“Kid looks Russian, prays Jewish and fights black,” Starrett City boxing trainer Jimmy O'Pharrow deadpanned to a reporter when asked to describe his Odessa-born prodigy. In 2005 Dmitriy Salita became an overnight sensation. The story: A white kid fighting his way out of the gritty projects with a weakness for Biggie and Tupac. Since then Salita has amassed a 30-0 record and is currently the number one ranked contender by the World Boxing Association.
I spoke to him at the Cotto Clottey weigh-in. There’s still swelling under his left eye from a battle with Raul Munoz weeks earlier. He admitted to having been uneasy with Munoz’ size, but Dmitriy knows the closer he gets to a belt, the longer the nights become.
We started the interview, but Salita quickly spotted an HBO executive and popped off to him about being the mandatory challenger to the winner of Kotelnik/Khan.
Just a reminder, he seemed to say. Don’t eff with my title shot.
JJ: Has your fame made it hard for you to live up to expectations? There's a lot of pressure on such a young fighter.
DS: It's hard to get an opportunity to get a fight with the big name in the sport. I am the best junior welterweight in the world and I can't wait to prove it. I want the opportunity to live up to them.
JJ: What was it like to be the subject of your own documentary film (“Orthodox Stance”) and how did it come about?
DS: It's incredible that a part of my life and career is captured on film. I think Jason Hutt – the filmmaker – did a great job with it. The film has gotten great reviews, and besides being shown in the States, it was also shown on the BBC in England. I’ve gotten a lot of interest and letters from fans in England who have seen the movie and also who have seen my fight on the Calzaghe-Jones card.
JJ: Who are you hoping to fight next?
DS: I’m the number one mandatory challenger for the WBA title so I hope to fight the winner of Kotelnik-Khan (July 18) within ninety days of that fight…so I’ll be watching closely.
JJ: How does Kotelnik match up against Khan?
DS: Well, Khan is the favorite, but I think Kotelnik should actually be the favorite. I think it’s going to be a very interesting fight and I can’t wait to fight the winner.
JJ: Can you hang with either of those guys?
DS: Yes, I’m ready. I’ve been ready for a long time. I’ve taken the hard long road to success and I can’t wait to fight the big fights, the champions. I want to win the junior welterweight title and then move up to welterweight.
JJ: Would you prefer to fight Khan or Khotelnik?
DS: Well, Kotelnik is the champion now to whom I’m the mandatory challenger, so Kotelnik, and then Khan can come and get some too.
JJ: Some of your critics say you don't deserve a title shot because you haven't faced the same level of opposition as other guys in your division. How do you respond?
DS: That is a vicious and biased double standard. I say that because I haven't gotten a chance to fight the big fights. How did Amir Khan deserve a shot? He’s fought no one and has never fought at junior welterweight. He just got knocked out a fight ago. Who did James Kirkland fight? And he is the next coming, fighting Brian Vera? Just recently on November 8th I was scheduled to fight Andriy Kotelnik on PPV. He pulled out. Before that I was supposed to fight Gavin Rees. I wanted to go to Wales but the network didn't want to buy the fight. Now I’m the official challenger and number one contender in the WBA and I’m willing and ready to fight the champion. I am 30-0-1 and I have a unique and large fan base that is an influx of new fans to the sport. I can't say it any clearer. Why am I not fighting the big fights? Why am I being held back?
JJ: Does coming from Brooklyn give you an advantage as a boxer?
DS: Of course. Every day walking the street is a fight man. (Laughs)
JJ: What’s the best fight you ever saw growing up?
DS: I guess Morales-Barrera. All of them. Mayweather outclassing Corrales was a great fight.
DS: I think it’s going to be an interesting fight. I think Mayweather has the size advantage. And obviously he has the skills. I give Mayweather the edge.
JJ: Boxing versus MMA. What are your thoughts on that?
DS: Oh, boxing by far. I actually started out in karate. I think business-wise they’re (MMA) doing well. They have a great business plan for making it happen, of promoting MMA. And I think boxing promoters need to get together and promote the sport, certainly with youth and with nonboxing fans.
JJ: The business side of boxing: How much do you hate it?
DS: I hate it. From 1 to 10? A million. The business side of boxing sucks. All the things that people read in the papers are true. All the bad things that you hear about boxing…boxing sometimes can be a very horrible sport to deal with. In terms of sports, I’m just a young kid that started out in the Starrett City Boxing Club that’s trying to make it…that’s trying to be a world champion.
JJ: How hard is it to keep the Sabbath? You have discipline like no one else. How important is that to you?
DS: It’s extremely important because being a Jew is who I am and I think it’s very important for me as a Jewish person in the public eye to promote Judaism. I think that Judaism is underrepresented in pop culture. I think it’s important for kids and for adults and for Jews and for non Jews to see what Judaism really is and it’s important for people to see on television – an athlete or someone in the public eye– wearing the yamulka, wearing tzit tzit, talking about Shavuos, because Judaism has a lot to offer to Jews and to non Jews, it’s an all-inclusive religion, it’s my responsibility to do my part, to do my best, and I think that’s why God granted me this ability. Through boxing, through every talent, a person is born to serve God to his ability. I’m doing it through boxing and it’s important to spread the word.
JJ: What’s the toughest fight you've had to date?
DS: Every fight is a hard fight. The hardest battle is the preparation and work you have to put in.
JJ: If you could fight any one of the legendary boxers from the past, who would it be?
DS: I would fight Oscar De La Hoya. He was a great fighter and a very big star. I’m disappointed with what he wanted to do to me: trying to have Victor Ortiz skip me in the ratings. Such things ruin the sport of boxing. With this mental outlook, I would have liked to fight Oscar in his heyday.
JJ: What's your training and diet like in between fights?
DS: I always stay in the gym and concentrate more on strength training and different activities such as swimming and yoga that will improve my overall boxing ability. My diet is a little bit looser. I enjoy some sweets that I wouldn't when I’m getting ready for a fight.
JJ: What do you want to say to your fans in Brooklyn?
DS: I want to thank my fans in Brooklyn. I want them to be excited about us making history, fighting for a world title, winning the world
title against the winner of Kotelnik-Khan. The belt is coming back home.