Arum tried to convince 20-year-old Dmitriy Salita, a welterweight and an observant Jew, to fight an undercard bout Saturday night before the Paulie Ayala-Erik Morales WBC featherweight title fight. But Salita wouldn't fight on the Jewish Sabbath, which lasts from twilight Friday until sundown Saturday. "This was the first time ever I couldn't make the match myself, and I've been in the business for 37 years," Arum said Thursday. "I had to call the rabbi."
A Las Vegas rabbi assured Salita that he could fight at the appointed time and still be true to his faith. Sunset was at 5:15 p.m. Saturday, and the fight against Ron Gladden (11-6-1) of Murray, Ky., was at 7 p.m.
Salita (8-0 with six knockouts) is the only religious Jew in the professional ranks, according to Arum, who also is Jewish. Salita has become an inspiration to many Jews, as well as a curiosity. He keeps kosher and throws a powerful left hook. He studies the Torah and has a stiff jab. There are 70 days a year he can't fight, including holidays. "Unless you come to the synagogue on shabbat (the Sabbath), you can't find me," Salita said. "And I won't talk about business."
Salita, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., came to the United States from the Ukraine at the age of 9. He said his family didn't practice Judaism in the former Soviet Union because communism effectively stamped it out.
He did experience anti-Semitism that led to fisticuffs. But it wasn't until his mother was being treated for breast cancer in 1998 at a New York hospital that he discovered Judaism. His mother was sharing a hospital room with a Jewish woman who persuaded him to look into a form of Judaism. He embraced his religion. At about the same time he started to box, the 14-year-old had a bar mitzvah and completed his passage into Jewish manhood.
Slowly, Salita said, he began to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish laws. When boxing matches started to conflict with those laws, his rabbi in Brooklyn, Zalman Liberow, gave him some advice. "Don't fight on the Sabbath and everything will be all right," Salita recalled saying.
Salita has followed the rule ever since, and he has found success in the ring. He was 2001 New York Golden Gloves champion at 139 pounds and won the Sugar Ray Robinson Award, given to the outstanding boxer of the tournament. He turned pro shortly afterward.
Liberow continues to advise Salita _ but only on spiritual matters. "The rabbi doesn't tell me to throw a left hook or right hand," Salita said.