It would be hard, as a journalist, not to focus on the salacious “Oh get this, a Jew is fighting a Muslim” angle of Saturday’s boxing match between junior welterweights Amir Khan and Dmitriy Salita, but so far from what I’ve seen everyone has been on their behavior, for the most part. Part of it is Khan and Salita, to their credit, haven’t let it come to that. They’ve talked about their faith some, but mostly from a positive standpoint — for instance, Salita discussing being a Jewish boxer and honoring Shabbat, or saying that if anything, it’s a positive that a Jew and Muslim are able to fight one another and be so respectful. Peace through punching, in a way.
So what we’re left with is a boxing match, and nothing more. That’s plenty. Khan-Salita is a meaningful fight in its own rights, Khan’s first defense of his alphabet title and Salita’s first shot at a top-notch opponent, held on British soil where Khan is a huge star even if he feels a little chippy toward his home country right now because of some press feuds. Both are very young and fresh boxers with a lot to prove.
Khan is obviously a big, if flawed, talent, rebounding still from a shocking 1st round knockout loss to Bredis Prescott last year but picking the best trainer in the world, Freddie Roach, to help him rebuild quite successfully. Salita is a bit more of an open question, with some high on him and some not. The fight could be good depending on how well Salita can catch up to Khan’s speed and whether one guy lands something big against the fragile chin both seem to have. Too bad nobody picked up the rights to this fight here in America.
Khan’s speed is considerable, and it always presents a big obstacle. If you were making a list of the fastest hands in boxing, he’d crack the top 10 for sure and maybe even the top five. He’s got an Olympic pedigree, so he’s well-schooled, and you can multiply that by a couple because he’s now working with Freddie Roach. In the past, as a lightweight, Khan has demonstrated a lot of punching power, but at junior welterweight I’m not sure how potent it is. And he hasn’t exactly been going for the KO under Roach’s tutelage. Roach has turned him into a good defensive fighter since the crushing Prescott loss, one who chose to outscore Andreas Kotelnik this year to win his first title rather than trying to really hurt him. With his very fast legs and tendency to keep his hands up well these days, he shelters his shaky chin quite well these days. The win over Kotelnik may have involved a little bit of running, but it was a brilliant performance; Kotelnik was a good fighter who’d fought a lot of top men close, and Khan really owned him. Roach is convinced he’s only at 50 percent of his capabilities, and the 22-year-old is only getting better.
I’ve seen less of the 27-year-old Salita, who has rarely gotten television exposure in the United States despite fighting out of New York and having a good story. But he’s also pretty well-schooled, at least offensively. He punches in combination quite well, and he has a nice right hand with moderate-level power to score 16 KOs in 30 wins. Defensively, he keeps his gloves up, but I’ve seen a lot of people punch straight through them, especially when Salita gets aggressive. He puts a lot of pressure on his opponent, and I’ve seen it said that he cuts off the ring well even if I haven’t had that same observation, which obviously would be key against Khan. Salita’s not in Khan’s speed class, and he’s a little flat-footed, so he’ll have to rely on intelligent pressure if he wants to get to the shaky chin he keeps talking about. Of course, Salita’s shown a tendency to get knocked down or wobbled a lot, so he’ll have to be aggressive and cautious at the same time. And he’s got another problem, too: He’s never really fought anybody. In 2006, he fought to a draw with Roman Montano, a somewhat talented journeyman who get the occasional medium-sized fight, and he defeated Grover Wiley, famous for beating Julio Cesar Chavez in his final bout. How he got a mandatory title shot is confusing to me, and he’s been sitting on it forever, too — which he said makes him angry and want to take it out on Khan. He also notes that Roach wasn’t with Khan until recently, as he was tending to his top charge, Manny Pacquiao.
I like the character of both of these men, so I’d like to see them both fare well and let the chips fall where they may. My problem is I don’t see anything particularly impressive about Salita. He’s got a few things going for him, but he’s not all that talented from what I can tell and there is no trait in which he seems to be in Khan’s league. He could land a big shot and really rearrange Khan’s world, totally, because just about anybody can. But that gets harder all the time with Khan masking his weak chin so well, and Salita has the same problem without the same adaptations. So my call is that Khan outclasses Salita, suffering his usual and periodic moments of trouble, to either win by wide decision or knockout. I’m going knockout, probably within nine.