There are lots of Jews and Puerto Ricans in New York. And that, once you sweep away a fine layer of euphemism, is why boxing is returning to Yankee Stadium tomorrow night after a 34-year hiatus.
Yuri Foreman is an Orthodox Jew who lives in Brooklyn by way of Belarus and Israel. He’s training to be a Rabbi. He’s also the current junior Middleweight champ. He learned his defensive skills by sparring with Palestinians who wanted to kill him. He has human interest coming out of his ears. A new Jewish champ is as big a draw in New York City as a new, corn-fed down-home white boy champ would be out in the rest of America.
Miguel Cotto is the best Puerto Rican boxer of the past decade. He’s also one of boxing’s most reliable ticket-sellers. He spent most of the last ten years proving himself as a world-class fighter; but he’s coming off a predictable loss at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, and, two fights before that, a savage and bloody beating by Antonio Margarito that some suspect may have broken Cotto’s spirit. Three years ago, Cotto would have knocked out a light-hitting guy like Yuri Foreman without too much trouble. Now, nobody really knows if Cotto has it in him.
The Puerto Rican day parade is next weekend. The Jewish holiday of Shavuot was two weeks ago. It’s as fair a time as any to conduct this grand municipal battle of the ethnic representatives. Boxing is all about transferring our own bloodlust onto our favorite fighters, and nothing stokes bloodlust like racial and ethnic pride. And in Yankee Stadium, where Joe Louis beat Max Schmeling and, by extension, defeated the Nazis singlehandedly? This fight is the hype that New Yorkers claim the city has lost; the gritty-hokey-bloody mix that conventional wisdom tells us left the city along with the junkies on the LES. Here it is. Tomorrow night, the world’s oldest rivalry — that would be, ah, Puerto Ricans versus Jews — will be settled once and for all. Or until the next fight, barring any major riots or damage to Yankee Stadium’s VIP luxury boxes. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.
Check back here at Runnin’ Scared for Hamilton Nolan’s report after the fight. Assuming he survives it.