Manny Pacquiao stood face-to-face with Miguel Cotto on a makeshift stage set up along the first base line, the wind whipping off the facade of the new Yankee Stadium and sending a chill through thousands of partisan fans.
If only two of the best fighters in the world had gloves strapped on.
Pacquiao, considered the pound-for-pound best, and welterweight champion Cotto were there merely to announce their Nov. 14 fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It’s a hotly anticipated ticket, and certain to lure a sellout crowd to the desert destination known in the boxing world as “Fight Town.”
Yet their presence Thursday was reminiscent of the days when New York City held that mantle, when major boxing events were common at Madison Square Garden and the old Yankee Stadium.
While there are still sporadic attractions at the Garden, most of the punches thrown in the Bronx the last three decades came from irascible former Yankees manager Billy Martin. All could be changing, promoters and team officials said, alluding to the possibility of major fights at the new, $1.5 billion stadium next year.
“We have a history of bringing big fights to the Yankee Stadium,” said promoter Bob Arum, who put on Muhammad Ali’s bout against Ken Norton on Sept. 28, 1976, a fight remembered more for the chaos caused by a police strike than anything else.
“It’s something we’d like to do again.”
Arum had approached the Yankees several times over the past 30 years about staging another event at the stadium, but George Steinbrenner and club brass were tepid about erecting a ring and seating on the immaculate infield grass.
With the new leadership of Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, and better means of protecting the field, Arum is hopeful that a fight will come off at the ballpark next year.
“I think one of the reasons we had the press conference here is a precursor for a big, big event,” Arum told The Associated Press. “Certainly a big fight is going to happen next year, and it’s going to happen at Yankee Stadium.”
The obvious megafight would pit the winner of Pacquiao-Cotto against the winner of next weekend’s showdown between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez — an idea that even appealed to Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost.
“There’ll be a winner of this fight and a winner of the Mayweather fight,” Trost said. “Where better to hold that fight than Yankee Stadium?”
Trost declined to say whether there have been negotiations about holding a fight in the “House that Jeter Built,” but the Yankees are eager to bring revenue-producing events beyond baseball to the stadium. Already, several college football games are scheduled for the next few years, including Notre Dame vs. Army in November 2010.
Arum said it’s unlikely that the Mayweather-Marquez and Pacquiao-Cotto winners would face each other, but it’s possible that Cotto could cede his traditional spot at Madison Square Garden on the even of the Puerto Rican Day parade to up-and-coming star Juan Manuel Lopez. That would free Cotto, who has a huge following in the Bronx, to headline in the ballpark.
“We’re going to get one here at Yankee Stadium,” said Melvina Lathan, the head of the New York State Athletic Commission. “We’ve got to come back and revisit Yankee Stadium.”
Great fights have been held in ballparks for decades, including some of the seminal moments for a sport that treasures its history.
Yankee Stadium, of course, is where Ray Robinson collapsed in the heat against Joey Maxim, and where Carmen Basilio shocked the world by beating Sugar himself. Joe Louis not only knocked out Max Schmeling under the twinkling lights, but struck a blow against Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany when he dropped the Black Uhlan of the Rhine in the first round.
Other ballparks have showcased big fights, from Louis winning the heavyweight title against James Braddock at Chicago’s Comisky Park, to epic battles at the Polo Grounds, Griffth Stadium, Ebbets Field and Fenway Park.
Some see those days as a bygone era, a moment in time that can never be replicated. Arum sees an opportunity to return boxing to the forefront of the American psyche, in one of its most hallowed sporting grounds.
“Yankee Stadium had a great tradition of boxing,” he said, “and hopefully with the new Yankee Stadium, we’ll start a new tradition.”
© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.