of interesting drama.”
In addition to announcing the headline bout between Cotto and Foreman, Arum took advantage of the pre-fight press conference at Yankee Stadium April 9 to announce an undercard fight between James Moore, an Irish fighter, and Pawel Wolak, who is Polish. Other fights, to be announced later, will follow a similar pattern.
“On this card, we will have fighters from every ethnic group,” Arum said.
The matchups are a throwback to old-style promotions playing on ethnic tensions, exemplified in the 1934 bout between Jewish fighter Max Baer and the German Max Schmeling, which also took place at Yankee Stadium. Baer won that fight wearing a Jewish star on his shorts.
But ethnically driven promotions have a dark side, too — most notably the widespread riots following African-American boxer Jack Johnson’s historic defeat of the white fighter James Jeffries in the bout billed as “The Fight of the Century.”
“It’s interesting concept,” said the Irish boxer Moore of the ethnic matchups. He denied any personal antagonism towards Poles. “If I had to pick a country in Europe that’s similar in mentality and work ethics [to Ireland], Poland would be very similar,” he said.
Ivan Edwards, Wolak’s manager, said that promotions that emphasize the ethnic differences between fighters have an enduring appeal. “That’s boxing. That’s what sells,” he said. “The U.S. has come a long way, but that’s what it [comes] down to.”
The June 5 fight is an important opportunity for Foreman: a high-profile bout against a top-grade fighter who is coming off of a major loss. At the press conference, Foreman seemed almost giddy beside the stone-cold Cotto.
“I already feel the electricity,” Foreman said.
Dressed in a tan jacket and a red checked tie, his fedora slung cockily across his forehead, Foreman made fists for the cameras as his trainer, Joe Grier, praised him as “one of the finest young men in boxing.”
The fight is scheduled to begin late Saturday night to accommodate Foreman’s observance of the Sabbath. Originally, Foreman had planned to spend Friday night at Saturday at Yankee Stadium. “I was like, I love the idea. Whoever stayed here for Shabbat, you know?” he said. “It’s like a Shabbat to remember.”
His plans, however, have changed. Now he plans to spend Shabbat at a hotel in Manhattan, and then to be escorted by police to the fight.
According to Kwanza Cosby, Foreman’s longtime conditioning and fitness trainer, Foreman eased up his training regimen a bit as he observed Pesach.
“We kind of let him do his thing with Passover,” Cosby said.
Yuri Foreman discusses Shabbat at Yankee Stadium: