STAN I ri KOt k
DMITRIY SALITA WEARS THE TRADITIONAL
HOODED SWEATSHIRT [PG 104]
14711 W. 112th St.
Lenexa, KS 66215
DEFINING Words. Alex Kratz
Photos. Kelly Kline
UKRAINIAN, IMMIGRANT, JEWISH, HIP-HOP.
THE UNDEFEATED WELTERWEIGHT FROM BROOKLYN DEFIES
CATEGORIZATION AND DEFINES THE AMERICAN DREAM.
riving through his Brooklyn neighborhood in a gold Zab Judah. The guy who started the gym, Salita's long-time
D Lexus, undefeated welterweight Dmitriy Salita smiles and
explains how a white Jewish kid from the Ukraine fell in
love with hip-hop.
trainer, 80-year-old Jimmy O'Pharrow, better known as Jimmy 0,
likes to say about the contender: "Kid looks Russian, prays
Jewish, fights black."
"For me, it was a three-step process," says Salita, Jay-Z rhyming It's a beautiful seven-word quote. It's a quote that has super
in the background. "At first, I hated it. It was new and different, it producer Jerry Bruckheimer developing the script for a major
wasn't something I liked. Then, after listening to it, it started to grow Hollywood film about Salita's life (Eminem is reportedly interested
on me and I started to like it. And now I love it." in the role). A documentary is also in the works.
It's a Sunday morning in February, and Salita is on his way to a But the quote doesn't tell the whole story.
fitness workout in Queens. The boyish 24-year-old flips through some
of his favorite tracks, which he's compiled on a mix CD specifically First of all, as mentioned earlier, he's Ukrainian, not Russian,
designed for training. There's Tupac, Jay-Z, Three-Six Mafia, and, of though he speaks the language fluently. He's not just a Jew, he's
course, the Rocky theme song. Later, Salita puts in Jewish reggae an observant Jew who will not fight on Shabbos (sundown Friday
artist and fellow Brooklynite, Matisyahu. to sundown Saturday) or on any of 70 Jewish holidays each year.
And he doesn't just fight "black," he fights "exceptionally well."
Nicknamed "Star of David," Salita is a product of his environment After winning the Golden Gloves title as the best amateur boxer
and a collision of cultures. He's Jay-Z, Matisyahu and Rocky. in the country at 19 and then turning pro in 2001, Salita is since
He's sponsored by hip-hop clothing labels and Kosher's Own. undefeated and is ranked as high as fifth in the world as a junior
Salita comes fully equipped with an innocent smile and nice-guy welterweight. He's still a few fights away from his big opportunity, his
charm, plus the added bonus of a confident swagger and championship opportunity.
legitimate ring skills.
Dmitriy's boxing talent is clear, but despite his impressive boxing
But don't be mistaken though, Salita isn't a marketing creation. The resume, Salita is probably known more for his religious beliefs than
truth is that he really is a nice guy (Full disclosure: he picked me his exploits in the ring. "Being a Jew is who I am, boxing is what
up at the subway and bought me a shot of wheat grass). The more I do," Salita says.
complex truth is that he's still learning how to become who he is. It's
all part of the growth process for Salita – as a boxer, as a Jew, as a Even Jimmy says Dmitriy is a Jew first, boxer second. But in the
human being. same breath he says Dmitriy's religion helps his boxing and vice
versa. Jimmy 0 talks fast. A minute later, he says religion is the
He grew into hip-hop – just like he grew into his rhythmic, reason he had to turn pro earlier than he should have (because
bob-and-weave, boxing style – at Starrett City Gym in East Brooklyn, amateur tournaments inevitably ended on Fridays or Saturdays),
a New York City institution surrounded by high-rise, low-income which is why he still needs more seasoning and isn't fighting
housing. Boasting a stable of mostly black and Latino fighters, big names yet.
Starrett City's most notable alumni are Shannon Briggs and
66 ORDER BY PHONE: 1-800-777-0313
Not that he cares one way or the other. Jimmy and Dmitriy's bond His refusal to compromise his faith has prompted comparisons to
goes deeper than boxing or religion. Jimmy 0 did much more than Muhammad Ali and Sandy Koufax. This past December, President Bush
teach him the sweet science. When Dmitriy's mother, Lyudmila, was invited Salita and Jimmy 0 to the White House Chanukah party. For
dying of cancer when he was just 14, Jimmy 0 was more than just the second time.
a boxing trainer. "Boxing saved my life," says Salita. "Jimmy would
On the other hand, Salita can't fight on Friday nights, limiting his
just look at me and know. He'd say, 'Go hit the bag.'"
availability for television exposure and well-paying showcases like
Jimmy says he's like Dmitriy's protective grandfather. "People don't ESPN's Friday Night Fights.
understand our relationship," says Jimmy. "But it doesn't matter
Jimmy 0 isn't worried about Friday Night Fights though, and not only
because people know if they mess with him, I'll kick their ass."
believes that Salita's faith has helped him stay focused, but also that
there are concrete ways it has helped him win fights.
