Mazel Tough

Yuri Foreman and Dmitriy Salita, two of the most talked-about prospects in professional boxing, have a few things in common. Both are Russian émigrés who live in Brooklyn, both won the prestigious 2001 New York Golden Gloves in their respective weight classes, and both train at Gleason’s Gym in DUMBO. But the most striking similarity is emblazoned on their boxing trunks: a big, bold Star of David. Salita and Foreman are both Jewish boxers.

“You can combine Judaism with anything,” says Salita (right), a 20-year-old lightweight from Ukraine with the record to prove it: 6-0, with five knockouts. At Salita’s last bout, at Bally’s in Las Vegas, the other fighter was taking such a beating that he refused to come out for round four. Still, when he’s not throwing jabs, Salita, with his cropped brown hair and boyish face, looks more likely to be giving a bar mitzvah speech.

Enter Yuri Foreman, 21. Born in Belarus, the junior middleweight immigrated to Israel at the age of 10. After winning too many amateur titles and medals to mention, he pointed a gloved fist toward the States. “I came here to be world champion,” he declares. At his first pro fight, Foreman knocked out his opponent two minutes into round one.

Judaism and pugilism share a long history. “These guys are bridging the gap of the past half-century,” says boxing historian Hank Kaplan. Between 1903 and 1938, there were 26 Jewish world champions, including greats like Benny Leonard, Jackie “Kid” Berg, and “Corporal” Izzy Schwartz. The reign ended with Barney Ross, who lost his welterweight title in 1938.

Both Salita and Foreman are signed to big-time promoters with the muscle to bring on lucrative endorsements, pay-per-view megabucks, and their share of thong-wearing ring-card girls. “Bling-bling!” says Salita, who’s contracted with Bob Arum, the man behind Oscar De La Hoya and the comeback of George Foreman (no relation to Yuri).

As for Yuri (3-0, 2 KOs), he’s hooked up with Lou DiBella, the former HBO exec turned promoter, who recently held a press conference for him at (of course) the Carnegie Deli. “I love the idea of developing a Jewish fighter in New York City,” said DiBella between handing out pastrami sandwiches and potato latkes. “I’m going to take Yuri through the political circles and local Jewish leaders.”

Foreman, who resembles a younger, better-looking Dolph Lundgren, could only hungrily watch others eat. He had to make weight for a fight the next night, a Friday. “I’m always training,” he said quietly in his Russian accent. “My opponents sleep, I train.”

You won’t, however, find Salita in the ring on a Friday night: He’s Orthodox and hangs with the Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. That means he doesn’t fight from Friday night till dusk on Saturday. It’s in his contract. “If anyone wants a whupping from me,” says Salita, “they got to wait until after sundown.”

Mazel Tough