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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Dmitriy Salita: The Boxer

In preparing for the last fight of his career, Dmitriy Salita experienced a profound realization. "I didn't want to die in the ring."

Salita, a former boxer with a 35-2-1 record  (18 KOs) and now a respected promoter, tells The Jewish Boxing Blog in an interview that throughout his career, "I was so focused on winning even if it meant dying in the ring." But in the run-up to that final fight in 2013, he recalls, "I began to find value in other areas of life. I didn't want to die in the ring."

Born on April 4, 1982, Dmitriy immigrated to Brooklyn from the Soviet Union as a kid. He found a home in the Starrett City Boxing Club and a mentor in Jimmy O'Pharrow. "He taught me about boxing, how to be a leader, and about life," Salita says of the late Jimmy O. "He would explain situations in life to me. He was like a prophet."

Salita describes the Starrett City Boxing Club as an intense place filled with aggression and a lot of egos. He still marvels at Jimmy O.'s leadership in running the club. Dmitriy often felt judged in boxing circles because of his appearance and his status as an immigrant, which in part fueled his success.

As a teenager, he fought in the New York Golden Gloves at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, an experience that filled him with "inspiration and aspiration." As part of a decorated amateur career, Salita won the 2000 under-19 U.S. national championships. After winning the 2001 New York Golden Gloves in the 139-pound division, he earned the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as the best boxer in the tournament. Those were two of his proudest moments as a fighter.


As Dmitriy took off his shirt and had those small gloves taped up before his pro debut in 2001, the magnitude of the moment struck him. "It was a strong moment. I realized I'm putting it all on the line," he remembers. "I might die. Of course there was no real risk, but that was my mentality."

Asked for his best win, Salita responds, "Most people think the toughest fights are when you reach the top. But the toughest fights are often early in your career."

He recalls his fifth pro fight. He took on a tough journeyman named Rashaan Abdul Blackburn at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas back in 2002. "I was a 19 year old kid, and he was a 28 year old grown man. That man was strong, muscular," Salita says. "We both had small eight-ounce Reyes gloves, the ones with the horsehair padding. He jabbed me in the first round, and I could feel his knuckles on my teeth. The pain was quite significant. Even after all these years, I still remember that feeling."

Not only does he remember that feeling, but after twenty years and nearly forty fights, he correctly remembers the opponent's age. Incidentally, Salita, who scored two knockdowns and won by unanimous decision, and Blackburn share the same birthday, nine years apart.


Jimmy O. once told Dmitriy, "If you ever see three guys out there, hit the one in the middle." Dmitriy laughed, but Jimmy O. said he was serious. Early in his pro career Salita was thumbed in the eye. "And it happened. I saw three guys!" he says.

"So you hit the one in the middle?" he is asked.
"I hit the one in the middle and dropped him!"

Dmitriy Salita, photo courtesy of The Times of Israel

Salita believes his best attributes as a fighter were hard work and mental strength." He notes, "The toughest opponent is yourself. The mental aspect is very important in boxing." In the ring, his jab, body punches, and left hook were his best weapons.

His 2005 TKO win over Shawn Gallegos to snag the NABA 140-pound title and his 2008 unanimous decision victory over Raul Munoz at Madison Square Garden to win the IBF international and WBF world junior welterweight titles were among his proudest achievements as a pro. So was the fact that he refused to fight on Shabbos.

In this moment of increased attention on anti-Semitism in the United States, Salita explains that he was often the target of anti-Semitic heckles throughout his career. It's important to remember: anti-Semitism has been an unfortunately persistent phenomenon, not merely a recent problem.


On December 5, 2009, Salita traveled to Newcastle, England to take on WBA junior welterweight world champion, Amir Khan. Khan scored three knockdowns and the fight was stopped in the first round. "I was stunned, but I wasn't hurt," Salita says.

Dmitriy calls the Khan fight his most disappointing moment as a fighter, but it wasn't all negative. "It was a great experience. It opened a lot of doors for me." Salita saw Khan at a recent event in England and the two reconnected. "He told me, 'That fight doesn't count. I think I would've beaten you anyway, but the fight doesn't count.'"

When Khan's first round defeat to Breidis Prescott is brought up, ever the proud competitor, Salita draws a distinction. "He was knocked out in the Prescott fight. I wasn't knocked out."

After the Khan fight, Jimmy O. wanted legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward brought onto the team. Another of Jimmy O.'s great qualities was his ability to delegate and bring in help. The late Oscar Suarez and the late Francisco Guzman had contributed to Dmitriy's development. So too had the knowledgeable Hector Rocha, who in his 90s still goes to the gym every day. "He's one of those young old guys," Dmitriy jokes.

Steward's nephew Sugar Hill did most of the training of Dmitriy at that time. "I was already a developed fighter, but they could see little things that made a big difference." The Kronk Gym in Detroit possessed the same atmosphere of intensity as the Starrett City Boxing Club had years earlier. Dmitriy felt at home there.

After the Khan loss, Salita notched five straight wins. Then came his last fight, a 2013 showdown against Gabriel Bracero. He shuts down any talk about the knockdown the ref overlooked or that he made many of Bracero's punches miss. "That wasn't me," Dmitriy says simply, "I didn't want to die in the ring."

He then knew it was time to retire. Soon after, Dmitriy Salita began a new endeavor as a promoter. But that's a story for next time.

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