NEW YORK — Yuri Foreman may have lost his first title defense, but the Orthodox Jewish boxer apparently gained plenty of respect on a balmy evening in Yankee Stadium.
Foreman continued to fight through what he called “sharp pain” in his knee in the last three rounds of his World Boxing Association super-welterweight championship bout against three-time champion Miguel Cotto late Saturday night in the Bronx.
The 29-year-old rabbinical student, now living in Brooklyn via Haifa, Israel, and his native Belarus, slipped several times during the bout, wrenching his right knee in the seventh round.
Foreman fought on before referee Arthur Mercante Jr. stopped the match 42 seconds into the ninth round following a hard Cotto right to Foreman’s midsection. Mercante a round earlier had refused to halt the proceedings even though Foreman’s corner had thrown in the towel.
The defeat could have potentially served as a blow to the growing number of fans who rallied behind Foreman and the chance to hail a Jewish boxing champ for the first time in more than half a century. But judging from comments from Foreman loyalists after the fight, his appeal may grow thanks to his willingness to keep fighting despite the injury.
Even Cotto’s fans were impressed.
“I respect him because he tried to fight Cotto — key word tried,” said Hector Aponte, a Hispanic man from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, who took home an Israeli flag out of respect for Foreman’s effort. “The thing you got to respect is even when his leg went out, he still fought.”
Speaking of the Israeli flag he was carrying, Aponte added, “I’ll go and hang it on my wall next to my Puerto Rican boxing gloves.”
Jerry Kahn, a comedian and an Orthodox Jew, echoed Aponte.
“He makes all of us proud,” Kahn said. “He’s a very classy guy.”
Though he was mostly stripped of his trademark ability to move from side to side and is not known for his power — the formerly unbeaten Foreman only had eight knockdowns among his 28 victories — he tried to persevere against the stalking Cotto.
“I’m a world champion — now a former world champion — and you don’t just quit,” Foreman said in the ring after the fight. “A world champion needs to keep on fighting.”
Foreman entered the canopied ring to the sound of the shofar and a recording of the late Lubavitcher rebbe singing — and as a 2-1 underdog. He also was the second choice of the crowd of 20,273. Puerto Rican flags for Cotto prevailed over the Israeli pennants for Foreman, and chants of “Cotto, Cotto” were offered several times.
“Obviously you’re going to have 75 percent Puerto Rican fans,” said David Locshin, an Orthodox Jew. “But we’re louder in essence.”
Cotto, now 35-2 with 28 knockouts, was the aggressor throughout the fight and was well ahead on all three scorecards when the bout was stopped. Foreman prevailed only in the fourth round, winning 10-9 on each card, notably with a solid left-right combination. But he also slipped for the first time in that three-minute session.
His face cut and bruised, Foreman told JTA prior to the post-fight news conference that he was “emotionally upset” and that he had “a lot of supporters” in the crowd. Well-wishers speaking Hebrew offered their consolation.
At the news conference, he said the leg injury could be traced back to when he was 15 years old and living in Israel, when he fell off his bike. Foreman wears a brace to protect the knee and had one on for the Cotto fight.
The extent of the injury was not known early in the week. The doctor at ringside did not evaluate the knee during the bout.
Foreman said the knee problem made it problematic “to sit on my punches. I could not use all of my power.”
Grier said he tossed in the towel because he feared for his fighter’s safety.
“You can’t put him in front of a puncher like Cotto without legs,” the trainer said at the news conference.
Mercante said he refused the stoppage because the fighters were in the middle of a good exchange and did not believe it was necessary. Asked by the ref if he wanted to continue, Foreman said he did.
“That kid would die in there before he quits,” Grier said.
Fighting at Yankee Stadium, which was having its first boxing card since Muhammad Ali fought Ken Norton in 1976, was “awesome,” Foreman said.
Along with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthems of Puerto Rico and Israel were sung prior to the bout.
“There were so many Israeli flags, and the Puerto Rican flags were great,” Foreman said, adding that the scene offered “great adrenaline.”
After the bout, one man may have summed up what many were thinking.
“I’ll say this for Foreman: He’s got balls.”
(JTA Managing Editor Uriel Heilman contributed to this report.)