Orthodox Jewish boxer Dmitriy Salita will be the first to challenge Amir Khan for the WBA light-welterweight crown, as the unbeaten New Yorker takes on the defending champion December 5 in Newcastle, England.
Promoter Frank Warren confirmed Tuesday that Khan, 22, who won the title in July from Andreas Kotelnik, will meet Salita at the city's Metro Radio Arena. Salita, 27, is the WBA mandatory challenger and a highly-credible first defense of his title for the 2004 Olympic silver medalist.
Salita has already registered 30 wins - 16 inside the distance - and a draw, but thus far only one of his fights, in Puerto Rico in 2003, has been held outside the mainland United States.
"For Amir's first defense this is a very tough fight for him, and he's taking on a fighter that the American media are really building up at the moment," said the promoter.
"Salita's got a great record, he's unbeaten and carries a big punch and of course he will pose a threat to Amir, but Amir's a world-class fighter and has to deal with these challengers," he said.
Khan was born in Bolton, Greater Manchester, to Pakistani parents. He has said on several occasions that he views himself as representing not only Great Britain but Pakistan as well, and all Muslims worldwide.
Some media outlets in Britain and beyond have already played up the battle between the title-holding Muslim and his unbeaten Jewish contender as having wider political and religious implications.
But Warren insisted the match is about boxing and boxing alone: "The public there are big sports fans and love the big events and it's great to bring them a fight like Khan vs. Salita."
"I've promoted a lot of shows in Newcastle with all the big names like Naz [Naseem Hamed], Joe Calzaghe, Ricky Hatton and Nigel Benn and I'm delighted to bring Amir to the city for the first time," he said.
Salita was born Dmitriy Lechtman (Salita is his mother's maiden name) in Odessa, Ukraine. He moved with his family to Flatbush, Brooklyn when he was 9, he said, because of violence against Jews in his native country.
"I remember that my father bought a gun just in case something was to happen. It was very difficult to get top jobs or to go to top schools and still remain proud of your Judaism," he said in an interview earlier this year.
Salita said he started boxing to ward off bullies at school, who saw the foreign student with the poor English and funny clothes as easy prey: "I had to learn how to defend myself. I got involved in karate, and as time went on my brother brought me to a boxing club. That is how it all started."
The aspiring fighter joined Starrett City boxing club in Brooklyn, where among others, he trained with future welterweight champion Zabdiel Judah.
Judah, incidentally, is an avowed Black Hebrew Israelite, a member of a religious community of African-Americans claiming descent from the ancient Israelites.
In 2001, at age 19, Salita turned professional. Just four years later, he took the light-welterweight title by defeating Shawn Gallegos with a ninth-round knockout.
In his teens, he became exposed to Orthodox Judaism, and continues to be heavily involved with the Chabad movement. The fighter travels with a Chabad emissary who prepares food for him and ensures he keeps Shabbat and other religious obligations.
Still unbeaten since turning pro, Salita's record is 30 wins - 16 by KO - and a single draw. It's a streak he hopes he can continue against Khan, no pushover himself with 21 wins and just a single loss (a 2008 knockout by Colombia's Breidis Prescott which lasted under a minute).
Salita shrinks before no contender, but there is one line he said he simply won't cross - fighting on Shabbat.
"Anyone who wants a good whuppin' from me is just going to have to wait until sundown," he said.
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