Former welterweight boxer Dmitriy Salita has paid tribute to legendary boxer Muhammad Ali, calling him “probably the most influential sports figure of all time.”

The Ukrainian-born 34-year-old, who challenged Amir Khan for the WBA light welterweight title in 2009, has now turned his attention to promoting, and told jewishnews.co.uk: “I never had the honour of meeting Ali, but he has had a great impact on my life as a boxer growing up in Starret City boxing club.

SALITA

Salita, right, labelled Ali as one “probably the most influential sports figure of all time.”

“As a fighter and an athlete, he transcended sports and is probably the most influential sports figure of all time. He stood up very proudly and powerfully for what he believed in. People from all over the world looked up to him not only as a great fighter but as a leader. I remember when I was a young boy in Odessa, my father use to tell me about Ali’s great fights, his fight for equality refusal to go to Vietnam and his heroism and incredible power. It just made him like a super hero in my eyes. Years later when I came to Brooklyn, NY, my mentor Jimmy O used lots of Ali’s films and stories to teach me boxing and the know how to use sports and boxing particularly as a means of progressing and highlighting important issues.

“When I stopped boxing on Shabbos towards the end of my amateur career and certainly when I turned pro there were lots of challenges. Being the only observant Jewish boxer at that time was a new concept that some supported and many scoffed at. The stories and motivation of a great fighter and figure like Ali gave me motivation and encouragement to believe in myself and do what I felt was the right thing even when faced with lots of challenges. His lessons, fight for equality and incredible heroism in and out the ring make Ali truly the Greatest!”