Wednesday night, Dmitriy “Star of David” Salita (31-1-1, 16 KOs) pulled out a tough victory by decision against Franklin Gonzalez (13-6, 9 KOs) at Brighton Beach’s Oceana Hall. (You can watch the fight tonight on The Jewish Channel.) Nine months ago, the Ukrainian-born Orthodox rabbi-in training was trounced by Amir Khan in England. He later told Tablet Magazine that the extremely hostile crowd was to blame and received some friendly advice: Fight in Brooklyn next time.
The sold-out event, billed as “Redemption,” featured a very Brooklyn crowd, which waited through seven preliminary fights for the main bout. The audience, many wearing yarmulkes, some shouting in Spanish and English at the opening boxers, all agreed not only that Salita would win, but that he had to win. Where they differed was why.
Many, like Salita’s friend Chaim Tovshteyn saw in the newly junior middleweight boxer a kindred spirit. “He’s like me,” the Ukranian-born Brooklynite said. “He struggled through adversity with his Jewish identity to prove his professional identity in a non-Jewish world.” “David” was waving an Israeli flag that was later taken into the ring with Salita. “David” (who apparently has neither watched the news in sixty years nor read Douglas Century’s Nextbook Press biography, Barney Ross) suggested, “If he wins, it means the strength of the Jewish people: That they can fight back and win.” Ezra Safar, founder and director of Shemspeed, was sitting with Orthodox rappers Y-Love (recently mentioned in the Times) and DeScribe. (Safar was throwing the afterparty.)
However, many, like Reuvain Stoll of Crown Heights, were there simply to support the boxer-next-door. “He has to win,” he said, “It’s his hometown.”
With such lofty hopes, few mentioned that if Gonzalez, who had lost his previous three fights, defeated Salita, it would be a major roadblock to Salita’s “Redemption.”
The first four rounds had the crowd wondering if they would be able to call it a comeback. Gonzalez came out with far more aggression than Salita; while they exchanged roughly equal numbers of blows, Salita was forced on the defensive. Gonzalez visibly grew confident while Salita faltered, circling and grappling, unsure how to counter the wild punishing roundhouses to the face (he would later tell me these were “awkward”).
After one connected in the third, leaving Salita with a cut under his left eye, half-hearted chants rose and faded in seconds. However, halfway through the fifth, upon the advice of trainer Norman Lorrick, the “Star of David” went supernova, relying on superior footwork to get under Gonzalez’s guard and score punishing combinations to the body and face. Gonzalez, forced into a defensive strategy, was repeatedly pushed against the ropes; his endurance was at its lowest ebb when the final bell rang.
As all three judges ruled 78-74 for Salita, journalists and well-wishers rushed the stage, including Paulie Malignaggi, a fairly big-time boxer who nonetheless also has lost to Amir Khan (albeit in the 11th, not 1st, round). Malignaggi, another local son, congratulated Salita and joked with him to “keep his left up” before the two promised to fight in 2011. At the outskirts of the ring, however, there were grumblings about Salita’s performance. “It was a good fight,” said one man. “The issue is that to be an elite fighter, Salita should be knocking out someone like Gonzalez.” This man refused to be identified, because “I live in Crown Heights, and I just bad-mouthed Dimitry”. But the general mood was euphoric as Salita posed for photos with fans.
In the locker room, Salita grew introspective. He gave himself a “C+ or B-,” and explained, “It took me a few rounds to get my groove.” He praised the crowd, describing the experience as, “the polar opposite of the [Khan] fight.” “This,” he concluded, “is Brighton Beach.”
As for the future, while he looks forward to fighting Malignaggi and, moreover, to a rematch with Khan, he “feels good going into the Yontiff with this. I feel redeemed.” He added, “I’ve had a lot of anger for the last nine months.”