Salita's Los Angeles publicist, Chaim, who like Dmitriy practices the
progressive Chabot form of Judaism, tells a story about one Saturday
night, the Star of David's fight fell on a Jewish holiday. The always
faithful Dimitriy would have to perform a ceremony, (the Havdelah,
at sundown. Sundown was at 6:02 p.m. Fight time was at 6:15.
That's how Dimitriy became mentally prepared for that fight. Dimitriy
Dmitriy's mother's sudden and tragic death led him to seek solace didn't hit Jimmy's mitts. He didn't shadow box in from of his mirror.
in religion. His parents were secular, but he always felt drawn He didn't listen to music to get himself pumped up for the fight. He
to Judaism. "I always had the flame for it, it just needed to be performed the Havdelah. And after finishing the ceremony with zero
ignited," he says. Now, he prays daily, keeps a kosher diet, and time to spare, Salita walked out into the ring and knocked out his
opponent in the first round. For Salita's next fight, which fell on a
observes the shabbos.
random Tuesday, Jimmy said, "All right let's do that Havdelah thing."
In a sense, his devotion to Judaism is a double-edged sword for Dmitriy had to tell him it doesn't work like that.
the young fighter. On one hand, he enjoys a rabid Jewish fan base
that ensures sell-out crowds from New York City to Las Vegas. While Jimmy learns about the ins and outs of Judaism, Dmitriy is
He has Jewish sponsors and works on behalf of Jewish charities. busy learning about the history of Judaism in the sport. "Boxing used
68 ORDER BY PHONE: 1-800-777-0313
to be a Jewish sport back in the '20s and '30s," Salita says, reeling learned quickly by listening to Jimmy 0, emulating other Starrett
off names like Barney Ross and Benny Leonard. "But over the City fighters and, of course, moving to the rhythms of the
years, Jews were known for coming to America and becoming very hip-hop constantly booming from the gym's speakers. Now,
successful, many of them became businessmen. My life showed Dmitriy fights like a city kid, but also has that elusiveness that
itself through boxing. Boxing is my American dream." he's always had. His nose has never been broken. "I'm still
pretty," he says confidently.
He says the pressure to perform as a symbol of strength for
Jewish fans around the world is intense, but "it's chosen These days, he still lives with his brother in the same house
pressure. I chose this path at this point in my life. I'm a boxer, that's his family moved into soon after coming to the States. His
what I do best." father lives close by, as do several of his relatives. Between
his immediate, Jewish and boxing families, he's surrounded by
Dmitriy knew he wanted to become a boxer after his first workout with people who care about him.
Jimmy 0 at Starrett City. As a child growing up in Odessa, a large
port city on the Mediterranean coast of Ukraine, Dmitriy was involved But Dmitriy is definitely not content. In fact, he's restless
in karate. After his parents moved to the Midwood section of Brooklyn because it's been almost six months since his last fight. That's why
when he was nine (to give Dmitriy and his teenage brother more Salita, the boxer, is driving an hour to a Queens gym, where he
opportunities than Eastern Europe offered in 1991), Salita began trains with renowned boxing fitness guru, Dave "Scooter" Honig.
kickboxing. It was his brother, Michael, who took him to Starrett City The Star of David is preparing for a March 22 bout at the
where he instantly became the most recognizable young fighter for Hammerstein Ballroom against Grover Wiley, a 32-year-old light
his accent and skin color. middleweight from Nebraska who is best known for scoring a
knockout over Julio Cesar Chavez. The fight is part of his promoter
As an immigrant in Brooklyn, Dmitriy often felt out of place. He Lou DiBella's Broadway Boxing Series. A Salita fight at the
wore dorky shoes; he couldn't speak the language. At Starrett City Hammerstein is an amazing sight to be seen. The raucous
and in the boxing ring, Dmitriy found a refuge and a community. crowd is as diverse as you'll ever see. The arena will be filled
It didn't happen right away though. Jimmy 0 has a reputation to the brim with a mass of New York's Jewish population, the
for churning out black and Latino contenders at a high rate, but urban Brooklyn Starrett City community, and the best boxing
Dmitriy was a project. At first, the determined youngster fought fans in New York. They'll all be there to cheer for the hip-hop
with a "European style," Jimmy 0 says, meaning he preferred listening, Russian-speaking, Ukrainian Jew. And that's about
to trade blows rather than working to evade them. But Dmitriy as American as it gets.
ORDER ONLINE: www.everlastboxing.com 69