Sunday, July 25, 2010

Boxer Dmitriy Salita is Humbled, but not Down for the Count 

Dmitriy Salita speaks about the future of his boxing career with a look of pure intensity in his otherwise mournful brown eyes.

All the greatest boxers have this stare, a perfect distillation of concentration and discipline and total faith in the strength of their arms. But in Salita, it is also the look of a man convincing himself that he has a future in the sport.

Seven months have passed since his humiliating loss in England to Amir Khan—the first defeat of his professional career in 32 bouts—when he was stopped 76 seconds into their world title match after being knocked down three times. He has not faced another opponent in the ring.

In late June, I met Salita at the Sea Breeze Jewish Center, a dilapidated Brooklyn building with the elevated lines of the F train rattling loudly just behind it and the Brighton Beach boardwalk a block away. Salita has an unassuming presence—soft spoken, yet with a tinge of nervous energy, his BlackBerry never leaving his hands.

Salita, 28, also looks even more religious than he did in “Orthodox Stance,” the documentary that introduced the wider world to the Ukrainian-born Jewish immigrant, who had emerged from a Brooklyn gym to win the U.S. Amateur Under-19 Championships and then the coveted Golden Gloves in 2001. He is wearing a large blue yarmulke and tzitzit that hang over his jeans. A reddish beard covers the baby face that made him so endearing in the film.

Besides the fight, much has happened to Salita in the past year. He was married last September to a woman who grew up in the Chabad-Lubavitch community, and he has started to involve himself more directly with what he believes is his mission—to help move young Russian Jews closer to Judaism. It’s the reason we met in this part of Brooklyn.

In May, Salita inaugurated the Dmitriy Salita Youth Center in a large hall in the basement of the Sea Breeze Jewish Center. Among the slew of dignitaries on hand was Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon. His Chabad friends have established the Dmitriy Salita Foundation to support, as one rabbi put it, “those who want to follow the path of Dmitriy.”


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