Monday, November 16, 2009

First Israeli and first Orthodox Jewish boxing champion

From Ha'aretz:
Yuri Foreman late Saturday night became the first Israeli to claim a professional boxing crown when he defeated Daniel Santos of Puerto Rico to take the WBA junior middleweight (under-70 kilogram) title on points.

Foreman, a Belarus-born Israeli who has lived in Brooklyn for 10 years and is studying to be an Orthodox rabbi, won the 12-round bout by unanimous decision - 116-110, 117-109 and 117-10.

Foreman told his father how he prayed and said Psalms until he had his rival on the ropes, losing his balance. "I saw him wobbling," he said. "I knew another blow or two and I would send him to the floor and win with a knockout, but then the bell sounded, ending the round and saving him."

Foreman is a rare combination of power and smarts. He comes from a poor family that immigrated to Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His father works in Haifa as a mechanic, but Yuri moved to New York nearly a decade ago. A few years later, he began studying in a Brooklyn yeshiva to become an ordained Orthodox rabbi.

He has a very strict schedule, studying Torah in the morning and doing intense physical training both inside and out of the ring in the afternoon. He does a lot of weight lifting, running and fitness training.

The transplanted Brooklynite took a 27-0 record into the title fight, while Santos boasted a record of 32 wins - 23 by knockout, three losses and one draw. Going into the fight, Santos was considered a boxer with vision, power and great stamina.

"It's a fact we had 12 tough rounds, but thank God every time I got back into the ring for more I said prayers in my heart, and it worked," he said after the fight. "If you ask me what my strength is, I'll tell you it's in my brain. I run around the ring and keep thinking. I think I need to prove to everyone, not just myself, to the whole world that Jews know how to fight, that Jews know how to give a good fight and not surrender. I said it right after the fight, when they pushed the microphones at me and the cameras clicked. I said I wanted to prove that Jews are not a weak people that can be made to bend down and surrender, that Jews know how to fight and win. Actually, there are a lot of Jewish champions in the history of sports."