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Orthodox Jew wins NY welterweight title

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Dmitry Salita in the ring

Boxer Dmitriy Salita, an Orthodox Jew, from Brooklyn, N.Y., won the vacant New York state IBA welterweight title last week in a third round knockout victory over  James Wayka at New York’s Roseland Ballroom.

Binnie Klein, the author of “Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind” (SUNY Press, 2010), is a psychotherapist living in New Haven, and the host of a weekly music and interview show on WPKN. Here is what she wrote after witnessing the historic fight.

Kasia Boddy, in her remarkable compendium of  boxing’s influence, “Boxing: A Cultural History,” says that the struggle between two bodies before a crowd “…simplify everything…good and evil, the winner and the loser.” But the nuances of that struggle are complicated.

Boxing writers like Boddy also revel in the nostalgia of boxing – the bare-knuckle era, the push for economic and status improvement of the immigrant boxers, the 60’s and 70’s dominated by Ali, etc. Bare-knuckle and immigrants preceded many of our lives, and during the 60’s and 70’s I was a disaffected youth, and not at all interested in sports or boxing. Can one feel nostalgic for something one never experienced? I think so, because there is a collective unconscious, a “cloud” (and not theInternet one!) of images and themes that have seeped into our brains. At a boxing match, those parts of our brains light up like a pinball machine.

Last night at Orthodox Jewish boxer Dmitriy Salita’s self-promoted welterweight title bout at Roseland in New York City, I yielded to the magic of this young man’s ability to excite a community and expose a wider audience to a history that may inspire them. He shows that you can be a boxer and still be a really nice guy. He’s articulate, dedicated, works with young kids; in other words, he’s good for the sport. Yes, at the last minute, his opponent Mike Anchondo pulled out due to an unspecified illness, and with the substitution of James Wayka, there were skeptical murmurs.”This isn’t going to be much of a fight.” “I want my money back!” The question of whether Salita would even get his 10 round competition instead of the 8 at first mentioned was unclear.

But we saw by the sheet that it was 10 rounds. Salita looked confident and compact at 145&1/2 lbs, Wayka at 147 lbs, taller, but a little wary and gangly (and for good reason – he hadn’t fought in quite a while). Salita was measured at first, pacing himself, as the fighters felt each other out. Then Salita let loose some precision body blows, knocking Wayka down twice in the first 2 rounds. I thought I saw a nice right hook from Salita. He seemed more of a puncher than I’d thought. At 1’53” referee Dave Fields stopped the fight, and Salita’s New York State belt was secured by this TKO.

It’s often the before and after of a fight that pack the most emotional punch for me. That walk to the ring, the nationalistic choice of music, the lights flashing, the anticipation; there’s nothing like it. As Hassidic reggae sister Matisyahu led with “A King Without a Crown” as he walked Salita to the ring, dozens of men with yarmulkes rose to their feet. In the ring the Israeli flag was furled. It’s show biz. It’s religion. It’s pride. It works. For this reporter – in light of the recent horrifically anti-Semitic comments unearthed to have been said by Nixon and Kissinger, I felt emotional. It’s like what Jews joke about Passover – it’s a long service, lots of reading from the Haggadah – that can really be condensed by the pithy statement: “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.”

Watching Salita once again disprove an assortment of old stereotypes, I couldn’t help but think. “They try to kill us, we keep surviving, let’s box.” It may be the clarion call of many of the other ethnic groups that make that long walk to the ring, too.

This piece originally appeared in

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