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Fight night returns to Yankee Stadium

NEW YORK (AP) — Daniel Flores handed a digital camera to a friend and grabbed a place next to Babe Ruth's monument in the famous park beyond the center-field wall at Yankee Stadium.

This was a no-brainer for the 29-year-old Army officer and Miguel Cotto backer.

"I'm a diehard Cotto fan, Yankee fan, so I had to take advantage of the first fight here," Flores said.

Boxing returned to the home of the New York Yankees on Saturday night for the first major card in the Bronx since Muhammad Ali defeated Ken Norton at the old stadium on Sept. 28, 1976.

The first official bout at the second-year ballpark was between a couple of prospects each in their fourth professional fight, won by 22-year-old local Christian Martinez in a fourth-round knockout.

"I couldn't wait for tonight. It was a tremendous feeling walking into the stadium," Martinez said. "It's great being the first man to ever win a fight in Yankee Stadium. It feels historic."

Cotto stopped champion Yuri Foreman in the ninth round of the main event to win the junior middleweight title. The fight featured a wild exchange in the eighth round when someone in Foreman's corner threw in the towel, and referee Arthur Mercante Jr. angrily tossed it right back out.

Mercante asked Foreman if he wanted to continue, and the aspiring rabbi opted to keep going — leading to a roar from the previously distraught crowd of 20,727.

"Amazing, fighting here in Yankee Stadium," Cotto said. "A lot of Puerto Rican fans, like fighting at home."

The main event attracted an eclectic mix of fans in the rows of seats on every side of the ring in short right field and in the stands circling the foul pole.

Baseball and boxing were interspersed throughout the stands, with Yankees jerseys on sale next to Cotto and Foreman T-shirts. Puerto Rico jerseys and hats from the World Baseball Classic also were popular with native son Cotto on the card.

Cotto wore pinstriped trunks, and the crowd even chanted "Derek Jeter! Derek Jeter!" at one point during the first round of the main event, saluting the Yankees' captain.

Omid Malekan, 29, bought an Israeli flag when he walked into the stadium to show his support for Foreman, who planned his arrival for the fight around his observance of Shabbat. Malekan and his sister, Naz, got some good-natured grief from their Puerto Rican friends, but were enjoying the scene on a warm night.

"We've never been to a match before," said Malekan, who lives on Long Island, "so a big part of why we came was the history."

Naz Malekan, 30, boxes for exercise and quickly got into the undercard, shouting at the fighters to keep their hands up.

"It's really great to see the techniques in person," she said.

While college football is on tap for fall, Saturday night's card was the first sporting event besides baseball at the new Yankee Stadium since it opened last spring.

The old stadium — now just a pile of rubble across the street — was the scene for several significant bouts before Yankees owner George Steinbrenner became upset about the state of the infield after the Ali-Norton fight, and boxing followed the money to Las Vegas.

Joe Louis went 10-1 at Babe Ruth's house, avenging his only loss at the ballpark when he knocked out German champion Max Schmeling in the Bronx on June 22, 1938. That memorable fight became a footnote in history books, widely viewed as a setback for the Nazi regime coming to power in Europe.

Gene Tunney, Jack Dempsey and James Braddock, the Cinderella Man, fought at Yankee Stadium in the 1920s, when baseball's cathedral hosted 14 of its 46 total cards. In later years, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Graziano and Sugar Ray Robinson were on the famous marquee, and Rocky Marciano won four straight fights at the Yankees' home in the 1950s.

Jordan Greif, a 34-year-old customer service manager who lives in Long Island, was on hand for boxing's return to the Bronx. He wore a contented look as he sipped on a beer and watched an undercard bout from a concourse.

"I just feel like everything is better in New York," he said. "Vegas is Vegas, but New York is New York."

(This version CORRECTS SUBS 6th graf to correct to eighth round sted seventh)