By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The champion's walk to the ring was heralded by the sounding of the shofar, or ram's horn, used in the Jewish religion during the high holy days.
Pounding salsa music was the soundtrack for the challenger, who wore a solemn look as he marched into the famed U.S. sporting palace with his white boxing glove draped over his young son's shoulder.
While the names Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman lacked the luster of some warriors who graced the biggest stage in the Bronx -- including Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali -- the steamy night produced quite a spectacle.
It was a proud night for Foreman, making his first defense as Israel's maiden world boxing champion, and a chance at redemption for Puerto Rican Cotto, a former champion whose defeats the last two years caused some to declare him finished.
"We're not accustomed to having a lot of boxing heroes in our culture, pugilism is not the biggest sport," actor Robert Kabakoff told Reuters before the bout as he brandished a small Israeli flag to loud booing.
"We're in Puerto Rico turf here in the Bronx."
Pomp and chaos, and enough drama to prop up a soap opera marked boxing's return to Yankee Stadium Saturday after an absence of 34 years.
Luis Gonzalez, 51, a carpenter, was bubbling with excitement. "That's the best thing they did, to have the boxing here. Yankee Stadium is history."
The city that never sleeps was sorely tested by a start time that approached midnight, to allow for the arrival of Foreman, boxing's first Orthodox Jewish champion since Briton Jack Berg 70 years ago, and an aspiring rabbi who is less than two years away from ordination.
Rousing versions of the Puerto Rican, Israeli and U.S. anthems were sung and evergreen ring announcer Michael Buffer added a growl to his trademark, "Let's get ready to rummmmmble," when he introduced the combatants.
Cotto, the heavier puncher despite moving up in weight class, controlled the fight and led on all the scorecards before the clash took a strange twist when Foreman's trick knee gave out on him in the seventh round.
Foreman, whose footwork is one of his primary assets, collapsed twice in the seventh and again in the eighth and could barely shuffle back and forth on the right knee.
His corner threw a white towel of surrender into the ring in the eighth but referee Arthur Mercante Jr. denied the plea and ruled the fight should continue.
"He was no longer mobile. He was no longer Yuri Foreman," said his trainer, Joe Grier, who had tossed in the towel. "I wanted him to leave with some dignity."
Cotto expressed sympathy for Foreman's injury, but nothing diminished his satisfaction.
(Additional reporting by Basil Katz, editing by Pritha Sarkar)