"I have an aversion to not being let in the door." Those are the words of promoter Dmitriy Salita, the former title challenger (against Amir Khan) and amateur standout who won the U.S. Golden Gloves tournament. While he was still an active fighter, Salita started his own company and promoted himself on his own shows. In a few short years, many notable fighters approached him about appearing on his cards or signing with him. Salita saw boxing promotion as his future and knew that with his experience in the sport, connections with fighters, and desire to succeed, that he could thrive.
In 2016 Salita faced a crisis that happens to many young promoters: sharks in the water. Salita had fast-rising heavyweight prospect Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller under contract. Offers came in for Salita to co-promote Miller with bigger companies: he wasn't interested. And when that didn't work, they tried to poach him. Salita didn't take well to being bullied.
"I’m an immigrant," Salita said. "When I came to the United States, my parents could only afford Payless shoes. All the kids used to make fun of me. So, I had to defend myself. With Miller, when people wanted to push on me, when they wanted to bully me, I stood my ground and I defended my fighters and my business...I hired the best lawyers that money could buy, and I kicked ass."
But an interesting thing happened after that incident. Salita believed that he started to garner a lot of respect from his fellow promoters. They saw that he was willing to stand up for himself. And while Salita wants to win and grow his business, he doesn't believe in boxing as a zero-sum game. He wants to work with others, when it makes sense. He does have co-promotional deals for a couple of his fighters with DiBella Entertainment. He has frequently had his fighters appear on Matchroom Boxing cards. When he has been the lead promoter on ShoBox cards, he has invited other promoters to fill slots on the broadcast.
|Salita (right) with Claressa Shields|
Photo courtesy of Salita Promotions
Salita's story takes him from Ukraine, in what was then part of the Soviet Union, to the tough Brooklyn fight scene of the '90s (his trained at the Starrett City Boxing Club, which included notables such as Zab Judah, Danny Jacobs, Shannon Briggs and Luis Collazo, among many others), to now Detroit, where he is working to revive boxing in what was once one of the sport's glamour cities. All throughout his travels, he has made connections that have led to him amassing an impressive stable of fighters, especially when considering he has yet to have a secure network deal.
His highest profile fighter is Claressa Shields. Salita saw her potential as an attraction before others in the industry did. He had her headlining a show at the MGM Grand in Detroit in just her second professional fight. The place sold out, and it was the venue's first ever boxing card. Salita was able to get Shields a headlining slot for ShoBox, becoming the first woman to headline a card in the franchise's history. Shields' fight earlier this year against Maricela Cornejo sold over 11,000 tickets.
Salita Promotions has numerous ascendent fighters, from those approaching the championship level, such as Shohjahon Ergashev, who is scheduled to fight Subriel Matias for a world title later this year, and undefeated super middleweight Vladimir Shishkin, to undefeated middleweight prospect and decorated amateur Joseph Hicks. He also has heavyweight contenders Otto Wallin and Jermaine Franklin.
Salita prides himself on his eye for talent. As a fighter, he originally signed with Top Rank. He had the opportunity to learn from Bruce Trampler and Sean Gibbons as to how to evaluate styles and when to sign or pass on a young talent. Salita was a sponge and always asked questions about the sport.
One key he believes in is the family situation of a young fighter. Does the fighter have stability? Has he or she been able to overcome adversity in life? What is the fighter's support system?
Salita also understands the power of branding and marketing. He understands the relative apathy that many Eastern European fighters face in the American market. Often without natural fan bases and with names that aren't easy to pronounce, these fighters, even the talented ones, can struggle to attract attention. Salita had a long-standing relationship with SugarHill Steward going back to his professional career. And when he signed Shishkin (whom he had initially discovered from YouTube!) and Ergashev, he immediately placed them with Steward, which provided those two fighters with instant credibility.
"There are lots of fighters from the FSU, or former Soviet Union," said Salita. "And to Americans, they are all the same. They are indifferent to most of them. So, I felt I had to differentiate them.
"First of all, Ergashev is a big puncher. He has a huge following in Uzbekistan. He’s like a national hero there, but he needed to team up with an American brand. And that brand was the Kronk Boxing Gym and SugarHill. So, I brought him to the United States, found him a place to live, and introduced him to SugarHill.
"Shishkin, I saw two of his fights on YouTube. He beat a former world title contender from France [Nadjib Mohammedi]. I reached out to him. Sugar and him fit perfectly together. I believe that Emanuel Steward’s style of boxing is a combination of European and American boxing. It’s a fusion of the best of both worlds. And SugarHill is the progression of that."
As a transplant to the Detroit area, Salita has invested heavily in the local boxing scene. He was appalled at the quality of local shows when he initially arrived. Although there were talented fighters, very few were getting developed properly.
"There are a lot of very talented fighters in Detroit," Salita said, "and there has always been. But the fighters weren't being developed, and the streets, the pressure of life, withered many of them away. The problem was that people in Detroit would fight in a local high school. Someone who was 7-0 would fight someone who was 0-3. They were never tested. They were never developed. And then they would go to fight in Vegas against someone who was tested, but they didn’t have the skills or the support to be able to progress themselves. And that was that. No one was looking out for them.
"If you develop talented fighters wisely and properly, they can become contenders or world champions. If you have an infrastructure and a real system to developing fighters, from matchmaking to media to marketing to training, then the guys that have the talent can develop into something special. So, I feel that there is a lot of potential here."
Among his emerging Michigan fighters, Salita is particularly impressed with Hicks (9-0, 6 KOs, middleweight), Joshua Pagan (9-0, 4 KOs, junior welterweight) and Da'Velle Smith (7-0, 6 KOs, middleweight). And he continues to promote local shows in the area.
With all the success that Salita has had in a relatively short time in the promotional ranks, he is far from self-satisfied. What he really craves is a network deal. To him, that will take his company to the big time. Without a consistent platform he knows that he will have to continue to scurry and hunt-and-peck to progress his fighters and his own company.
He has a vision for the sport's growth. He understands the problems with network exclusivity and how it's a disincentive to creating compelling boxing offerings. He believes in retirement and pension plans for fighters. He wants to reengage boxing fans. But without a consistent home, he continues to face an uphill battle.
However, despite his struggles to break through to the top level, he is optimistic about the future of Salita Promotions. He has created an infrastructure to take his company to the next level, including attorney David Berlin (who used to head the New York State Athletic Commission), matchmakers Steve Clemente and Eric Bottjer and P.R. ace Kelly Swanson. He has an individual plan for each one of his fighters. He knows that if an Ergashev or a Shishkin can break through, even more doors will open. His goals for himself are not modest:
"I want to be one of the main providers of boxing in the United States," he said. "I want to make the biggest and the best fights. I want to work with everyone. And I want to grow the sport. And I believe I can do all of that."