Boxer Claressa Shields stands with promotor Dmitriy Salita after a...

Boxer Claressa Shields stands with promotor Dmitriy Salita after a press conference in Detroit in 2019. Credit: AP

When Dmitriy Salita entered into a promotional agreement with Claressa Shields, the top female fighter in boxing, he already had a roadmap for the two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Salita, of Brooklyn, was fighting at the same time as Kisha Snow, a pioneering female fighter in New York City.

“In the amateurs Kisha won the Golden Gloves, she won a national title,” said Salita. “She was too good, she was ahead of her time. She turned pro but never really got anywhere. Her talent was never fully realized. I saw the struggle she went through.”

Salita immediately worked to put Shields on the biggest stage possible. In their first fight together, in 2017, Shields was the main event on Showtime, the first time a premium cable network featured a woman as the main bout. On Saturday, Salita and Shields will break new ground again.

Shields, the undisputed middleweight champion, will defend her title against Maricela Cornejo at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. It’s been six years since the venue that features the Pistons and Red Wings has hosted professional boxing. It’s also the first time the arena will host a women’s bout in the main event. The card can be streamed live on DAZN in the U.S. and Canada.

“Me and Dmitriy are business partners, but on top of that we are friends,” said Shields, who is from Flint, Michigan. “He understands fight camps, dieting and the surroundings and it makes it a lot easier. I’m happy we work together.”

All of that experience has paid off for Salita, who was inducted into the New York State Boxing Hall of Fame in April. The class featured 22 new Hall of Famers, including Zab Judah, Paulie Malignaggi, Kevin Pompey, Tony Paige, David Diamante and Long Islanders Kathy Collins, Bob Mladinich and Eddie Davis (posthumously).

“It’s one of my greatest honors,” said Salita, 41. “After you finish boxing and you look back, that’s when you finally see the forest from the trees and appreciate the journey. Going through the intense periods of training and sparring and fighting, you appreciate all of it. Now I am on the other side of the sport. And I feel like I’m blessed to use all my tools, all my experience for the fighters that I represent.”

Salita’s family came to Brooklyn from Odessa, Ukraine, when he was 9. He found his way to the Starrett City Boxing Club and began training under the tutelage of Jimmy O’Pharrow. It was in Starrett City where Salita was exposed to a high level of boxing.

“When I first started training at the Starrett City Boxing Club in 1995, that’s when Zab was wreaking havoc through amateur boxing,” said Salita. “Just to watch him train and just to watch him spar with guys like Luis Collazzo, Travis Simms, it was so incredible.  To be exposed to that, to train around a guy like Zab was inspiring. Zab was a killer in the ring but a very sweet guy out of it.”

Salita won a New York Golden Gloves title and turned pro in 2001. He won his first 23 fights and was a huge draw in the New York area. He practices Orthodox Judaism and never fought on the Sabbath, and his strict adherence to his religion became part of his story and appeal.

“Some people would think Dmitriy was crazy because he entered a sport where the biggest events take place on a day that he is worshipping and could not participate in until after sundown,” said Mark Taffet, former head of HBO pay-per-view. “As a fighter, he was very principled, he was very dedicated, no one trained harder, no one fought harder. But that was always second to his character as a man and commitment to his religious beliefs. He has great character inside the ring and outside the ring. Those where the types of fighter I wanted to be associates with while I was at HBO.”

In 2008, Salita won the IBF international super lightweight title with a 12-round decision over Derrick Campos at The Garden. A year later, he challenged Amir Khan for the WBA junior welterweight title in England and was stopped in the first round. Salita fought sporadically over the next five years before retiring for good in 2013.

But Salita was already planning for his life after fighting. He became a licensed promoter in 2011 and had promoted his last three fights.  

“Every promoter has a particular skill or ability that sets him apart from the other promoters,” said Taffet, who now manages Shields. “In Dmitriy Salita’s case it is simply and purely the fact the he was a fighter who cares about the sport and the athlete. He is a fighter’s promoter and he puts the fighter’s interests and needs ahead of his own.”

Salita has come a long way in the sport, starting in Starrett City, where the gym had no heat or running water to fighting on the same cards as Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Wladimir Klitschko. He’s now helping to grow the sport of women’s boxing.

“I am fortunate to have seen the sport from the ground up,” said Salita. “It’s been a great ride, I’ve give my life to the sport. I am very grateful to be recognized in a sport where I have invested so much. I am very blessed.”

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