Is it possible to win and lose at the same time? That's the Talmudic-like question for Yuri Foreman, the boxer and rabbinic scholar living Brooklyn who lost his first title defense last night at Yankee Stadium.
Around midnight, as Miguel Cotto, the resilient four-time world champion of Puerto Rico, began to stockpile winning rounds on the scorecards, busted up Foreman's nose, cut him over the eyes, and stalked him from corner to corner, it was clear Cotto's skills and experience and schooling were too much for Foreman to handle. He'd only won a round on two of the judges' scorecards, and two rounds on the third. The only question seemed to be: Was he going to lose a decision in front of some 20,000 fans mostly allied with Cotto? Or was he going to get knocked out?
Then Foreman's right knee gave. He fell, awkwardly. He got up and hobbled around in pain. Was the fight going to be stopped?
His wife got up from her seat and ran as close to the ring as she could, hollering out to his trainers, "Stop the fight! Stop the fight!"
Foreman fought on with one leg, trying to stave off Cotto, who swarmed and walloped him. But Foreman now had the crowd on his side. Before the fight, Foreman was booed and heckled by Cotto's fans. Now they were cheering the wounded man on.
A white towel came floating in the ring. The fight was stopped. Pandemonium ensued. Then the fight was started again by referee Arthur Mercante Jr., who believed the white towel had come into the ring from an outside source, and felt Foreman still had a shot hobbling around with the gimp knee. As the battle turned into David and Goliath, it felt for a moment that the boxing gods were on Foreman's side, and that in the midst of injury and great pain he might land a clean punch and take Cotto out.
But then, in the ninth, Cotto landed a liver shot, Foreman went down on the bum knee, and the ref waved the fight off.
So a loss for Foreman, his first. But not a defeat. His grit earned him a new reputation as a gutty fighter, and that's what fans want to see. For years Foreman's reputation was of a cautious defensive boxer, who circled his opponents, rarely threw punches, and eked his way to decisions. Early on, the sport's premier managers did not want to sign him to contracts because they thought his style was boring. He had no knockout power, and the producers at HBO want to broadcast knockout artists. Now, through the courageous loss, he was able to redefine himself: not as a winner, but as a warrior.
"Next time," Foreman said after the fight. If he'd gotten knocked out or lost a lopsided decision, there might not have been much interest in Foreman anymore. The trick now for Foreman is to find the right opponent who will help him grow his legend, earn a few more paydays, then retire as the rabbi who wouldn't quit.