Already a neighborhood celebrity as an undefeated Jewish boxer living in Brooklyn, Dmitriy Salita's local cachet has grown even more since shooting began on 'Ring Life.' Nowadays people stop him on the street, wanting to know more about the show and his latest fight, a unanimous decision over Derrick Campos on the Calzaghe-Jones undercard at Madison Square Garden. Salita had hoped for a knockout, but the fight was just his second in 19 months, and he felt the ring rust. Nevertheless, that victory raised his record to 30-0-1. The 26-year-old Salita is ranked third in the world by one sanctioning body and hopes to get a title shot next year. Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Dmitriy moved at the age of 9 to Brooklyn, where he was exposed to Orthodox Judaism and now adheres strictly to Jewish Law. His boxing dream is to become the first Jewish world champion since Mike Rossman won a title three decades ago.
What was it like moving about your community with an HBO camera following you?
The first episode was shot in Crown Heights, and it was during the Sukkot holiday season. Everybody was really excited about it. Several Jewish web sites here posted stories about the shooting. 'Ring Life' was the video of the day on crownheights.info.
Some of it was shot while I was driving a car with a cameraman inside with me. People who saw me with the camera would beep their horns and wave.
Jewish Pride is important to you. What effect do you think your newfound visibility will have in that area?
Historically, boxing has been an ethnic-driven sport. Latin fans are driving the sport today, and somebody like Manny Pacquiao has got the support of his whole country. In the Philippines Manny is like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Barack Obama all rolled into one.
Some Jewish people who are not connected will have seen the episodes, and it's going to make them feel good about being a Jew, and hopefully give them a sense of pride.
Now that you've been filmed jogging on the boardwalk, do you think you're going to be like Rocky Balboa and have kids from your neighborhood trying to run with you?
I get that once in a while. Kids will try to run with me a little, but they can't keep up. I take it as a compliment people want to run with me.
How did your religious leader from Chabad react when you first asked him if HBO could shoot you during a prayer session?
He jumped right in! He was super excited. Chabad uses every media available to speak the word of God. All the rabbis in Crown Heights were very favorable toward the filming. They feel the more media coverage Judaism gets the better.
Does having all these people in Brooklyn rooting for Dmitriy Salita put extra pressure on you to keep winning?
"Having pride helps make people to be a better person. Life must be a balance, and you shouldn't let one thing be bigger than others. America is a country that encourages people to do well and take pride in themselves. Pride and self respect helps you learn how to love other people."
It's definitely important for me to do well. But I enjoy being in the spotlight. I'm okay with it. I've been disciplining myself psychologically to deal with it ever since I was a kid. The fact that so many people are rooting for me to do well does not put any pressure on me.
Obviously when you are good at something, there is always a certain amount of pressure on you. I've known since I was a kid I would turn pro and I would face a lot of pressure other boxers don't because of my religion. The key to success is to focus on being able to do what you want to do well.
You must take great pride in your boxing accomplishments. In some religions, too much pride is considered a sin. What about in Orthodox Judaism?
Having pride helps make people to be a better person. Life must be a balance, and you shouldn't let one thing be bigger than others. America is a country that encourages people to do well and take pride in themselves. Pride and self respect helps you learn how to love other people. If you become an egomaniac, that is not good. You have to keep yourself in check and be a decent human being. And you have to be humble. You can have pride and humility at the same time.
Since the shooting you won a fight on the Calzaghe-Jones undercard. What does that victory do for your career?
It felt good to get in the ring and go 12 rounds. This was just my second fight in 19 months. I hope to be more active now that I am with Square Ring Promotions. I expect to have a fight in January. I'd like to fight boxers with names people recognize, either a top prospect or a former world champion or even a world champion. I want to move up and get tough fights.
What kind of grade would you give yourself for the fight?
I gave myself a B- because I've not been as active as I would have wanted and my timing was not right. There were moments when I hurt him but didn't act. I also needed to counterpunch more.
What did you think of the main event?
I thought it was a great fight, better than anybody anticipated. Roy Jones showed flashes of his youth, and Calzaghe, even though he is 36, is at his peak right now. It was an honor to be part of that fight. I believe Roy Jones is the greatest fighter of all time.
What lies ahead for you in both your secular education and religious training?
Religious training is my life. You become a better person the more rules and things you know about God. Knowing God takes a lifetime. There is so much more to learn. It's like a mountain you have to climb. As for my education, I plan to finish Touro College here in Brooklyn. After I get my degree I want to pursue further education. When I finish boxing, I hope to be an entrepreneur and go into business. We'll see what the future holds.
November 11, 2008