Boxer turned promoter Dmitriy Salita reflects on career after NYS Boxing Hall induction
Nearly ten years after he last walked to the ring as a fighter, Dmitriy Salita was recognized for his 38-fight professional career last Sunday, April 30, when he was inducted into the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame.
There, at a dinner event in the Howard Beach section of Queens, the boxer-turned-promoter sat side by side with other contemporaries of his time, like Zab Judah, who the former junior welterweight and welterweight champion whom he first met when he picked up boxing at Brooklyn’s Starrett City Boxing Club in the summer of 1995, and two-time champion Paulie Malignaggi, who competed in the same Golden Gloves tournaments as himself before turning pro.
“To be able to get the Hall of Fame recognition is like a lifetime achievement award. I know that now I’m a promoter and it’s my love for boxing that drives but being a fighter is the most difficult and most intimate thing you can do in the sport. I’m very grateful that I have the education and I have the ability to experience this sport in every facet,” said Salita (35-2-1, 18 knockouts), who now runs Salita Promotions, which represents top female boxing star Claressa Shields, plus heavyweights Kolbeinn Kristinsson, Otto Wallin and Jermaine Franklin.
“Don King says Only In America, I told him, I love that phrase because in America, who you are won’t stand in the way of what you become. That’s certainly so true in my life and in my career.”
The experience made the 41-year-old Salita feel reflective of his boxing journey, which began when he left his home in Odessa, Ukraine in 1991 to escape the anti-semitism they faced during the fall of the Soviet Union.
Life in Brooklyn, N.Y. just switched one struggle for another. Salita and his family lived in a small apartment with five people, surviving on public assistance programs like welfare, food stamps and Supplemental Security Income. He didn’t speak English, and his thick accent made him a target for bullies.
He found his peace in, of all places, a boxing gym. Every day he would take the 45-minute to an hour bus ride to Pennsylvania Avenue, getting off at the last stop to sweat in a no frills facility located inside a parking garage. The gym had only one door to get in and out, with no windows, no bathroom or running water. There was no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer.
What the gym did have was some of the best young boxing talent anywhere in the world, including Shannon Briggs, Monte Barrett, Luis Collazo, Danny Jacobs, Sadam Ali and Travis Simms, among others.
There, he picked up the sport under head trainer Jimmy O’Pharrow, plus Andre Rozier and Nirmal Lorick. He would be joined later in the corner by Hector Roca when he turned professional.
“They say that iron sharpens iron, and at the beginning stage of my career, every sparring session was a fight for survival,” remembers Salita.
“Being an immigrant and knowing that I have to work hard to make it in life, at that time it didn’t seem to me like it was a tough place, it was just an everyday thing.”
Salita had a decorated amateur career, winning the 2000 U.S. National Under-19 championship, and then 2001 New York Golden Gloves title, earning the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as the tournament’s outstanding boxer. He turned professional shortly after, and signed with Top Rank, which enabled him to fight on cards featuring superstars like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao, Wladimir Klitschko and Erik Morales, all while avoiding Friday night cards due to his Orthodox Jewish faith.
The partnership established his record, but didn’t produce any meaningful fights. He signed with DiBella Entertainment in 2005, which helped him establish his fanbase in his hometown of New York. His fights at the Manhattan Center helped establish him as one of the city’s top club show ticket-selling attraction of the mid-2000s, rivaled only by John Duddy.
One of those nights at Manhattan Center sticks out as his most memorable moment as a pro. Matisyahu, the reggae star who dresses in Hasidic attire, walked him to the ring for his fight against Shawn Gallegos in 2005. Matisyahu sang “Lord Raise Me Up” as he accompanied Salita for his first minor title fight, in which Salita won the NABA junior welterweight belt by ninth round stoppage.
Salita would fight just once for a world title, getting stopped in the first round by Amir Khan in a mandatory challenge of the WBA junior welterweight title, but would remain a popular attraction in Brooklyn, where he fought on the first ever card at Barclays Center, outpointing Brandon Hoskins over six rounds on the Danny Garcia-Erik Morales II card in 2012.
“Maybe I would have pushed more for significant fights that I wanted to make and didn’t come to fruition,” said Salita, when asked if he would have done anything differently as a fighter.
“Being a fighter, sometimes I would be upset because a promoter wouldn’t do this or should have done that, now I see the challenges that are really in place once you see for yourself.”
Salita last fought in 2013, losing a lopsided decision to Gabriel Bracero, but he never officially retired. Perhaps verbalizing that the dream he had chased since he was a 13-year-old was now over was too much, or maybe what’s understood just doesn’t need to be explained.
Salita already had a foot in his next career, having headlined his first self-promoted card in 2010. Now he gets to help other boxers make their dreams come true, and although he finds fulfillment in this role as well, nothing will ever fully replace the feeling he had of stepping inside the ring.
“It’s a different kind of high. Winning a fight is one of the most supreme feelings of accomplishment that one can have. When you’re in this since you’re a kid, you’re also very judgmental of yourself. Sometimes you did well but you’re so hard on yourself, that you don’t get to enjoy it,” said Salita.
“It’s still very early in my career as a promoter. It’s a different feeling of accomplishment from winning a fight.”