Since his 2009 pummeling in Newcastle, England, at the hands of the current WBA world light welterweight champion Amir Khan, Jewish pugilist Dmitriy “Star of David” Salita has been searching for the road signs to a place called redemption. So far, that road has led him through his own Brighton Beach, for a win over Franklin Gonzalez, and, last night, to midtown Manhattan to headline a nine-fight bill in a packed Roseland ballroom.
But the Scroll wonders if those of us who saw this fight—and the train of brutal undercard knockouts, including Jonathan Cuba’s scary fourth-round blast to the head of Artie Bembury—weren’t just extras in Dmitriy Salita’s dream. There was his name in lights, on the marquee just off Broadway. There was Matisyahu, rapping as Salita made his way to the ring. There was Thomas Hauser, author of 34 boxing books, scribbling on a yellow legal pad as if ringside at Ali-Foreman ’74 or trailing Manny Pacquiao through the Philippines. Salita’s original opponent, Mike Anchondo, had pulled out sick, and in his place in the blue corner stood some scared-looking guy named James Wayka, fresh off the streets of Shawano, Wisconsin, wearing orange-soled Nike Jordan boxing shoes.
All around were Dmitriy’s Jewish and Ukrainian supporters, wearing kippahs and Stars of David on their t-shirts, and waving Israeli flags. Salita’s patron watched demurely from the front row of the VIP seats, and Yuri Foreman got a shout-out from ring announcer David Diamante, “the man with the golden voice,” whose dreadlocks reached his waist. And in this dream, Dmitriy sends crushing body blow after crushing body blow, always with the left, ducking, hooking, and punching hard through Wayka’s kidney. His opponent crumbles each time, winces, then gets back up, his eyebrows making a plaintive inverted V, until, having stood in for a beating as long as could be humanely asked of him, he’s granted a reprieve by the bloody-shirted ref, 1:53 into the third round.
After the fight, Salita was swarmed by admirers and friends, and rightly so, given how he shined. Matisyahu stood in the middle of the ring and intoned a gravelly rendering of “One Day.” Wayka wandered lonely, as if looking for his jacket. “He’s the champion,” he said of Salita, still shirtless and sweating, the cut above his right eye taped closed. “He’s so well prepared. What can I do? They called me and I came.”
Where Yuri Foreman’s heroic Yankee Stadium dream turned nightmare when his knee gave out before a ferocious, resurgent opponent in Miguel Cotto, Salita’s played out just fine. But there are different kinds of winning and losing in boxing, and if Salita’s fight was a forceful, total victory, it was also an insular one, unsatisfying. Once Anchondo pulled out, the fight was downgraded from world title contention. So Salita has now claimed the vacant title of New York State Welterweight champion, and taken his record to an impressive 32-1-1, with 17 knockouts. But as blogger Ron Ross artfully points out, if this fighting Jew wants to be another Barney Ross, he’ll have to do more than crush a game veteran in a self-promoted fight. He’ll need to take his Star of David back on the road.
Matthew Fishbane is Creative Director at Tablet magazine.