Salita (left) with ring announcer David Diamante
|Real name||Dmitriy Aleksandrovich Lekhtman|
|Nickname(s)||Star of David|
|Rated at||Junior welterweight|
April 4, 1982 |
Odessa, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
|Wins by KO||17|
Born in Odessa, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union (now Odessa, Ukraine) as Dmitriy Aleksandrovich Lekhtman, Salita was five years old when he saw his first boxing match. "It was Mike Tyson, and I remember dancing around my room that night imitating the moves", he recalled. Salita moved with his family to Flatbush, Brooklyn, at the age of nine because of the escalating violence against Jews in Ukraine. His father, Aleksandr Lekhtman, was an engineer; his late mother, Lyudmila Salita, was an accountant. He has one brother, Mikhail. He uses his mother's maiden name as his professional name.
Basically, we came to America because Jews were discriminated against. My parents thought that my brother and I wouldn’t grow up with the opportunity to be the best that we could be. My brother, who is nine years older than I am, used to get into a lot of fights, because he was often called names. There were rumors of pogrom every now and then, and Jews would go away to the suburbs from the city. ‘Pogrom’ means that groups of people would break into homes and bash the house. I remember that my father bought a gun just in case something was to happen. It was very difficult to get top jobs or to go to top schools and still remain proud of your Judaism. I am very grateful to America for letting me pursue my goals, and have freedom of religion and speech. You don’t normally appreciate it, but when you don't have it, you understand just how great it is to have it. Now that I am older, I understand it.
In New York, classmates picked on Salita in school. He said, “When I first started going to school, I had the clothes that I wore over in Russia. I used to get made fun of because of it, and the fact that I didn’t speak English. I had to learn how to defend myself. I got involved in karate, and as time went on my brother brought me to a boxing club. That is how it all started. I got called into the principal's office. I got suspended a few times, but I got my respect. I started kicking some ass at school.”
Salita said, “Jimmy runs an old school gym, a ghetto gym. My style isn't European. It isn't even American. It's a city style. It's Black. I don't know how else to say it. But some of us White boys got it like that”. The radio at Starrett was always tuned to HOT 97; Salita described it as “Blasting. A lot of Biggie. A lot of Tupac. I think that changed my style. That's what gave me some rhythm.”
Salita had an amateur record of 59–5. When he was 16, he represented New York in the Junior Olympics and won a bronze medal. "I thought, 'I'm ranked in America as a boxer.' That's when I really felt like an American", he said. His last loss came when he was 17 in a split decision in the finals of the Golden Gloves tournament in 2000.
At the 2001 New York Golden Gloves, he won the championship at 139 pounds. Salita won the finals on April 5, 2001, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Bill Farrell of the New York Daily News reported, “In a bout that lived up to all its expectations, Dmitriy Salita battled past Joey Rios to win the Golden Gloves 139-pound open title last night at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. The 3–2 decision won by Salita in as fine a boxing match ever staged in the Golden Gloves finals earned Salita the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as the outstanding boxer in the tournament. Salita, who is as talented as they come, got into his rhythm midway through Round 2, and finally took control of the bout to earn the decision and a pair of Golden Gloves.”
Salita said[when?], “You know, with me growing up in New York, the New York Golden Gloves is a big, big deal. A lot of the great fighters that have come out of New York have all managed to win the Golden Gloves. The Golden Gloves in New York is like the Olympic games, everyone knows about it. You really get your respect after you win the New York Golden Gloves. I thought that it was an important step, and that it would boost my professional career. Plus, I was just dying to have those Golden Gloves around my neck.”
He turned pro at the age of 19, in the summer of 2001. He signed a contract with Las Vegas-based promoter Bob Arum, whose Top Rank stable of fighters has included George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Manny Pacquiao.
Salita remained in contention for a junior welterweight title bout, extending his unbeaten streak to 28, with a unanimous 10-round decision over Grover Wiley at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York in March 2007. Salita staggered Wiley (30–9–1) with a series of body punches in the 7th round.
