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New Yankee stadium preps for June title fight

Photo by Jae C. Hong

Photo by Jae C. Hong

NEW YORK -- Boxing could be finally returning to Yankee Stadium, more than three decades after Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton at the old ballpark in the Bronx.

The Yankees said Friday they've agreed to accommodate a family that scheduled a bar mitzvah for June 5, the date that Top Rank promoter Bob Arum wants to stage Yuri Foreman's junior middleweight title defense against Miguel Cotto at the opulent ballpark. It wasn't clear what accommodations were made, although the bar mitzvah for Scott Ballan is still scheduled.

Ballan is the son of Jon Ballan, the lead bond lawyer for the financing of the $1.5 billion stadium. As part of the bar mitzvah, the Yankees had promised the family use of the Legends Suite Club and videoboard in center field, which would have prevented its use during the fight card.

"We want to thank Jon Ballan and his family for their graciousness, understanding and good will in helping to accommodate the Yankees," the team said in a statement to The Associated Press. "We will now meet with Bob Arum and his organization to continue discussions to bring this fight to Yankee Stadium."

The promoters plan to meet with Yankees officials next week.

While the contracts for the fight have yet to be signed, Foreman said he was thrilled about the possibility of fighting in one of the most hallowed venues in sports.

"It's a tremendous opportunity. It's something I've never ever dreamed," he said Friday. "It's where Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling, you know? For me to be fighting in Yankee Stadium is historical, being part of the history."

Yankee Stadium would likely be configured for about 30,000 fans if the fighters and venue agree to terms, although the precise logistics are unclear. When fights were staged at the old stadium, the ring was set up just beyond second base with floor seating radiating out in four directions, and additional seating in the stands and upper decks.

Foreman, who is studying to become a rabbi, was born in Belarus but now makes his home in New York. And just in case anybody was curious, Foreman made it clear he's a Yankees fan.

"It's a little bit surreal," he said. "But I've also had faith in God always being there, and sure that I knew God was going to help me, give me a hand. It's incredible."

Yankee Stadium has a proud tradition of hosting fights.

Rocky Marciano defeated Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore there, and nearly 40,000 turned out to see Willie Pep fight Sandy Saddler. Sugar Ray Robinson was done in by the heat against Joey Maxim in 1952, then by Carmen Basilio five years later in Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year.

Louis fought at Yankee Stadium a dozen times, against the likes of Max Baer, Primo Carnera and Schmeling -- the latter generating worldwide attention as the Nazis came to power.

"I think for the sport it's a wonderful opportunity," Top Rank president Todd duBoef said. "Yankee Stadium always being a hub for fights, much like Madison Square Garden, it's wonderful for everything to circle back around."

Arum promoted the final bout at the old Yankee Stadium across 161st Street when Ali fought Norton on Sept. 28, 1976. Arum has approached the club several times over the past three decades about staging another event at the stadium, but George Steinbrenner and club brass had always been tepid about erecting a ring and seating on the immaculate infield grass.

Under the new leadership of Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, though, the team appears more open to holding events like concerts and fights at the ballpark in an attempt to maximize revenue.

Foreman (28-0) would be making the first defense of the WBA title he won from Daniel Santos on the undercard of Manny Pacquiao's fight against Cotto last fall. While he doesn't have widespread name recognition, Foreman does have substantial backing from the large Jewish population that makes up the New York metropolitan area.

He'll need every bit of it fighting in a city where an estimated 800,000 people trace their roots to Puerto Rico. Cotto (34-2) has regularly filled Madison Square Garden on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade, which would fall the week after the fight at Yankee Stadium.

If negotiations for the ballpark fall through, Arum has the Garden on hold for June 12.

"I'll definitely have to be mentally on top of my game," Foreman said. "I know there are going to be a lot of Puerto Rican fans, which I don't mind. There are going to be a lot of boos, which is OK. I admire them for the way they support their boxers.

"In the end of the day, the bell rings, it's going to be just you in the corner."