Boxing: Salita pumped up for first title shot

Boxing Salita pumped up

khan salita 248.88 AP (photo credit: )
khan salita 248.88 AP
(photo credit: )
After months of typical pre-fight hype - with the juicy Muslim vs Jew theme rightly or wrongly taking center stage - Amir Khan and Dmitryi Salita will finally step into the ring on Saturday night and fight for their WBA light-welterweight title bout. The brawl will take place at the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, England, with a packed pro-Khan crowd expected as the Briton of Pakistani descent tries to defend the crown he wrested from Andreas Kotelnik over 12 one-sided rounds in July. For Salita, the Ukrainian-born orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, this fight represents his first shot at an association-recognized title. The pent-up exhilaration over something he has worked for his entire professional career burned through the telephone line as the "Star of David" took time from his gruelling training schedule to speak to The Jerusalem Post from London this week. "It's unbelievable to finally be here, with the fight so close and my preparation finally coming to a head," Salita shouted over the immediately identifiable sparring gym din of leather meeting flesh. "I've dedicated my life to this moment, from when I was a little kid, running before school, not going on trips, training in the gym for years... It's all been for this chance to prove myself this weekend in Newcastle." As always, no conversation with the 27-year-old pugilist - a member of the Chabad Lubavitch sect of Judaism - is complete without the astute boxer taking a broader view on his role in the ring. "A few different angles are important for me. Of course I'm thrilled to have gotten this opportunity. But to be the first to have made the step of not fighting on Shabbat in the US, even as an amateur - to be able to look at all the people who told me 'forget it, you won't grow in the sport under these terms' - is the most special part of it all for me personally." Indeed, the Saturday night bout time is one Salita is more than accustomed to. "A lot of times as an amateur, I would spend Shabbat in a motel near a fight venue, because I was scheduled to be in the ring literally five minutes after the stars came out. To be doing that again in the biggest fight of my life is somewhat comforting and brings things full-circle." Salita's career has always taken an upward trajectory. After triumphant performances in the Junior Olympics, the Golden Gloves and the US national amateur championships , the soft-spoken warrior has compiled an astonishing 30-0-1 professional record, with his latest victory coming in a dominant 10-round shutout over Raul "El Toro" Munoz back in May. While not a monster puncher by any means. Salita is a frighteningly hard worker who is aggressive and relentless in the ring. He is considered technically brilliant with blurring hand speed, though his bulldog tenacity and supreme mental toughness are clearly his greatest strengths. He comes into the bout against Khan - undoubtedly his toughest foe yet - confident and with a classic chip on his shoulder. "I should have had the chance at Kotelnik first," the Ukrainian-American Jewish challenger told Sky Sports this week. "Amir is a very good boxer but I was the number one contender before. Amir has my belt and... I will do whatever is necessary to bring it back home with me." For his part, Khan (21-1) is also coming into his first title defense with a self-assured attitude. Although branded by his critics as having a 'glass chin,' he has overcome a couple of weak efforts to once again emerge as one of the up-and-coming superstars in the industry. A silver medallist at the 2004 Olympics in the lightweight division, the 22-year-old devout Muslim has lost just once in 22 fights since turning professional. "I really think I am going to take this guy out, the fight is not going to go the full distance. As much as I respect Salita as a person, when we get into the ring, it's all about beating him up and retaining my crown." It is this mutual respect between the fighters that has seemingly captured much of the pre-fight build-up, with the media understandably focusing on the first ever title fight between a Muslim and Jew. The combatants themselves seemed to feed into the playful side of the propaganda in their press conference last month, when Salita showed up in full Haredi garb, while Khan was adorned in traditional religious attire as well. "Sports is an international language," Salita explained. "While we will be very competitive in the ring, a lot of positive can come out of it in the big picture."