NEW YORK (AP) — Boxing is back at Yankee Stadium after more than three decades.
Greats such as Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton have been replaced by Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman, and the ballpark where they once fought stands as a shell of its former self just across the street.
The dream of Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum to return to the ballpark in the Bronx was realized Friday, when Cotto and Foreman were introduced at the new, $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium. They'll meet for Foreman's junior middleweight title June 5 in the first sports event besides baseball since the facility opened last spring.
"How can anybody that has any kind of feeling for momentous things not be here?" Arum said.
After the Yankees wrap up a three-game home series June 3 against the Baltimore Orioles, the stadium will be turned over to Top Rank promotions. The ring will be built in right-center field, under an enormous canopy, with about 7,000 field-level seats.
The rest of the seating will be in the outfield bleachers and down the first-base line, and promoters hope between 30,000 and 35,000 fans show up.
"It's an honor fighting here," said Foreman, the WBA titleholder, who was born in Belarus but makes his home in Brooklyn. "It's a dream."
Yankee Stadium has a proud tradition of hosting fights. Harry Greb fought under the famous facade, along with Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey and James Braddock — the Cinderella Man.
When the 1920s beget the '30s, the great Joe Louis fought the first of his record 11 bouts at Yankee Stadium, including his famous victory over German champion Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938, that avenged an earlier loss in the same ballpark.
In later years, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Graziano and Sugar Ray Robinson were the marquee names on the front gate. Rocky Marciano won four straight fights there in the 1950s, before Ali and Norton fought on Sept. 28, 1976.
"As a boxing fan, you can't forget any of those names," Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said. "Yankee Stadium was, is and will always remain a fabric in the life of boxing."
Several factors played into why there hasn't been a major fight at the ballpark in the past three decades. Ownership became tepid about erecting a ring on the infield grass, which had drainage problems. Casinos created competition for marquee events by offering exorbitant site fees.
The Ali-Norton fight also left a bitter taste for some, mostly because the fight was dull and members of the NYPD went on strike that day. The Bronx turned into a scene of chaos, and many fans getting off the subway immediately returned to Manhattan.
"Whenever I thought of the possibility in the interim years of coming back and doing a fight at Yankee Stadium, that went through my mind," Arum said. "Now remember, it's 34, 35 years later, and things change. But it was a really bad experience."
There are plenty of story lines involving the two fighters, though they'll probably take a back seat to Yankee Stadium, a monument to success and excess all at once.
Foreman, a self-proclaimed Yankees fan, is studying to become a rabbi and has backing from the large Jewish population in the New York metropolitan area. The sabbath doesn't officially end until sundown on Saturday night, so the main event start time will be pushed back to 11:30 p.m.
The first title fight at the old stadium also featured a Jewish champion. Benny Leonard defended his title against Lew Tendler on July 23, 1923, just a few months after the doors opened for the first time.
"When I won the world title on Nov. 14, they told me to take a few fights, some easy fights, then get into something better," Foreman said. "Being a world champion is not just easy fights, it's fighting other world champions. And Miguel Cotto is another world champion."
Or at least a former world champion.
Cotto has lost two of his last four fights, including a stoppage loss to pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao last November on the same night Foreman won his title in Las Vegas.
The former welterweight has numerous fans in New York City who trace their roots to his native Puerto Rico, many of them residing in the Bronx.
Cotto has headlined at Madison Square Garden several times on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day parade, which this year falls a week after the fight, when the Yankees are at home.
"I know it's going to be a tough fight for us, a tough fight for Yuri, too," said Cotto, who will fight at junior middleweight for the first time. "But we are owners of our own destiny, you know? We'll try hard, and I guarantee you we're going to make a great show."