Salita taken out in seventy-six seconds by the mighty Khan
By Joey Seymour
SAN CLEMENTE, California–It only took WBA Light Welterweight Champion, Amir “King” Khan seventy-six seconds to take out “Star of David” Dmitriy Salita this past Saturday night in a fight conducted in Newcastle, England.
Ten thousand spectators witnessed an overpowering performance by Khan, which was nothing short of remarkable. In a blink of an eye, Khan was raising his hands in victory as Salita was simply attempting to remember where he was. The loss is by far the worst suffered by Salita in his short professional career and is one that will certainly continue to sting.
Previous to this bout, Salita was undefeated. His record was an incredible 30-0-1 with 16 knockouts. The buzz around Salita was palpable. A full length documentary was made in 2007 entitled “Orthodox Stance.” HBO followed up with a documentary of its own and many in the Jewish community saw Salita’s rise as the return of the dominant Jewish boxer. However, the boxing world was not as quick to anoint Salita to the upper echelons of the sport, despite the media craze surrounding him, because he had yet to fight anyone of note. On Saturday night, Salita earned his first title shot and in a New York minute, learned that he still has quite a way to go to compete with those in his weight class which include not only Khan, but also Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.
The question then becomes, why did Salita garner so much attention before actually breaking out? Why is Disney currently working on a movie about Salita’s life that is set to star rapper Eminem as Dmitriy? The plain answer is because his story is unique.
Not since the days of Abe “The Little Hebrew” Attell, Maxie Rosenbloom, and Max Baer to name just a few, has there been a Jewish boxer with so much promise and talent. Like his predecessors, Salita is Orthodox and strictly follows Orthodox rules, even refusing to fight during the Sabbath or any of the 70 Jewish holy days. His long time trainer and mentor, Jimmy O’Pharrow said of Dmitriy, “My gym is like a league of nations. I seen every kind of kid come through the doors, but I ain’t never seen one like this Dmitriy. Kid looks Russian, prays Jewish and fights black.”
Salita began working with Jimmy O (as he is affectionately known) when he was thirteen years old. His parents moved their family from Odessa, Ukraine in 1991 when Dmitriy was nine years old, due to an escalation of Jewish hate crimes in the region, and in an effort to provide a better life for their children (Dmitriy has a brother, Mikhail).
Things started out rough for the young Salita in America (whose actual name is Dmitriy Alexandrovich Lekhtman, he fights under his mother’s maiden name). He was picked on in school for not wearing the right clothes or fitting in. It was not until he stumbled into Jimmy O’Pharrow’s gym, Starrett City Boxing Club, that Dmitriy began to develop his identity and a feeling of self worth.
Even though hesitant at first, his parents (Aleksander and Lyudmila) began to notice the talent and passion that Dmitriy had for boxing. As an amateur, Salita won astonishing 59 matches, only losing 5. Yet, Salita’s worse loss came in January 1999, when his beloved mother lost her battle with breast cancer. After her death, Dmitriy went to Chabad of Flatbush every day to say Kaddish for her. He became a prominent member of the center in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. Today, Salita’s charity, Shield of David, donates funds to both the Chabad of Flatbush and the Starrett City Boxing Club.
At the center, he met several men who would assist in his career spiritually and monetarily. Israel Liberow, brother of the center’s Rabbi, has since become Salita’s spiritual advisor, traveling with him and being a member of his entourage, which has also included at times, Jewish reggae artist, Matisyahu. Bob Arum was Salita’s first promoter.
Arum told the Washington Post in 2002 that, “The fact that he’s Jewish is secondary to the fact that he’s the kind of Jewish kid that he is, with the story he has to tell. If he was an ordinary Jewish kid, we wouldn’t have made that kind of deal with him. He’s Jewish and an observant Jew. He came from an assimilated family in Odessa, and became involved in the ultra-Orthodox community. That makes him a potential attraction.”
Attraction came quickly for Dmitriy. He turned professional in the summer of 2001 at the age of 19. Word of his boxing prowess as well as strict faith and family story, not to mention his boy-ish good looks and charm, led to an onslaught of public interest, especially in the Jewish community. He backed up his praise by winning. In 2004, Salita signed Lou DiBella to be his new promoter and fought his first match in front of his home town fans in Brighton Beach, New York. His opponent, Ruben Galvan lost to Salita in the 8th round by unanimous decision.
In 2005, he won the North American Boxing Association Light Welterweight title, defeating Shawn Gallegos by TKO in the 9th round. Yet, it would take four more years before Salita earned his chance at a WBA title. In the mean time, he continued to fight, to win, and to build public intrigue, but he could not escape the fact that his opponents were merely average. Prior to his fight with Khan, Salita’s thirty-one opponents win average was a combined 49.3% (456); loss average of 47.5% (438), and a draw average of 3.3% (31). Even though Salita was enjoying a 30-0-1 record, many critics questioned his ability against a competitor the likes of Khan.
Now, with this difficult loss behind him, Dmitriy Salita has two paths, either fade into obscurity or overcome the defeat and come back faster, stronger, and more mentally prepared for the new level of fighter that he will be facing. A return to winning ways and a possible championship would be perfect for the Salita script. We’ll just have to wait and see if Hollywood gets its wish.
Joey Seymour, Sports Historian and Author of “San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives.” Now Available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com.
Contact Joey Seymour at firstname.lastname@example.org
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