Casper the friendly Cotto
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Q&A With Leyla Leidecker, Yuri Foreman's Wife
Standing at a statuesque 5-foot-9, Leyla Leidecker is the wife of WBA junior middleweight (154 pounds) champion, Yuri Foreman, who will defend his crown during Saturday night's HBO-televised bout against former three-time champion Miguel Cotto at Yankees' Stadium.
In this Q&A, Leidecker explains that she was a former model and amateur boxer when she met Foreman, how she went from being a "spiritual" gentile to an obsvervant Jew, how she influenced the sport's first Israeli boxing champion into Judaism, the religion in which he is a rabbinical student.
FanHouse: How and when did you meet Yuri Foreman?
Leyla Leidecker: I met Yuri about eight or nine years ago at The Gleasons' Gym (in New York). I was, I think, just on the StairMaster, kind of being bored. He came up to me and I'm sorry I don't remember what he was telling me exactly. Something cute. I mean, he's a very likable guy.
So, normally, he is very funny. I don't remember exactly what he was telling me. He's younger than me, so, at that time, he was probably about 19 or 20. So, I was not really taking him very seriously.
At the time, you were a boxer, correct?
I was not fighting yet, I was just training there, getting ready for my first fight. I was an amateur, and I had six amateur fights. My record as an amateur was that I won four and I lost two fights. All of my fights were amateur fights.
I understand that you were a model prior to that, but what sort of modeling did you do?
I was actually still modeling then when I met him. I did it for a very long time. I did magazines, catalogs and television commercials. Not really the runway type. I'm not really modeling any more. I used to model for such a long time.
I really don't enjoy doing that any more. Regarding my modeling career, it was a great way for a young girl to travel around the world and make good money. I was fortunate to be able to travel all over the globe. To go to exotic places for jobs.
Get paid. That's what I liked about it.
How old were you when you began to be a model?
I began modeling when I was 18, something like that.
Can you name some of the places you were most privileged to visit as a result of the modeling?
Everywhere. Australia, The Caribbean, New York, Italy, France, Europe, pretty much everywhere. I began in Europe, mainly in Italy and Germany -- Milan and Munich.
Where were you born?
I was born in Hungary in a small city called Pecs. Not really world famous city. You know, Hungary is a really small country. There are less people living in Hungary than in New York. So, my city is like 120 miles from Budapest.
Budapest is the capitol, and it's on one side of the country. My city was on the other side of the country. Everything was very near everything. It's a country that is less than 200 miles long. So it's not a big distance.
Approximately when and why did you come to America?
Mainly boredom. I wanted to challenge myself. I was still modeling, so it worked out easy for me to just come here and to work here. But I already had it in my mind that I didn't want to model anymore. I wanted to do something else.
I just wasn't sure what it was. I can't say what year that it was that I arrived. I used to come here so many times for different jobs. Many times I came for two weeks, but it was never like I was moving here. I was coming to do a job and then to go back to Europe.
When did you and Yuri Foreman become a couple and become serious?
Actually, we moved in together in probably 2001 or 2002. Then, very soon after, we got married. We just wanted to make it quick and painless. We had two weddings. We had one at City Hall, and we had one, a Jewish wedding.
Is it a stretch to say that you became interested in the Jewish religion before Yuri did, and that you were responsible for helping guide and influence him into the religion?
I pretty much grew up ... non-religious. I have always been a spiritual person, but there was never a religion that I found that would suit me. I wasn't sure what to call my belief at that time. I became involved and interested in the Jewish religion probably because Yuri was a Jew by birth.
I wanted to convert to Judaism. I found that this was a glove that fits me and I wanted to lead my life according to the Jewish religion.
What tenets of the Jewish faith are the basis for why you felt that way?
The Jewish religion has a structure. It's time-wise, like how you organize your day. It's a very complex thing, but it makes sense to me. It's something that I can relate to and its something that always allows me to dig deeper.
There is a lot of room to grow in it, and this is a religion where you're supposed to be able to pose and ask questions. You can ask, 'Why is it this way,' or, 'Why is it that way?'
At what point do you believe that Yuri became interested in becoming a rabbi?
It happened after we began to get accustomed to living our lives together. He just felt so bad that he had been living in Israel, and that for so many years, he was never exposed to any of this. He was thinking of all of the Russian kids in Israel, and nobody looking out for them.
Or, whomever was reaching out to them, the kids may not have listened to them. Because those kids, you know, they may have been being approached, a lot of times, by [orthodox Jews] with the long beards and they might have been scared or turned off because maybe they thought that that's who they're expected to become.
Do you believe that your maturity and your relative experiences were among the reasons that Yuri Foreman was so willing to be influenced by you?
I'm sure that, in every marriage, it's a normal thing for people to listen each other and to give each other guidance. Whatever field in which you have more experience, you can always share your experience.
I think that it's a very common thing within a healthy marriage -- that you share your experiences, I mean. First of all, I am not friends with anyone who would say to me, regarding my sexuality, that, 'You are just a woman' in regard to my opinion.
If you are living in a healthy marriage, then I think that you are listening to each other and each others' opinion.
As an observant Jew, how do you reconcile the violence of boxing with Judaism?
You know, Judaism is not Christianity where you're supposed to turn the other cheek when someone slaps you. It's definitely a religion that espouses peace. But boxing is a sport, like fencing or basketball or any sport. And what you do in sports, there is always a risk of injury.
It never occurred to me that my religion would conflict with my boxing. I fought as an amateur, and any journalist that has covered amateur boxing can tell you that it's very rare that there are injuries in amateur boxing.
Do you actually give Yuri suggestions regarding his boxing in the ring?
Very carefully. Boxing is a big part of his life, so after training, when he comes back home, he does not necessarily want to hear any more about boxing. So, if I want to share some of my thoughts, I like to carefully choose when that is.
Because I know that he does not always want to hear about boxing. But most of my suggestions, they are not so unique. If you know boxing, they're things that people who know boxing would be suggesting a very similar thing. Whatever I say most of the time is the very same thing that his trainer, Joe Grier, would tell him.
I understand that Yuri credited you with giving him the proper advice to plant his feet more often against Daniel Santos during his victory in November?
I'm never in the corner and I never yell directions to Yuri during the fight. I remember telling him that. It was before they left for the fight. I said it, but also, many other people had said the same thing to him. I don't want to accept full credit for that.
So how excited are you concerning this fight against Miguel Cotto at Yankees Stadium?
I'm very excited. I was very happy when he won the title, but I don't like to put things in order as to what was the most important, and what was No. 2. I was very proud of Yuri, and it's one of the big moments. You would need to know Yuri's whole life story.
Yuri had a very challenging, interesting life story. It's going to help him to be who is is right now. I clearly can see that in Yuri's life, there is a Godly hand that is helping him and guiding him. Yuri takes every challenge very seriously.
Every goal, every task, Yuri takes very seriously. Even mopping the floor, Yuri tries to do the best job that he can.
Is it accurate to characterize Yuri as someone whose every experience is meant to help other people?
Absolutely. I don't know how else to put it.