Salita says only a big fight will tell us how good he is
Some people out there have decided that Dmitry Salita is a better story than a boxer.
His story is well known: Nice Jewish kid from Ukraine immigrates with poor family to Brooklyn, N.Y., takes up boxing, becomes orthodox Jew and evolves into title contender. Yes, a movie apparently is in the works.
His boxing career hasn’t been as dramatic, which is the problem. He’s undefeated and the WBA’s No. 1-ranked junior welterweight but hasn’t fought a recognizable opponent in his eight-year career. He faces another no-name on Sunday in Primm, Nev., Raul Munoz.
It appears Salita might yet have the opportunity to rectify the perception of him, though:
He is the mandatory challenger for the winner of the fight between titleholder Andreas Kotelnik and Amir Khan on June 27, or so the WBA says.
“I totally understand the criticism,” Salita said by phone from his hotel room in Primm, which is near the California-Nevada border. “It’s fair. People have questions about me. The only way to see if it’s true or not is for me to get in there and have a big fight. Then we’ll see.”
It’s not as if Salita, 27 and in his prime, doesn’t want big fights. It just hasn’t worked out for a variety of reasons.
One is his commitment to his religion. Salita (29-0-1, 16 knockouts) strictly observes the Jewish Sabbath, meaning he can engage in no boxing activity between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday. That precludes bouts on Friday night and makes fighting on Saturday complicated.
Salita has declined a few big fights for different reasons. For example, he passed on a match with Edgar Santana on HBO’s Boxing After Dark because he wasn’t offered enough money but now regrets his decision.
And fights have fallen through. Salita thought he had a deal to challenge for Kotelnik’s belt on the Roy Jones Jr.-Joe Calzaghe undercard at Madison Square Garden last November but the titleholder, claiming an injury, pulled out.
John Wirt, CEO of Roy Jones Jr.’s Square Ring Promotions, Salita’s promoter, said Kotelnik balked because his promoter demanded options on Salita’s future fights at the last minute and Square Ring refused.
Salita has never made more than $75,000 for a fight.
“Has it been frustrating? I would say so,” Salita said. “I want big fights. They haven’t happened yet like they should. I’ve had a lot of publicity, a lot of media attention outside of boxing, more than some of the top fighters in the world. You would think that’d help me get big fights but it hasn’t.
“I just have to stay focused, stay undefeated and keep working hard at my craft. I feel I’m the best junior welterweight in the world; I’d like the opportunity to prove it.”
Yes, Salita feels he’s a much better fighter than do his critics, some of whom fear for his safety if he makes the leap from second-tier opponents to elite opponents.
He has solid fundamental skills, the result of a long, productive amateur career. That doesn’t seem to be in dispute.
And while he hasn’t faced any big-name opponents as a pro, he has stood toe-to-toe with plenty of them at the Starrett City Boxing Club in Brooklyn, which has produced Shannon Briggs, Monte Barrett, Zab Judah, Luis Collazo, Daniel Jacobs and others.
There, Salita has sparred with world-class fighters on a regular basis.
“I’ve been around world champions my whole life,” he said. “In the amateurs, I fought and beat guys who are world champions today. And the ones I lost were usually close. ÔÇª The boxing culture is so competitive in New York City. And this is where I grew up, ever since I was 13 years old. I grew up with names like Collazo, Judah, Jacobs. All these guys are from my gym.
“I come from the school of hard knocks, the Kronk Gym of the east.”
And he said other fighters in his position have emerged as important titleholders. For example, Collazo had fought only no-names before winning a major belt and then giving Ricky Hatton all he could handle.
Even Paul Williams, who Salita acknowledges has become a tremendous fighter, “was something like 30-0 and hadn’t fought anyone” before emerging as a star.
Salita also feels he should get some credit for his near-perfect record, which is sullied only by a draw against Ramon Montano in 2006.
First, he’ll point out that his opponents generally have been solid fighters with winning records, particularly in the second half of his career.
Second, he has had to remain at his best for eight solid years even though he hasn’t made anywhere near the money he feels he deserves in fights that few care about. He has managed to stay sufficiently focused and motivated in spite of the disappointments.
All he has done is wait, wait, wait ÔÇª and win, win, win.
“It hasn’t been easy trying to stay focused. There has to come a time where you get discouraged,” he said. “All I want is my opportunity. It should happen. It has to happen.
“More than ever it looks like it actually will happen.”
As Salita said, then we’ll know.
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]