Outside the box with Dmitriy Salita  

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Outside the box with Dmitriy Salita  

The now-retired Orthodox boxer is now a promoter and is heading to London to give us a bout between Franklin and Joshua

Dmitriy Salita in Bushkill, Pennsylvania., 2009
Dmitriy Salita in Bushkill, Pennsylvania., 2009

Introducing, in the blue corner, boxer-turned-promoter Dmitriy Salita, floating like a butterfly to London to give us a mouth-watering bout between heavyweight contender Jermaine Franklin and England’s two-time former unified heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua.

In boxing, the best bouts start late at night. That is just knockout for Dmitriy because, as an observant Jew, he can’t head ringside until after sundown on a Saturday, the end of the sabbath.

Born Dmitriy Aleksandrovich Lekhtman in 1982 in Odessa, his family moved to the United States when he was nine, citing antisemitism in Ukraine, and settled in the Flatbush district of Brooklyn, New York. That is where his love affair with the Noble Art began.

Dmitriy explains: “My family lived in a one-bedroom apartment, on welfare and food stamps, and I used boxing as a tool to make it out of the poverty. I saw my first boxing match when I was five. It was Mike Tyson, and I remember dancing around my room that night imitating the moves.”

Salita in the ring

At 13 he joined Starrett City Boxing Club, which was in the basement of a parking garage in a run-down neighbourhood in Brooklyn.

“There was no air conditioning in the summer, no heat in the winter, no running water and no bathroom, so it was the school of hard knocks, but it produced six world champions. I was the only white Jewish kid on the boxing team. One of the reasons my family came to the US was because Jews were not allowed to be Jews, and when I was 14, I connected with the Chabad-Lubavitch. I started to become more observant and at the age of 18 and I decided not to box on the sabbath.”

It was just before the US Nationals and Dimitry was facing disqualification, but they changed the times of the fights, and he was able to box once Shabbat had gone out. He won the US Nationals, then the New York City Golden Gloves and the Outstanding Boxer Award, and he turned professional.

“My first promoter was Bob Arum, whose stable included George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Manny Pacquiao, and I had a clause in my first contract which said I didn’t box on the sabbath or on Jewish holidays.”

Dmitriy was drawn to Arum, one of the most successful promoters in the history of boxing, as he was born in New York City, and grew up in Crown Heights with an Orthodox Jewish background.

Dmitriy, who has a degree in Business and Jewish Studies, was nicknamed Star of David, and he always walked to the ring draped in an Israeli flag to promote Israel and Jewish values. He won 35 of his 38 professional fights, losing only two. His victories saw him land the WBA and IBF international titles, NABA title and WBF world title all at junior welterweight before his career came to an abrupt halt in 2009 when he was knocked out after 76 seconds by British light welterweight champion Amir Khan.

Dmitriy flew to Israel the next day for a therapeutic first visit to the Holy Land, and kissed the ground when he got off the airplane. He said: “To finally be seeing the stuff I think of daily and read about in the bible, it’s a strong emotional experience. I need some time, and I can’t think of any better place than Israel to relax and reflect.”

Dimitry with Clarissa Shields

He reflected on his future and turned to promoting in 2010. He has since been instrumental in the elevation of women’s boxing, guiding the career of undefeated three-time undisputed world champion Claressa Shields, dubbed the GWOAT (Greatest Woman Of All Time). Last October, more than two million viewers tuned in to see Shields defeat Savannah Marshall, making it the most-watched women’s professional boxing event in history and creating the biggest audience for a live women’s sport event ever on Sky TV.

Dmitriy is looking forward to coming to London for the Franklin v Joshua bout on April 1 at the O2 Arena, which is a 20,000 sell-out.

“There is a Chabad centre near the O2 Arena, so Shabbos comes first and the sport comes second,” says Dmitriy, who turns 40 three days after the fight. “My friends and I always have a minion at the hotel where we stay. I love coming to the UK because boxing is a mainstream sport and the fans and the press love it. My drive is my own love for the sport of boxing, and my connection to it since I was a kid and experiencing it on every level. Boxing is a great sport and I recommend it to everybody as an after-school activity – but I tell people not to take it up as a profession because it is very difficult, and you can get hurt.”


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