And in This Corner, Salita Boxes for Redemption

Letter from Brighton Beach

Redemption: Dmitriy Salita beat Franklin Gonzalez in a unanimous decision on September 2.
KEvIN KoLBEN
Redemption: Dmitriy Salita beat Franklin Gonzalez in a unanimous decision on September 2.

By Gal Beckerman

Published September 08, 2010, issue of September 17, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

For nine months now, Dmitriy Salita, the Russian-Jewish welterweight, has been telling anyone who will listen that the reason for his humiliating loss to Amir Khan in England last December was the hostile, jeering, “anti-Semitic” environment in the Newcastle arena.

On September 2, Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach was to be the site of his redemption.

If someone wanted to experience Brooklyn in one shot, that was the place to be that night, as Salita sought to gain back some honor and peace of mind on a card he himself had billed “Redemption.”

Oceana Hall — a catering venue normally decorated with candles and large floral bouquets for gaudy Russian weddings — couldn’t have been more different from the arena at Newcastle; nor could the Brooklyn crowd have differed more from their English counterparts.

Fight Fans: The Brighton Beach crowd was part Hasidic, part Russian and part Hispanic.
KEvIN KoLBEN
Fight Fans: The Brighton Beach crowd was part Hasidic, part Russian and part Hispanic.

The Brighton Beach turnout was divided evenly into thirds: one part Hasidic, all beards and black hats, drawn from Salita’s Crown Heights fan base; one part Russian, with plenty of gold chains and leopard print to spare, and one part Dominican and Puerto Rican, mostly there for the long list of undercard-fights.

Almost everyone there was chanting for “Dima.” It was his night, and not just because Salita was also the event’s promoter. The audience packed into the small, more intimate space (I saw a number of people wipe sweat from their faces that had just flown off the boxers) lent the evening a familial cast. Banners hung above the ring highlighting the event’s various sponsors, including the Chai Insurance Company and the dentistry practice of Doctors Solomon Grinzburg and Tuvia Zinman, whose banner proclaimed, “We’re always in your corner, Dmitriy.”

There was also at least one nod to Salita’s piety. Instead of the bikini-clad girls who normally circle the ring holding high a card announcing the number of each round, the women here — though tall and wearing thick platform shoes — were fully covered in long black shirts and in jeans.

Everyone assumed that the fight would be largely symbolic, a chance for Salita to regain some confidence after his bitter hibernation. His opponent was Franklin Gonzalez, a 34-year-old Dominican boxer whom someone in the crowd described as looking like a tomato soup can. “He’s short and stout, and Dima just has to knock him over,” this observer said. Besides offering the challenge of being a southpaw (a boxer who leads with his left), Gonzalez was supposed to be, in boxing parlance, a “journeyman,” an older fighter who had been knocked out a few times and would be easy for Salita to pick off.

After Rachel Gomez, a 14-year-old girl in braces, sang the national anthem, the announcer — dressed in a glimmering black lamé suit and sporting long dreadlocks that went all the way down his back — bellowed, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for redemption!”

But the redemption did not come so easily.

Salita, in his signature Star of David trunks, looked tentative and a bit scared during the fight’s first few moments. The room grew as quiet as I’d heard it all evening. Even the woman who had been loudly berating every boxer — “Leave your damn shorts alone and start working!” she screamed at one who was adjusting his trunks — fell silent. As Salita seemed to struggle through the first three rounds, I heard mostly loud sighs. In the third, one of Gonzalez’s lefts caught Salita beneath his eye, causing a large blue bruise to immediately blossom.

But then Salita started to punch back. It wasn’t the dramatic knockout that most people had expected, but about halfway through the eight-round match, things started to go his way as he figured out how to counter what he would later call Gonzalez’s “awkward” style.

As soon as it looked like Salita was not going to suffer what surely would have been the end of his career, the crowd came back alive, though still anxious and loudly exhorting Salita to, “Jab! Jab! Jab!”

I got an earful of the anxiety, since I was standing right next to Israel Liberow, Salita’s spiritual adviser. The compact, red-bearded Chabad-nik was chewing gum

and swaying nervously from side to side. “He’s got a shiner already from nothing,” he said after Salita took the hit beneath his left eye. “Put your hands down and fight!” he yelled.

A natural tension exists in every boxing match that doesn’t end quickly with an immediate Mike Tyson-like knockout. For fans, there is almost a primal desire to see your man just start pummeling his opponent. But boxing doesn’t really seem to work like that. Salita kept his hands in front of his face for most of the fight, hardly taking more than one punch at a time. For a crowd screaming for blood, this was frustrating, but there was surely technique involved.

When it was all over, there was a dissatisfied feeling in the air for the brief minutes when the judges were tallying their points. And then Salita won. By unanimous decision, all three judges scored the match 78–74 for Salita. Just the wide smile on the boxer’s face, beneath his now considerably bruised cheek, was enough to forgive Salita for a fairly undramatic denouement to what should have been a night of clear victory for him.

As soon as the fight was over, I heard a woman behind me phone Salita’s wife, Alona, who is pregnant with their first child. The night was the couple’s first anniversary. After she witnessed his knockout in England, Alona decided that she would never watch him fight again. “He’s not hurt,” the woman reported. “He’s fine, just a cut under his eye. He looks okay.”

In the ring, the triumphant Salita was waving his arms in the air, accepting hugs from seemingly everyone in the hall. At one point, Paulie Malignaggi entered the ring. A well-known Italian-American welterweight who had also recently lost to Khan, Malignaggi looked like he had stepped out of the cast of “Jersey Shore.” He and Salita started bantering on the microphone about fighting each other. “In Madison Square Garden!” Malignaggi shouted. And Salita added, making a charming historical reference, “I think it would be a very exciting fight in New York, and with the Italian and Jewish population behind us, it could be like Barney Ross and Tony Canzoneri in the ’30s.”

In the end, the evening was about Salita’s rehabilitation. And, looking tired but satisfied in the locker room after the fight, he told reporters that after the anger he’d felt for the past nine months, it “feels good going into the yontef with this. I feel redeemed.” And this, after all, was the point.

Contact Gal Beckerman at beckerman@forward.com. Follow him on Twitter @galbeckerman






Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.