History was made in Las Vegas on Nov. 14 when Yuri Foreman became the first Israeli boxer to win a major world title.
Foreman, an aspiring rabbi who mixes religious studies with work in the gym, outpointed Daniel Santos over 12 rounds to claim the World Boxing Association super welterweight crown.
The 29-year-old — who was born in Belarus, lived in Haifa from the ages of 10 to 19 and then immigrated to Brooklyn — knocked down Santos with a right hand in the final round, but by then the outcome had long since been decided. He won 117-109 on two ringside scorecards and 116-110 on the third.
“There’s a lot of tough Jews,” Foreman said in the Las Vegas Sun. “It’s actually a country of tough people. People should not be suprised to see an Israeli to be a world champion.”
According to Yahoo!Sports, Foreman became the first Orthodox Jewish boxing world champ in more than 70 years. Jackie “Kid” Berg, a junior welterweight from London, was the last, in 1932.
Foreman, who fought at 161 pounds, was the underdog for several reasons: he is younger than Santos by five years (34 to 29), has less experience, was outweighed by 12 pounds and had never before beaten a left-handed fighter like Santos.
The fight wasn’t exactly an artistic triumph, with both fighters head butting each other and Foreman throwing Santos to the canvas in the second round. But Foreman controlled much of the action and landed both the harder and more effective punches.
Foreman, according to the New York Times, spent Nov. 13 after sundown inside his hotel room oberving Shabbat, without a television or phone calls.
The fight — with politicians and diplomats who had traveled from Israel in the crowd — was on the undercard of the big Manny Pacquiao–Miguel Cotto title fight at the MGM Grand arena, which was won by Pacquiao, a Filipino star considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Foreman, now 28-0 with eight knockouts in 28 pro fights, began studying to become a rabbi three years ago. He gave up the edge in experience to the 34-year-old Santos (32-4-1) but pressured the WBA champion most of the fight to pile up an edge on the scorecards.
The victory made Foreman the first Israeli to win a world title since Johar Abu-Lashin claimed the IBC Welterweight belt in 1998, although the IBC is a far less prestigious body than the WBA.
“I am very, very proud to do this for Israel and Brooklyn and to show that Jews can fight,” Foreman told Reuters.
After the judges’ decisions were announced Foreman fell to the floor, clearly overtaken by the significance of the occasion, before striding into the center of the ring to claim his belt. He then posed for photos in front of an Israeli flag.
Santos, from Puerto Rico, was defending the title for only the second time after winning it two years ago. He hadn’t fought in 16 months, and the inactivity showed as he fought only in spurts. Santos attempted to come out all guns blazing in the final round, knowing he would need a knockout to win the fight. But he was clearly too tired from 33 minutes of slugging, and Foreman skillfully avoided his opponent’s attacks.
With a championship belt and perfect record, Foreman is aware that several super welterweight contenders will be knocking on his door to schedule a match.
“We’ll see,” the Las Vegas Sun quoted him as saying. “Everybody’s probably going to call me out now, but one thing is that I’m happy today. I’m a world champion, and I’ve proven that you can do things that look very contradicting to one another. I think it’s a good message.”
Jewish boxing returns to the fore in three weeks when another New York–based Orthodox fighter, Dmitriy Salita, takes on Britain’s Amir Khan for the WBA light-welterweight crown in Newcastle, England. Like Foreman, Salita is an immigrant from the Soviet Union who has become religious since moving to the United States.
Jeremy Last of the Jerusalem Post and the Associated Press contributed to this report.