Boxing: Salita faces the heat in first Israel visit
Boxing Salita faces the
By URIEL STURM
Dmitriy Salita's press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday clocked in at just under 28 minutes - a full 22 times longer than his 76-second defeat to Amir Khan in Newcastle last Saturday night for the WBA light-welterweight belt.
Still, the Orthodox Jewish boxer's spirits were generally buoyant throughout the wellattended scrum held at the Nefesh B'Nefesh offices less than a day after he arrived straight from England for a therapeutic first visit to the Holy Land.
"Shalom, it's really great to be here fulfilling one of my life-long dreams," Salita, accompanied by his new wife Alona and dressed in a suit and large velvet kippa, shyly began before gaining pace.
"I always walk into the ring draped in an Israeli flag and have used my spot in the public eye to promote Israel and Jewish values. So to finally be seeing the stuff I think of daily and read about in the bible... it's a strong emotional experience."
Admirably, the humbled "Star of David" - who had come into the Khan bout with a 30-0-1 undefeated record - stepped up and handled what must have been exceptionally gut-wrenching queries about his speedy defeat with grace and aplomb, as well as a measure of self-effacing humor.
"It was the easiest fight I ever had," a remarkably unmarked Salita quipped with a nervous laugh. "I didn't even break a sweat.
"Seriously though, I was stunned with the opening punch and never had a chance to get into my routine. Give Amir full credit.
"I just wish I would have had the chance to show what I had. I feel like it never even happened."
Assessing his first fight experience in a hostile environment out of North America in which he wasn't entering the arena as the hometown favourite, Salita explained, "it was so intense how one-sided it was. I knew I was the visitor, but I didn't realize how fierce the crowd would be, literally trying to tear me apart as I walked in."
What could have he done differently to prepare?
"There are certain things that happen outside of our control... I really wasn't hurt at all, he only landed one clean punch. I was more just startled and before I knew it, the referee, in his discretion, called the fight."
Salita was knocked down for a third time in quick succession before it was halted with 1:44 left in the first of what was to be a 12-round contest.
"I'm disappointed, of course, but I'm not beating myself up over it too much. It's something I just have to learn from."
As for his immediate plans, "right now, I'm just glad to be here to reflect a little. It's been a rough two days since the loss and, I think, still a bit too early to decide on what's next."
With his status as the top North American contender in his weight-class is still intact, Salita knows that he has something left in the tank, although his focus has begun to expand outside of the ring with his recent nuptials.
"I know that my time in boxing is very limited. Now that I am married and want to start a family, my decisions take on a greater responsibility.
Being a professional athlete takes a lot of sacrifice, from families as well. I want to be able play with my children one day soon."
When it comes to the things Salita has been most looking forward to about his first opportunity to visit Israel, the soft-spoken warrior exclaimed, "aside from the obvious things like going to the Kotel and meeting Natan Sharansky - a hero of the human race - I can't wait to eat all the kosher food I can find.
"Last week, I had to hit 140 pounds [64 kg], now I'm free to beef up."
So will Salita be fighting the bureaucracy of the Interior Ministry any time soon, a natural-enough question to ask with Wednesday's event being held at the complex of the country's foremost aliya recruitment agency and headed by members of the Jewish Agency and Absorbtion Ministry?
"Right now, truthfully, moving to Israel is not so much on my mind," Salita admitted. "Every person has a talent that is unique to them and promoting Israel and Judaism through sports in my role for now."
"But," closed the selfdescribed "product of Chabad" in an only semi-joking tone, "Moshiach will be here soon and then all of the Jews world-wide will be moving to Israel."
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