Madison Square Garden is known as the Mecca of Boxing. This title does not come from the modern era but from the decades between the thirties and eighties when it was the home to regular shows to sellout crowds featuring many ethnic fighters and ethnic rivalries of course it was home to the fight of the 20th Century between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali (the first fight in which Smokin Joe won).
Over the last two decades as the sport of boxing has declined the state of things at MSG has declined; but last Saturday night I witnessed some of that old Garden magic as I saw the most exciting night at the fights in my life. Let me first state that I have been to many fights in my life, and have seen many exciting crowds, and in America the two fighters that have had the most exciting fan base are Felix Trinidad of Puerto Rico and the Mexican-American Oscar De La Hoya and when they fought I was not there. I did see Trinidad fight at the Garden in front of an electric Puerto Rican crowd and that was something special. With Trinidad out of the game there are only three fighters that can bring that sort of excitement and that is De La Hoya, whose next fight is his retirement fight, Fernando Vargas (whose fight with DLH featured a wild and divided crowd) and the Englishman Ricky Hatton. Insha’Allah it is a dream of mine to get to travel to England to see Hatton fight and maybe even see the DLH finale.
The card at the Garden maybe didn’t feature any stars that big; but it did feature some up and coming fan favorites with strong ethnic followings. The fight was on the eve of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade on 5th Avenue in Manhattan which brings millions of people to the city (mostly men there to check out the women and women to floss for the men) and hundreds of wild parties through the city). New York becomes a sea of Puerto Rican flags and it is kind of like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for people of color. The main event featured a young and rising Puerto Rican star named Miguel Cotto against an undefeated Italian-American from Brooklyn named Paulie Malignaggi.
The fight was pretty good but what made it so exciting was the amount of enthusiasm from the crowd. Loud cheers and chats echoed for Cotto and thousands of Puerto Rican flags were waived all over the Garden. After being dropped in the second –round a spirited Paulie got up and rallied to win many rounds in front of a hostile crowd but lost the decision after 12 to the delight of the Puerto Rican crowd (I had the fight scored 115-112 for Cotto).
On the undercard Irishman John Duddy provided excitement as thousands of Irish fans and chanted and cheered his entrance to the ring and he was accompanied by the traditional Irish piper. Every blow he landed on Freddie Cuevas brought wild cheers from the Irish and every responding blow from Cuevas brought jeers until Cuevas sat on his stool after the 7th round. I asked my landlord, who is from Ireland, if he knew about the Duddy fight and he told me he didn’t think there was an Irishman in New York who wasn’t either at the fight or watching it on TV.
If that wasn’t enough excitement a Notre Dame Fighting Irish football player Tommy Zbilkowski thrilled the crowd in his professional debut with a knockout in 49 seconds of the 1st round. He entered the ring to the ND fight song and there wee hundreds of people who had driven in from the Chicago area and Indiana to see him play.
The night also included knockout wins by Julio Caesar Chavez, Jr. the son of the great Mexican fighting legend and Bobby Pacquiao (the brother of Manny) over New Yorker Kevin Kelley.
More on World Cup
American soccer fans do not worry even if we all know that the US will not make it to the second-round this time around even after being so cocky coming in. I have no doubt that there will be a day when the US will dominate world football. I am rooting for the English anyway and I think they have a shot if Wayne Rooney is healthy especially since the Brazilians did not look that good in their opening match with Croatia; but the best and most exciting game I have seen so far in the Cup was the 2-2 tie between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Those brothers really left it all o the pitch and their fans should be proud. By the way, is this politically incorrect, or did you also notice that almost all the Saudi players are black? I remember there being a lot of black players in 1994 and 2002 but not this many.