In the sport of million-dollar dreams, Salita just wants a chance
Much like cigarettes, Mad Dog 20/20 (cherry flavored), Lillith from
For those unfamiliar with Salita's backstory, well, it's a goodie. Born in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, Salita's parents,
As an amateur fighter, he pieced together a 54-5 record, winning the 2001 New York Golden Gloves tournament. As a Jew, he went from being relatively unreligious in Russia, to what most people would consider Orthodox (Salita prefers the term "observant"). He attends shul, or synagogue, seven days a week and wears a wool cap to cover his skull when he prays. Before he heads to the Starrett City Boxing Club to train each afternoon, he stops at the nearby Chabad House, places a yarmulke on his head, turns his book to a prayer, called the "Shma," and wraps the phylacteries -- thin leather straps inscribed with Hebrew quotations -- around his left arm. For the next half-hour, he silently prays.
In a sport that has long thrived on characters, from
And yet ...
Here Salita sits in 2009, a 27-0 fighter -- mad, angry, upset, confused, puzzled, bewildered. He is the WBA's No. 1 junior welterweight contender, yet he has never been granted a title shot.
He has entered the ring led by the Matisyahu, the world's greatest bearded orthodox Jewish rapper, yet he's never -- not once -- appeared on any of HBO's network fight cards.
He has been dogged on air by
Salita was scheduled to face
Salita's next fight, scheduled for April 2 at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn, is against
"Very frustrating," said Salita. "A long time ago, I was told I'd face discrimination in this sport, being white and Jewish. As a Jew, they told me people would assume I already have money, and that I wouldn't be hungry enough. And as a white guy, I was told I'd have to work twice as hard to gain respect. I've never made excuses, but I've always remembered that."
On the one hand, it is hard to feel too bad for Salita. Some in the sport consider him to be only a slightly above-average talent, whose sterling record has been paved on the backs of subpar opponents like Munoz. Yet, as MMA steals boxing's thunder, and HBO hands us one forgettable (and often recycled) schlub after another, the question I have is this: Why not give the guy a chance?
If Salita is turned into matzo farfel by a Kotelnik or
But what if Salita, the "Chosen One," wins? What if the kid with the funny name, the quick fists and the phylacteries steps up and gives boxing its first Jewish junior welterweight champion since
For boxing, once the sport where million-dollar dreams came true, what's to lose?