By Mitch Abramson
For someone who doesn’t fight much anymore, Dmitriy Salita is seemingly everywhere.
He’s at club shows and big shows, in the community hand-grabbing with fans.
He’s on the phone, calling writers, plugging his latest endeavor, talking it up as if it's the next big pay-per-view show. He’s the busiest non-fighter in the business at the moment.
But there’s a method to his madness.
With one foot in retirement and the other in the promotions racket, Salita is in the neat position of being able to sit back and cherry-pick offers to get back in the ring- while he tends to his other, main trade, which is running shows.
Yes, Salita the ex-boxer who claims he’s still active- who was known for having an eye on the bottom line while he was fighting, for carefully scripting his career, is now one of the more active promoters in the New York area, running shows in Brooklyn and building a stable of talented yet mostly anonymous boxers.
And perhaps most interestingly, he now has a hand in guiding the careers of others, while drawing on his own experiences.
So it didn’t come as a surprise when Salita revealed he briefly entertained the idea of accepting an offer to face former titlist Andre Berto in September, an offer the 32-year-old resident of Brooklyn said he declined because it didn’t make much sense, he says, once again, displaying an ability to step back and make a decision that he believes will benefit him in the long term.
“I got offered to fight Andre Berto a couple days ago but the fight is in a week,” Salita said of Berto’s Sept. 6 fight against Steve Upsher Chambers in Cincinnati. “I’m happy to get the offer. It’s nice. But I don’t take fights on short notice.”
Salita has that luxury, even if he said the money was good enough to give him pause and make him reconsider. But Salita hasn’t fought since last November, when he lost a decision to Gabriel Bracero at the Aviator Sports Complex for just the second defeat of his career. And though he's still in the gym, he didn't feel sharp enough to take the bout, even against a fighter in Berto who is on the comeback trail and hasn't fought since July of last year.
“I thought about it and I felt good about it,” Salita said of the chance to face Berto. “But it just wasn’t enough time to prepare. I can’t take a fight on two weeks notice against someone who’s been training six months. Boxing is a very serious business and you have to give yourself every opportunity to win. It would be unfair to my fans and to myself to put myself in that kind of position.”
Salita is a businessman after all. And he will be plying that trade, his Star of David Promotions on Sept. 18 at the Master Theater (the old Millennium Theater) in Brighton Beach when he runs what he said will be his 15th show, since getting involved in the promotions business following his loss to Amir Khan in 2009. The main event will feature the first women’s bout of the “Brooklyn Brawl” series, with WBO lightweight champion Amanda Serrano facing Jackie Trivilino in the main event and cruiserweight Junior Wright and former National Golden Gloves champion Steven Martinez also in action in separate bouts.
Here, Salita easily slips on his promoter’s hat, talking up the fighters, saying how Martinez has the talent to be a world champion, plugging the show as a grassroots boxing experience, one of the few in the city- a minor leagues of sorts for building talent for the bigger stages of Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center.
But Salita is a fighter at heart, he says, and he admitted he’s not in retirement yet, the pull of getting back in the ring too great to make him completely turn his back. Asked why he doesn’t perform on one of his shows if he still considers himself a fighter, he said he may do so in the future.
“I’m not retired,” he says. “If an interesting thing comes along, I would consider it. My last fight with Gabriel Bracero, my timing was off. I hadn’t fought in  months prior to that. That’s what I really had going against me. So you know, I’m keeping my options open. I’m in the gym. I’ve had conversations with people about some fights but nothing has piqued my interest yet."
Still, Salita was realistic about his career, which began with much fanfare and romance, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn training at the Starrett City Boxing Club, alongside tough guys like Curtis Stevens and Danny Jacobs. The story had legs to it because Salita could fight, winning a Golden Gloves title in 2001 and signing with Bob Arum’s Top Rank out of the amateurs.
Salita’s former trainer, the late Jimmy O’Pharrow once famously said of him: “Kid looks Russian, prays Jewish and fights black.”
But Salita’s career seemed to plateau as he shuffled promoters, from Arum to Lou DiBella. He signed with Square Ring Promotions and finally got the title shot he’d been craving for against Khan in 2009. But Salita was destroyed in just 76 seconds, a situation he chalked up to not being totally focused on the task at hand. Salita lost for the first time, but perhaps even worse, Salita for all his grand ambitions of becoming a world champion, was likely exposed in that fight, as perhaps the product of successful matchmaking.
The loss to Bracero was just his second, giving him a still impressive record of 35-2-1 (18 knockouts). Looking back, Salita is clear-eyed about his career, admitting it hasn’t always lived up to the great expectations that followed him.
“I felt like I could have done more,” he said. “Certain opportunities and fights were not available to me and slipped through my fingers but the best thing to do in that situation is to learn from the past and step forward. I accomplished some of the things I wanted to accomplish. I fought for a world title. I didn’t have a chance to win but you learn from every experience.”
And now he’s taking the same lessons he learned as a fighter into the ring with him as a promoter. As a fighter, Salita could always draw a crowd, was always keenly aware of the economics that drove things, and he uses those same sensibilities to advise his own fighters, helping them in their marketing efforts. Salita fought for Arum, DiBella and Square Ring, and says he learned from each of them.
“I always had a good eye for talent,” he says. “We always had good fighters on our shows from the beginning. I love it, I love boxing. It’s difficult and it’s challenging and it’s a very difficult business but I feel very good about it and I feel I have a vision to be able to help the most important people in the sport- and that’s the fighters. New York City is great center for boxing and we’re trying to grow it here.”
And he said his goal as a promoter isn’t that different from the goals he set for himself as a fighter. He’s just working from a different vantage point, without the benefit of a Bob Arum behind him pulling the purse strings. Instead, Salita is plying his trade in the club circuit, slowly building up his fighters.
“As a promoter I want to be able to promote world champions,” he said. “We’re building the grassroots of boxing and there are very few consistent boxing series that stay alive and we have the support of local fans to make it successful. Barclays and Madison Square Garden are just down the block, so it’s very important to have this relationship with fans so when they fight at these big arenas they bring them with them. I was blessed to have a great following, and so it’s very important to build these fan bases and to have these relationships that they will carry with them for their entire life.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.
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