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Foreman has big opportunity — and challenge — against Cotto

03
Jun

NEW YORK — The world has learned a great deal about Yuri Foreman over the past eight months or so. About his journey from Soviet-ruled Belarus to Israel to New York to elite status in his sport. About his plans to become a rabbi after his career. About his affable way with people.

On Saturday, more than in any other fight, we’ll learn a great deal about Foreman the boxer.

The junior middleweight titleholder easily outpointed Daniel Santos to win his 154-pound title on the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto undercard in November but Santos, who had been relatively inactive, was thought to be vulnerable.

The same might be said of Cotto, Foreman’s opponent on Saturday night in the first-ever fight at Yankee Stadium. The Puerto Rican star was beaten up by Antonio Margarito in 2008 and many believe he was never the same afterward, including a beat down from Pacquiao. Plus, Cotto will be fighting at 154 for the first time.

Still, Cotto arguably has built hall-of-fame credentials. He’s a three-time titleholder. He’s only 29 (the same age as Foreman). And he knows he’s at a crossroads his career. He’ll never be more determined than he’ll be on Saturday night.

Make no mistake: This is a monumental challenge for Foreman. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“To be the best, you need to beat the best. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Foreman (28-0, eight knockouts) has long been considered a good boxer, learning his craft bit by bit in Belarus, Israel and then Brooklyn, N.Y. He demonstrates excellent ring generalship and is quick, in terms of both his hands and feet.

Santos, a former Olympic medalist for Puerto Rico, learned this the hard way as he was thoroughly outboxed and lost a one-sided unanimous decision in Las Vegas. Foreman thus realized a childhood dream of winning a world title.

Some observers were surprised at the result, in part because of Foreman’s so-so resume and lack of power, but those who know him well expected him to accomplish a great deal in his boxing career because of his talent and approach to the sport.

“He has the work ethic,” said trainer Tommy Brooks, who worked with Foreman until prot├®g├® Joe Grier took over. “ÔǪ European fighters usually have a different mentality than American fighters. They understand what a dollar means and that they have to work for it. Fighters in the States are always, ‘Gimmie this, I want that, I gotta have this.’

“Yuri isn’t like that. He works hard. I’m not surprised he’s succeeded.”

The lack-of-power issue has never hindered Foreman, although he might be more popular if he were whacking everybody out. He has won consistently without consistently hurting his opponents.

Brooks insists that Foreman does have power, though. He has demonstrated it during sparring in the gym. He simply chooses not to use it in actual fights, apparently, because of the dangers involved.

“His biggest problem is that he doesn’t sit down on his punches,” Brooks said. “He has good power. I’ve seen it. He just doesn’t sit down on his punches. He doesn’t like to get hit. You have to take some risks to have power. ÔǪ A trainer can stand there and tell you you have power and show you you have power.

“You have to make the sacrifice, though. For every action there is a reaction. You can make the wrong move and be looking at the lights.”

At the same time, Brooks acknowledges, Foreman has never looked at the lights in part because of his style.

“If it ain’t broke,” Brooks said, “don’t fix it.”

It definitely ain’t broke, as Foreman’s perfect record indicates. That doesn’t mean we won’t witness a malfunction on Saturday, though.

Foreman has never faced a boxer as skilled as Cotto, who has beaten the likes of Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley to climb onto all pound-for-pound lists and establish himself as one of the better fighters of his generation.

If that Cotto shows up, Foreman could be in trouble. If Cotto is declining, if Margarito and Pacquiao did inflict permanent damage, Foreman could make a very big statement on a very big stage.

Foreman has trained for the former Cotto.

“Cotto is a terrific fighter, a great champion” Foreman said. “I’m not buying into talk that he has declined. I’m expected the best Miguel Cotto. And if, God willing, I’m able to win, it will put me at a higher level.”

Only those who aren’t close to him would be surprised.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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