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Dmitriy Salita: Boxing and Religion

BY Robert Cassidy Jr. ON November 16, 2004
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To some people, boxing is religion. To Dmitriy Salita, they are separate elements of his life, but he believes the discipline from his spirituality and his athletic career feed one another.

“In boxing, there are a quite a few guys who are observant in whatever faith they are in and it helps,” said the 22-year-old Salita. “Being a religious person helps me as a human being and being a disciplined human being helps me be a better fighter.”

Salita, the unbeaten junior welterweight prospect from Brooklyn, strictly adheres to Jewish law. He will never fight during the Sabbath, which begins on Friday and ends after sundown on Saturday. There are up to 70 holy days on which he will not fight.

That’s a courageous stand to make in a sport that thrives on Fridays and Saturdays. But for Salita, courage extends well beyond the ring.

“I think everyone is aware of my situation,” he said. “They are aware of the days that I fight and don’t fight.  Now that I’m getting to the point of be a main event fighter, it won’t be a problem, you don’t fight until night anyway. So, Saturday night is fine.”

Salita was born in Odessa, Ukraine and moved with his family to Brooklyn at the age of nine. He left the Ukraine because of fierce discrimination against Jews. When he arrived in this country, he was exposed to orthodox Judaism and became an observant Jew. Still, hardship followed him. He became a target at school because of the foreign way in which he dressed and because he could not speak English.

In an attempt to defend himself, he visited the Starrett City Boxing Club and began boxing at the age of 13. He wound up winning a New York Golden Gloves title in 2001.

Jimmy O’Pharrow, the longtime trainer at Starrett City, has been with Salita since the amateurs and has summed up the fighter this way: “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.”

The unique story has caught the interest of Hollywood and producer Jerry Bruckheimer has optioned Salita’s story and a script based on the relationship between the fighter and O’Pharrow is being written by Greg Howard (“Remember the Titans,” and “Ali.”)

On November 18, Salita (19-0, 11 KOs) headlines Lou DiBella’s Broadway Boxing card at Manhattan Center. He meets Paul Delgado (12-4-1, 2 KOs) in the main event. Other New York fighters on the card include junior welterweight Jeffrey Resto (17-2, 11 KOs) of the Bronx and cruiserweight Hino Ehikhamenor (8-0, 5 KOs) of Queens, via Nigeria.

It’s the second straight New York appearance for Salita. In his last bout, on September 14, he scored an eight-round decision over Ruben Galvan on a DiBella Entertainment show from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.

“That’s another reason why the relationship between myself and DiBella boxing is so great is because they have so many Thursday night shows,” said Salita. “I’m very excited about the card. It’s going to be a great show. It’s my first big fight in Manhattan.”

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