Unlike his corner, boxer Yuri Foreman didn't blame referee Arthur Mercante Jr. for allowing his fight against Miguel Cotto to go on Saturday night at Yankee Stadium after trainer Joe Grier threw in the towel in the eighth round and asked for a stoppage. Foreman told Mercante he wanted to continue, and the referee let him fight on until a left hook to the ribs by Cotto resulted in a technical knockout at 42 seconds of the ninth round.
Only then did the courageous Foreman (28-1, 8 KOs) surrender the WBA super welterweight belt to Cotto (35-2, 28 KOs), who succeeded in winning his fourth world title in a third weight class in his first bout at 154. Trainer Emanuel Steward said Cotto fought a "perfect fight," utilizing the jab they worked on in training and then zeroing in for the kill after two seventh-round slips caused Foreman to wrench his right knee and left him limping like a wounded duck.
After the fight, Grier admitted he knew it was a violation of the rules for the corner to throw in the towel. Only the referee can stop the fight, but Grier did it anyway in an effort to save Foreman from further punishment. Foreman said the brace he wore on his right knee was to protect an old injury suffered when he was a kid living in Israel, but the knee never bothered him in training.
Yet, Grier knew his man was in trouble as soon as he went down without being hit early in the seventh. "At the point where his leg went out, I realized it was a serious injury," Grier explained at the postfight news conference. "Now, he's no longer mobile. He's no longer Yuri Foreman. I was worried about him getting hit too hard. I wanted him to leave with dignity."
Admitting he threw the towel about a minute into the eighth round, an act that was caught clearly by HBO's cameras, Grier added, "I realized it was a violation. There were three inspectors in our corner. I asked, 'How do I get the fight stopped?' They said, 'You have to get the referee's attention.' They couldn't do it, and I didn't know how else to get it stopped."
Grier complained that Mercante didn't take time to have the injury evaluated by the ringside doctor. But Foreman then said, "I don't know what they could do. I wanted to continue."
Foreman said he experienced a problem with the knee when he was sparring "maybe a year ago, but it was a split-second thing and I was good to go. This time, it's worse."
When he originally suffered the injury as a boy in Israel, his family didn't have health insurance and he never had it examined or repaired. It became a condition he found a way to live with through his first 28 pro fights and his amateur career.
But when it happened against Cotto, Foreman was robbed of the mobility that is the key to his light-punching style. "I couldn't really sit on my punches," he said, meaning he couldn't plant and fire with full power. "It was a sharp pain."
Mercante consulted with Foreman in the eighth round, and the fighter told him he wanted to continue. The referee then ordered the ring cleared of all the cornermen and supporters who entered it, believing the fight was over. The knee appeared to buckle once more in the eighth round, but Foreman pressed on until the stoppage in the ninth.
"It wasn't over in my mind," Foreman insisted. "I was still throwing punches. I was trying to be optimistic and hope for a good result."
Asked why he didn't call for Foreman's knee to be examined before allowing the fight to continue, Mercante said, "When he went down, I called time. I said, 'Son, you have a five-minute rest if you want it. If you want to walk it off, walk it off.'
"I was evaluating him and he was walking it off. He was doing a gimp, but I said, 'Take your time. You've got five minutes.' All of a sudden, he said, 'I'm ready to go.' He came out, and that's when I cleared the ring."
The moment Foreman crumpled from Cotto's body shot in the ninth, Mercante leaped in to end the fight for real, providing a satisfying end for the fighters and the crowd of 20,272.
"I felt I did the right thing to let it continue," Mercante said. "You saw [Foreman] was game, the true heart of a champion."