After flirting with the possibility of working with WBA 154-pound champion Yuri Foreman, celebrated trainer Emanuel Steward wound up in challenger Miguel Cotto's corner for their June 5 fight at Yankee Stadium. Steward said in a conference call Thursday that his change of heart wasn't about the money but rather the comfort level he felt coming into the Cotto camp to apply the finishing touches, much as he used to do with heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield as well as welterweight Oscar De La Hoya in his glory days.
Steward admitted he was hurt by comments from Foreman's manager Murray Wilson accusing him of reneging on a deal. But despite the hard feelings regarding his business dealings with the Foreman camp, it's clear Steward has great respect for Foreman's skill. Naturally, Steward expressed pleasure with Cotto's conditioning and how he responded to subtle changes intended to improve his balance, but while Cotto boldly predicted a victory over Foreman, Steward branded himself the "worrier" in Cotto's camp.
"Yuri Foreman is a very talented, unappreciated fighter who has an extremely difficult style for anyone," Steward said. "I spoke to Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns, and they both said, 'You've got your hands full.' In the past, Miguel has had great success with speed fighters, and he tells me he will be able to cut off the ring. I've been the biggest worrier because I have a lot of respect for Yuri Foreman.
"Yuri is going to be wound up with the Jewish situation and the chance to become a big star in New York…He doesn't have great punching power, but the [opponents] he didn't knock out no one else was knocking out either."
Steward said Cotto is in tremendous shape after sparring for more than 130 rounds, and he said Cotto is faster than expected and looks comfortable moving up from welterweight to fight at 154 for the first time. The big question for most observers is how much Cotto has left after losing his last bout to Manny Pacquiao convincingly and getting beaten up two years ago by Antonio Margarito, who is suspected of having illegally wrapped hands in that fight.
Asked about the effect of those two losses, Steward didn't duck. "You're coming in with a fighter who has had tough, physical fights, and you're concerned about the physical and mental damage," Steward said. "I didn't see that in Miguel. The first couple days, his balance was bad. He couldn't throw combinations. But he caught on to what I asked him to do, and his boxing has been superb. Don't think we're just coming in on our toes. We're going to apply pressure and maintain his balance while he's doing it."
If Cotto follows Steward's plan, he'll start aggressively and try to prevent Foreman from piling up an early lead in points. But Foreman's conditioning always has been a strength, and he often seems to get stronger late in fights when he wears down his opponents. Still, Steward expressed confidence in Cotto's ability to win a decision if it comes to that.