This time, no boos, no jeers, no shouts of “kike!” And hopefully, no whuppin’.
It’s been eight months since Ukrainian-born, baal teshuvah fighter Dimtriy Salita was knocked out — in the boxing equivalent of a blink of an eye — in a title fight against Pakistani Muslim Amir Khan in Newcastle, England. In that bout, Salita was fighting before a hostile, mostly Islamic crowd that reportedly crossed the line from partisanship to vocal anti-Semitism.
This time he’s hoping for home-court advantage, so to speak.
On Sept. 1, in Oceana Hall, a 1,000-seat arena in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, Salita looks for “Redemption” (that’s how the fight is being billed) against 34-year-old Franklin Gonzalez of the Dominican Republic.
The hometown venue isn’t the only change for Salita since the Khan fight. In a bid to get his career back on track, Salita has taken charge of the business side of his fighting (Salita Productions), has lined up his own cable-TV broadcast, on The Jewish Channel (Channel 528 on Time Warner, 900 on Verizon, 268 on RCN, 291 on Optimum), and has arranged an 11-bout card. “I’m the main bout,” he says.
Also, he’s fighting for the first time in the 147-pound welterweight class — previously, he was a top-ranked light-welterweight — and he’s probably favored to win. A victory would bring his professional record to 31-1-1.
“I didn’t consider quitting” after the 76-second loss to Khan, Salita, 28, says.
Outside the ring, he’s working with Jewish youth from the former Soviet Union through boxing-and-morale-building programs at schools and Jewish community centers in the New York area.
Salita’s chasidic mentor, Rabbi Zalman Liberow, called the fighter 10 minutes after the title-fight loss. “Your fight starts now,” Salita says the rabbi told him.
Later that week, Rabbi Liberow was seriously injured in an auto accident that killed the rabbi’s 10-year-old son, Avrohom Dovid.
The tragedy, and a first-time trip to Israel, where he visited Yad Vashem and met Israeli soldiers, helped concentrate Salita’s focus. “I definitely changed. I became more mature, more serious,” he says.
In arranging the details of the bout, he’s drawing on his education as a business major at Touro College, he says. “Some of the things I learned in class are paying off. This is something I wanted to do for a long time.”
Security at Oceana Hall will be better than at the Newcastle arena, where he felt threatened, Salita says. And, in a neighborhood that is home to thousands of fellow émigrés from the former Soviet Union, after intensive promotion in the Russian media and Russian organizations, the crowd will be friendlier. “That’s without doubt.”