Dmitriy Salita believes he will take the WBA light-welterweight title from Amir Khan with the help of prayer.
Salita, an Orthodox Jew who puts his tefillin on every morning before training, said: “I’m going there to win. I 100 per cent pray for success in the ring. One day you can be champion of the world, the next you’re beaten up by some amateur.
“Everything comes from God. He gives you free choice. He loves us to sweat. The purpose of man is to do well and work hard. God has given me the ability to do this.” He is currently based at a training camp in Pennsylvania, where he has been all week, after returning from a 24-hour publicity tour to England in which he and Amir Khan, devout Jew and Muslim, spoke in respectful tones about one another.
“I’m going in there to win but I have respect for him. I have respect for every individual,” added Salita.
Talking exclusively to the JC this week, he spoke about the difficulties of establishing a career in professional boxing, particularly preparing for fights shortly after Shabbat.
“At the beginning of my career it was a struggle to keep my religion. I’d be fighting 15 minutes after the end of Shabbat and I didn’t have time to warm up. The first round was my warm up.
“Now, thank God, that I’m at this level, things work out more easily.
“People told me I wouldn’t get here, being religious, so it’s especially rewarding that I am where I am.
“When I was 18 years old I was not Shabbat-observant. I was ready for the US Nationals. I wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This was the year I was graduating from high school and I was deciding between getting a job and being a boxer. I wanted to know from him what I should do.
“The answer that I got was that I would have a positive influence over many people. Do your job according to the Torah.
“The fights started Monday and the finals were Saturday afternoon and evening, depending on weight.
“I told them I couldn’t fight at 2pm because I was an observant Jew. They told me if I didn’t fight I would be disqualified. I wasn’t expected to make it to the semis, but I did. I beat the amateur world champion.
A local reporter asked me if I was ready for the final. I told him I was ready but I couldn’t fight.
“He spoke to US boxing and managed to get the fight moved.”
On the matter of how his fellow-professionals respond to him being religious, he said: “You’d have to ask them. They’ve seen me putting on tefillin, they take it in their stride.
“I grew up in a gym. Since I was a boy, that has been my education. I respect myself and I don’t have problems with anyone. We are all created in the image of God. Every person is valuable.”
The 27-year-old, who is married, plans to arrive in England a couple of weeks before the fight, at the Metro Arena in Newcastle, on Saturday December 5. He will stay in a hotel near the strictly Orthodox community of Gateshead.
His former trainer Jimmy O’Pharrow has declared that “victory is on the cards” for Salita.
Speaking from the Pocono Mountains, in Pennsylvania, where Salita is hill running and boxing, he said: “I’ve had him since he was 13 years old. He’s going to win. It’s on the cards.”
Salita will have another week in Pennsylvania before returning to O’Pharrow’s gym in Brooklyn.
Adding that Salita still needs to bring his weight down, which is currently about 150 lbs, O’Pharrow said: “Overall his training is going very well.”