PHILADELPHIA -- "You remember that night at the Garden? You came down to my dressing room and you said, 'Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.' Remember that? 'This ain't your night.' My night. I could've taken Wilson apart. So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville."
--Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in 1954's Best Picture, "On the Waterfront"
The taxicab scene, with Brando bemoaning the momentum-reversing course of his boxing career at the behest of his older brother, Charlie, played by Rod Steiger, to benefit Charlie's hoodlum associates, remains one of the more memorable in movie history. But it also calls to mind a time when really big fights were held outdoors in ballparks, the better to accommodate the sort of crowds that couldn't be crammed into indoor arenas.
For whatever reasons, through time, the big fights stopped being staged in stadiums. Oh, sure, some still wound up in open-air venues, like the temporary stands erected on the tennis courts at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace, but even those magical nights somehow lacked the gravitas of matchups at massive venues like Yankee Stadium.
But you know what they say about how things that go around eventually come around. Boxing in stadium settings is the exciting new trend in 2010 as the fight game, in recent years pronounced more dead than a vampire in sunlight, is making a return from the irrelevance of Palookaville.
Bob Arum, the 78-year-old patriarch of Top Rank, is the drum major for boxing's parade back into outdoor stadiums. Arum partnered with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to put the Manny Pacquiao-Joshua Clottey bout into Cowboys Stadium on March 13 (all right, so Jones' $1.3 billion palace has a retractable roof), a bout that drew a whopping 50,994 spectators. Now Arum has joined forces with the Steinbrenner family for a June 5 fight in the new, $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium in which WBA junior middleweight champion Yuri Foreman (28-0, 8 KOs) will defend his title against former WBA and WBO welterweight ruler Miguel Cotto (34-2, 27 KOs).
"We confidently expect to have at least 30,000 people," said Arum, whose projection might actually be on the low side given the fact that Foreman, an Israeli who is studying to become a rabbi, and Cotto, who is Puerto Rican, have major ethnic constituencies in the Big Apple.
Lonn Trost, the Yankees' chief operating officer, said, "Yankee Stadium was, is and will always remain a fabric in the life of boxing."
Maybe that was true once, but the last time a fight was held in one of baseball's holiest cathedrals was the night of Sept. 28, 1976, when Muhammad Ali won a disputed unanimous decision in the rubber match of his three-bout series with Ken Norton. A nearly 34-year absence makes for a significant hole in the "fabric of boxing" to which Trost refers.
But Arum knows how to cater to particular audiences, and in Foreman and Cotto he has attractions capable of drawing the same sort of turnout for Pacquiao-Clottey in Arlington, Texas. Foreman will be making his 11th ring appearance in New York, although some of the earlier ones were at such lesser sites as the Aviator Sports Arena in Brooklyn and the Palace Theater in the Bronx.
In recent years, Cotto has become something of a staple at Madison Square Garden, fighting before large, enthusiastic crowds four times on the eve of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in midtown Manhattan. His showdown with Foreman comes a week before this year's Puerto Rican Day Parade, when the Yankees are playing at home.
Jones and the Steinbrenners, who need as many non-baseball events as possible to place into their 10-figure playpens and thus reduce their debt-service obligations, figure to keep turning to boxing if fans continue to show up en masse. But theirs aren't the only ballparks that could be the setting for future fight nights.
Arum claims he already has an arrangement in place for the new Giants Stadium, which is nearing completion in East Rutherford, N.J., to be the site for a featherweight unification bout next spring between Juan Manuel Lopez (28-0, 25 KOs), the WBO champion from Puerto Rico, and Yuriokis Gamboa (18-0, 15 KOs), the WBA titlist from Miami by way of his native Cuba. Don't be surprised if Arum also investigates the possibility of putting user-friendly scraps into places like Dodger Stadium.
You have to wonder how the late Budd Schulberg, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "On the Waterfront," would feel about the return of boxing outdoors in ballparks.
"The last fight he went to was Cotto-Clottey, at the Garden (on June 13, 2009)," Benn Schulberg said of his late father, who was 95 when he died on Aug. 5 last year. Of Foreman-Cotto, the younger Schulberg said, "I think he would be excited to be there. I think it would have brought back, at least for a night, some of the old days at the fights for him."