In May 2009 he scored a dominant 10-round shutout victory over Raul "El Toro" Munoz (20–12–1, 15 KOs) in Las Vegas for his 30th win. "Salita wobbled Munoz with a barrage of power shots. An uppercut flush under the chin awakened a startled Munoz, who somehow found his way back to the middle of the ring", noted distinguished boxing reporter Albert Howell.
Recent bouts and the future
Salita lost to WBA light welterweight champion Amir Khan on December 5, 2009. Khan knocked out Salita in 76 seconds, knocking him down three times in the first round to defend his world title, shattering Salita's dreams of a world title. Salita credited Khan's superior hand speed as the reason for being knocked down. "He has very quick hands. I didn't see the punches coming". Salita was criticized before the fight for not having fought difficult competition while racking up an undefeated record. Salita made a comeback on September 1, 2010, fighting as a junior middleweight, winning an eight round unanimous decision over Franklin Gonzalez at Oceana Hall in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, New York. After the Gonzalez bout, former world champion Paul Malignaggi entered the ring to congratulate Salita and propose a bout between the two of them in the very near future.
On April 13, 2011, Dmitriy Salita (33–1–1, 17 KOs) scored an eight round unanimous decision victory over Ronnie Warrior Jr. (13–5–1, 4 KOs) at the Oceana ballroom in Brooklyn, New York.
It was Salita’s third fight in only eight months and he came through in front of the hometown crowd, aggressive from the first bell, controlling the bout and show casing his superior fighting skills. On the offensive for most of the eight rounds he forced his left-handed opponent to adopt a defensive stance, while using his greater reach and speed to his advantage.
One frightening moment came in the final round when Salita sustained a nasty gash over his left eye after a head butt from Warrior. But the "Star of David" had the final say with many devoted fans and supporters cheering him on as he pulled through the last round with a well-deserved victory.
His mother, Lyudmila, originally opposed her son's boxing, but eventually became an enthusiastic supporter. She died in January 1999, after a two-year battle with breast cancer. When she was hospitalized, Salita divided his time between James Madison High School, the Starrett gym, and Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. He said, “I’d spend the night sleeping in a chair at the hospital and wake up to do my roadwork.”
After he moved to Brooklyn, he was exposed to Orthodox Judaism and became an observant Jew. He strictly follows Jewish law – if he has a fight on a Saturday, it must begin after sundown, the end of the sabbath. He said, “Anyone who wants a good whuppin' from me is just going to have to wait until sundown.” There are as many as 70 Jewish holy days each year on which he will not fight, and he follows Jewish dietary laws. When he’s training, he stays within walking distance of a synagogue for Friday and Saturday services, and he does not drive on the sabbath.
Promoter Bob Arum said, "If he's as good as it appears he is, and he can be held up as an example of religious devotion to both Jews and gentiles, he'll be a great attraction."
Salita said, "I will never compromise my beliefs. Never. It’s not a question. I have a personal relationship with God that I won’t compromise. My boxing is such a big part of my life, but it won’t get in the way of my religion. It can't, and it won't."
Salita is one of several active Jewish boxers. Others include heavyweight Roman Greenberg at (27–1–0) and junior middleweight Yuri Foreman at (28–1–0) as well as Muay Thai kickboxer Ilya Grad at (29–9–0). Salita enters the ring to Yiddish rap.
Orthodox Stance, a documentary directed by Jason Hutt about Salita's career to date (2007) and his life as an Orthodox Jew, received its world premiere at the 2007 Silverdocs Documentary Festival and had its second showing and West Coast premiere at the 2007 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival as part of an evening devoted to Jewish boxers. Both Salita and director Hutt participated in a panel discussion following the presentation. Orthodox Stance received Best Documentary Film honors at the 2008 London Jewish Cultural Awards.
He was offered a small role in the HBO boxing movie, Infamous, as a fighter who loses a match against the film's protagonist, played by John Leguizamo. Salita turned down the part. "It was tempting, but if I did that, a lot of people who never saw me fight would see me lose."
In 2009 Salita signed a deal to represent ARTHUR, a French based Homewear company.
On November 20, 2009 he appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly showing a video of himself boxing.
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