It was a warm seventy degrees Sunday on the Brighton Beach boardwalk, where white tents extended from the façade of Tatiana’s restaurant. Inside, Igor Maltsev of Transport Workers Union Local 100, in a tuxedo and red bowtie, prepared for a Russian-American Heritage Day celebration. A restaurant employee explained to Bill Caplan, of Golden Boy Promotions, and Javan “Sugar” Hill, of Detroit’s Kronk Gym, that they were in the wrong place.
The press conference for their client, the Ukraine-born, Flatbush-raised boxer Dmitriy Salita, was being held at Tatiana’s Grill Café, approximately twenty yards down the boardwalk.
There, families dined on herring and borscht under a sea-blue awning. In front, a man kneeled before a round table with a roll of Scotch tape and a box of posters promoting this Saturday’s fight between Danny Garcia and Erik Morales, who would headline the first night of boxing at the Barclays Center. Another table supported a Sony mini-disc player, a microphone, a mixer and a speaker playing what sounded like Israeli pop music. Mr. Caplan danced with a sixty-ish man whose blue t-shirt read “Sweet Science” in mock-Hebraic font. On the back was the name “Salita” in all-caps, with a six-pointed star over the i.
A man in a Yankees cap addressed The Observer in Russian. We explained to his English-speaking comrade that we were there to hear from Salita, an Orthodox Jew who would appear after sunset Saturday at Barclays, fighting a to-be-determined opponent. Satisfied, the man asked us, “Why don’t you speak Russian? Everybody here speaks Russian.”
Shortly before 12:30, the music faded out. Mr. Caplan took the microphone and invited the crowd to have Mr. Salita and Republican state senator David Storobin sign postcard-sized replicas of the historic poster, where Salita’s name appeared in small type below images of five other boxers.
“These things are going to be worth a lot of money some day,” the promoter claimed. “Pass them on to your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren. These things will be worth a lot of money because both of these men, they already have fame, but their fame is just going to grow. Maybe we’ll have a president, we’ll have an all-time great world champ—the first Jewish president, what do you think of that? So just step up to your table and get your autograph copy of the poster for the fight.”
Nobody approached the table. Mr. Storobin took the opportunity to share a few words. “I got an email the other day from Dima, who was saying, ‘We both lived the American dream. You in politics and me in sports.’ I don’t think we had an Orthodox Jew who was a boxing champion ever before, so this is certainly a great achievement.” (In fact, Benny Leonard, né Leiner, of the Lower East Side had been world lightweight champion from 1917 to 1925.)
As Mr. Storobin handed the microphone to Mr. Salita, Mr. Caplan urged his client, “Two languages, Dmitriy.”
“Spanish and Russian?” joked the boxer known as “Kid Kosher,” standing in front of a poster for “Lobster Madness: All You Can Eat Only $45.” With a pinstriped cap, wool suit, and a hint of reddish beard, the thirty-year-old Mr. Salita looked at least ten years younger. After addressing the crowd in Russian, he switched to The Observer’s tongue.
“Similar to myself, Senator Storobin is a Russian-American that has truly made it in American culture,” said Mr. Salita, “and is someone that I tip my hat off to but keep my yarmulke on, and show a great amount of respect and honor that America’s truly the best country in the world, because we have the opportunity to make the most of ourselves. And Senator Storobin is representing the Russian people on the government level, and on October 20, I have an opportunity to make history and fight in the opening night of boxing in this new world-class, huge Barclays arena.”
The fighter and the politician took questions in Russian, then sat down to sign autographs. The Observer asked Mr. Hill about his client’s chances on Saturday.
“It’s hard to say,” the trainer replied. “We just got an approval for an opponent, so I have to now look at this new opponent and put something together. But his training’s been very well. He’s got a lot of good sparring. He should be comfortable with anybody that we put in with him right now. He’s been getting a lot of good work.”
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