By Robert Coster
Last November 14th, Yuri Foreman made history by winning the WBA junior middleweight title over favored, experienced titleholder Daniel Santos. Indeed, Foreman became the first Israeli(and first Jewish boxer in twenty years) to become a pro boxing champion. Also unique the fact that Yuri is to be ordained in the coming year as a rabbi. A compelling story for boxing and a reward for a young man, born in Belarus, raised in Israel and residing in Brooklyn; one who pursued a dream that seemed very improbable when he first landed in New York, speaking no English and coming from a country where professional boxing is almost in-existent. The congenial Yuri Foreman shares his thoughts with Fightnews about his path to the top.
Yuri, you surprised the boxing world by out-punching and out-powering favored Daniel Santos. Did you actually surprise yourself? Can you tell us about the fight?
Actually, I felt confident coming into that fight because my trainer and I had this plan to confuse Santos, make him miss- and make him pay whenever he missed. I was in great shape and everything worked out. If there was a surprise, it is how well things turned out. I believe I fought the best fight of my life and I could feel my confidence growing as the fight went on. Scoring a second knockdown in the last round was the icing on the cake.
You have made history by being the first Champion hailing from Israel. How does this feat make you feel? What has been the reaction there?
I’ll tell you what, it is still sinking in. I’m still pinching myself (laughs). Yeah, I’m proud of making Israel proud, so to speak. The reaction there has been great and it makes me happy considering that boxing is not very popular in Israel. Maybe, I can inspire young people there to get into boxing.
You once mentioned how sports transcends politics. You had no boxing clubs in Haifa, Israel and you had to train in a small club outside of that city and most of the young amateur boxers there are Arabs. Any friendships from those times? Did you get any calls from your old club after winning the title?
Yes, I got accepted in the club because we all loved to practice boxing. We had very little in terms of equipment. Our little club was called “Golden Gloves.” I have yet to call them but, yes, I got calls from friends from these times. And, I’ll tell you what, you really have to love boxing to get into boxing in Israel. However, that is where it all started for me.
And you left Israel to pursue a pro-boxing career? In search of the American dream?
Yes, you can say that. I really was serious about being a pro-boxer and it was impossible in Israel. But, starting out in Brooklyn where I trained, was hard in the beginning.
In what sense?
I didn’t speak English, didn’t have any friends. I had my 9-to-6 job and then to Gleason’s Gym. It was a time of loneliness and little money. But I didn’t give up.
You really believed you would be a world champion one day?
Yes, I can say that I never stopped believing in myself. I had very short moments of doubt and wondered if I was just fooling myself but then I would get right back on track. Meeting my wife was also important in my career.
In what sense?
My wife Leyla is an immigrant like me, from Hungary. Marrying added fuel to my ambition to be a champion.
Even though you were unbeaten, you have had your share of critics. There are those who put you down saying your style is boring and that you can’t punch (Foreman has 8 KOs in 28 wins).
I really don’t pay attention to those critics. I do what I have to do. I’m a thinking boxer…hit and not get hit. And, believe me, I punch hard enough to make my opponents pay attention. I know Daniel Santos felt my power and that made him wary.
No chance, however, of Yuri Foreman becoming a slugger?
Maybe just a little chance.
What is next in your career? There has been talk of a unification fight with IBF champion Cory Spinks.
I don’t know yet. I’m just enjoying the moment. I leave it up to my promoter. I will fight anybody. I just want to keep on winning and be a durable champion, not a flash in the pan.
You are a rabbinical student, the first aspiring Rabbi to be a world boxing champion. When you do become a Rabbi, what about boxing?
Don’t put me in such a tough situation. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
What did your promoter Bob Arum say to you after the fight? You are his first Jewish champion, right?
Bob Arum is not only my promoter, he is my second Rabbi! Bob just told me “mazel tov” (good luck).
Anything you really want to say to finish this interview?
I want to thank my friends and fans, those who stuck by me, those who believed in me from the beginning. They accompanied me in this journey. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.