Seeing as how Chanukkah, or Hanukkah depending on how you like to spell it, is already more than half-over, I decided its time to celebrate some fighters who are also celebrating this eight-day long holiday. If only I was as musical as Adam Sandler, then I would write a song about it… maybe it’s a good thing I am not.
MMA is a relatively new sport so there are not too many well-known Jewish fighters yet, but historically speaking there are plenty of boxing champions that go as far back as the 1700’s. Daniel Mendoza was, despite his Spanish sounding name, the first Jewish boxing champ and England’s sixteenth Heavyweight Champion from 1792 to 1795, where he developed a more scientific style of fighting that really innovated counter-striking. During the early 19th century, Samuel Elias, also known as “Dutch Sam”, was credited with developing the uppercut (which in his day was called an undercut) and ruled the ring for some time since no fighters knew how to defend the strike, let alone scout it. There are plenty more throughout boxing history and plenty still fighting today, so let’s stop talking about the past and start talking about the present with eight Jewish fighters from boxing and MMA! Oh, and Kenny Florian is not on this list – he is not Jewish, he just looks like Ben Stiller.
1. Ido Pariente
With a background in traditional Karate, Israel native Ido moved on to Krav Maga training and found himself making his MMA debut in 2000 at an Extreme Challenge show. Pariente was a lightweight participant on Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter: Team Nogueira vs. Team Mir but was eliminated by Efrain Escudero, The Ultimate Fighter lightweight winner of the season. With a record of 9-5, Pariente most recently holds a win over Joshua Hewlett at Israel FC: Genesis, which is the first major pro-MMA event in Israel.
Hit the jump for more Jewish fighters!
2. Enoch Wilson
With an MMA record of 15 – 7 – 1, “The Animal” has been competing as a pro in MMA since 2003. Based in Oregon, this member of Team Quest has fought all over the west coast and is definitely one of the most exciting fighters on this list (not to say anyone here is not). Wilson is a fighter that is all over the place in terms of his skills, but the ground is where this man dominates, with multiple first-round submissions over his opposition. He is the reigning Sport Fight Featherweight Champion, with three successful title defenses thus far and with his abilities, many more wins on the horizon.
3. Rory Singer
Most known for his appearance on season three of The Ultimate Fighter, Rory Singer wrestled in high school, and is a former local Golden Gloves and Muay Thai champion, and also a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He is the co-owner of The HardCore Gym along with his brother and BJJ Black Belt Adam Singer. The HardCore Gym, located in Georgia, has produced such fighters as Forrest Griffin and Brian Bowles. Singer’s MMA career, which currently stands at 11 wins and 9 losses, includes fighting for several local organizations as well as the AFC, KOTC, PRIDE and the UFC.
4. Yuri Foreman
Born in Belarus and currently training in New York at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, Yuri Foreman is a former World Boxing Association (WBA) super welterweight champion and NABF Light Middleweight champion. With a record 28-1-1, 20 wins by knockouts, Foreman the first Orthodox Jew to own a world title since Barney Ross held championships in two divisions in 1935. Foreman, who wears a Star of David on his boxing trunks, is also an aspiring rabbi. “Boxing is sometimes spiritual in its own way,” he said in an interview with The NY Daily News. “You have the physical and mental challenges in boxing, just like you have lots of challenges in exploring the different levels of Judaism. They are different but the same.” Foreman’s last fight was a loss to Miguel Cotto in June, which was followed by a knee surgery that has currently put him out of action from competition, but it should not be too long before Foreman is back in the squared circle.
5. Moti Horenstein
Moti is probably one of the most-well known Jewish fighters with one of the worst records in the octagon. Numbers do not tell the entire story though, as his 1-6 record includes losses from Oleg Taktarov, Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman and Bob Schrijber. The one win is a victory over Pat Smith, whose kickboxing credentials I will go into on another day.
Horenstein was one of the pioneers in the early days of UFC, and today he frequently serves as a consultant and instructor to the US Military and police forces around the country. Moti recently appeared in the season two finale of “Deadliest Warrior”, entitled “Navy SEAL vs. Israeli Commando”, as one of the “experts” on the Commando, despite never being a Commando himself.
6. Dmitriy Salita
Salita is a Ukrainian-born American boxer from Brooklyn, New York in the welterweight division. He currently holds a record of 30-1-1, with 16 knockouts. Salita was five years old when he saw his first boxing match according to an interview he did with Jpost, “It was Mike Tyson, and I remember dancing around my room that night imitating the moves.” It also helped that he was bullied in school for not speaking English, which led him to practice Karate and boxing. Salita represented New York in the Junior Olympics and won a bronze medal, and also won the NY Golden Gloves in 2001 at 139 lbs. He strictly follows Jewish law — if he has a fight on a Saturday, it must begin after sundown, the end of the sabbath.
7. Ben Stark
Ben Stark was most recently on season 11 of TUF, losing to Jamie Yager in the preliminary matches. Before that, this American Top Team fighter competed in Chuck Norris’ WCL kicboxing organization and also used to post with me on an online forum that I think neither of us frequent anymore (but I could be wrong). Born and raised a practitioner of the Orthodox Jewish religion until the age of 6, Stark began training with ATT in Florida as a sophomore in college. According to the UFC website, when not at the gym, he finds time to breed snakes.
8. Barney Ross
(Please forgive me as this was the best vid I found and it is only in Korean, but the footage is the best online)
Barney Ross was a world champion boxer in three weight divisions and decorated veteran of World War II. He held the lightweight, junior welterweight and welterweight titles at different points in his career and amassed a 72-4-3 record. Ross defeated great Hall of Fame champions like Jimmy McLarnin and Tony Canzoneri in epic battles that drew crowds of more than 50,000. In his last fight, Ross defended his title on May 31, 1938 against fellow three division world champion Henry Armstrong, who beat him by a decision in 15. Although Armstrong pounded on Ross for fifteen rounds while his trainers implored him to let them throw in the towel, Ross absorbed the abuse and refused to stop or go down. Barney Ross was never knocked out in his career and was determined to leave the ring on his feet.
At a time–the late 1920s and ’30s–when rising Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was using propaganda to spread antisemitism, Ross was seen by American Jews as one of their greatest advocates. He represented the concept of Jews finally fighting back. Idolized and respected by all Americans, Ross showed that Jews could thrive in their new country. He made his stand against Hitler and Nazi Germany a public one. He knew that by winning boxing matches he was displaying a new kind of strength for Jews.
As I said at the start of this article, MMA is still a budding sport and there are not too many prominent Jewish MMA fighters yet, but the keyword is “yet”. The moral of this post is Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Atheist, or whatever, be proud of who you are and remember that you are not alone in the world. While you fight for your beliefs, chances are someone else is too.