Boxing: Israel's own Foreman gets his shot at a belt

Boxing Israels own For

Israeli boxer Yuri Foreman can transform himself from a relative unknown into one of the country's household names on Saturday night if he overcomes the odds and defeats three-time world champion and current WBA super welterwight champion Daniel Santos in Las Vegas. Victory in the fight at the MGM Grand would make Foreman the first Israeli pugilist to win a world title since Johar Abu-Lashin claimed the IBC Welterweight belt in 1998, an achievement the 29-year-old has described as a "childhood dream." Foreman grew up in Gomel, Belarus, but moved to Israel with his family when he was just 10 years old and settled in Haifa. He had been boxing since the age of seven, but stepped up his training in northern Israel and, after winning three national championships, moved to the US in 1999, where he turned professional. Now, with an impressive record of 27-0 with eight KOs, he has the chance to prove his worth as he fights on the undercard of the massive Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto matchup. Even though he has lived in America for longer than lived in Israel, Foreman has stayed true to his roots. "It's a great honor for me to represent Israel, even more so knowing that I will be the first Israeli fighting for a world title. And to become the first world Jewish boxing champion in over 20 years - that would be a childhood dream come true," he told the Web site Santos, managed by boxing legend Don King, is a clear favorite for Saturday's fight. The 34-year-old Puerto Rican is far more experienced, having previous held the WBO super welterweight championship, and is confident of beating Foreman this weekend. "I want to shine on the big stage," Santos said. "Saturday night is my chance to fulfill the truly great promise of my boxing career." Despite turning 78 this year, King has lost none of the famous exuberance he displayed in a trip to Israel last October, saying Santos his God on his side. "Daniel will be the first to tell you that God has blessed him with the ability to box," King said. "Danny just needs to put it all together right here, right now. Opportunities await him if he can answer the call of greatness, and he has an appointment on Saturday in Las Vegas." Foreman, however, would be quick to profess his own spiritual connection. After being raised totally secular both in the former Soviet Union and in Israel, he found his own religious path while living in New York and is now training to become a rabbi at the same time as training for a world title bout. He explained this unlikely set of circumstances in an interview with The Forward, saying: "When I started to get closer to Judaism, my rabbi, Rabbi Dov Ber Pinson, about five years ago, offered me to join the rabbinical program. And I jumped at the opportunity. When I was growing up in Israel as a Russian immigrant, nobody ever invited me for Shabbat dinner. I didn't learn much about Judaism. And I know there are a lot of Russian kids in Israel who need somebody, who I can advise. "I think that when I become a rabbi I could go back and get a few people closer to the Jewish faith." Foreman has never beaten a left-handed fighter, a factor which many analysts have claimed will work against him on Saturday. The Israeli understands it will be difficult, but knows he has a chance to make history. "He is a southpaw, a great fighter and he is a world champion but I mainly concentrate on my own game and don't pay too much attention to his. I'm confident in my own ability and believe that can get me through the fight," he said Foreman's fight is the start of a big three weeks for Jewish boxing. On December 5, Ukranian-born American Dmitriy Salita takes on Britain's Amir Khan for the WBA light-welterweight crown in Newcastle, England. Like Foreman, Salita is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who has become religious since moving to the United States. Last month he turned up for a press conference with Khan dressed in Haredi garb of black suit, white shirt and black yarmulke.