Salita, previously unbeaten, visits Israel after humbling loss
JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Jewish American boxer known as "the Star of David" has come to Israel to clear his head after a humbling loss in a championship bout over the weekend.
Dmitriy Salita, an Orthodox Jew, said he is taking some time off to reflect after his bout with WBA light-welterweight champion Amir Khan in England on Saturday. Khan knocked Salita to the mat three times before the fight was stopped after only 76 seconds, handing Salita his first loss.
"I was cold and I didn't get into the fight," Salita said. "It felt like the easiest fight of my life. I mean, nothing happened."
During his six-day visit, his first trip to the Jewish state, the Ukrainian-born Salita said he'll try to gather his thoughts, digest what happened Saturday and learn from it.
"It's good to be here to reflect on it and think about it and see what the best next step is," Salita said, adding that visiting Israel "is a very strong emotional and spiritual experience."
Salita and his family left Ukraine for Brooklyn when he was only 9 years old, fearing discrimination because they were Jewish, he said. Salita picked up boxing at a Brooklyn club at 13 and eventually trained into one of the top amateurs in his weight class. He turned pro in 2001 at 19.
The notion of a boxing Orthodox Jew has been shocking to some, Salita said.
"The world doesn't expect to see a religious person in the ring," he said. "It's an oxymoron."
Salita wears a skullcap, follows strict Jewish dietary laws and refuses to take any Friday-night fights because they fall on the Sabbath -- a decision he said has drawn criticism from some promoters who say it's impossible to build up a star if he won't take high-profile Friday-night fights.
He recalled that when he was 18, at the height of his amateur career, he missed the chance to fight in the World Championship of Amateur Boxers in Budapest, Hungary, because he couldn't reschedule a fight that fell on the Sabbath.
In public, "the Star of David" plays up his Jewish roots, always donning the Israeli flag when he enters the ring.
"I always walk into the ring with the Israeli flag because every Jewish person is an Israeli and has a connection to the state of Israel," Salita said.
Salita's trip is sponsored by Nefesh B'Nefesh, a group that helps Jews from North America and Britain relocate to Israel. But Salita wouldn't say whether he plans to make the move himself.
"As of now, I live in the United States, my home is Brooklyn, New York," he said. "But we'll see. I don't know what the future brings."