Dmitriy was born in 1982 in Odessa, Ukraine. His family moved to Brooklyn in 1991 to escape various forms of discrimination against Jews, and provide Dmitriy and his brother Michael with a better future. But the early experiences were not easy. Dmitriy explains in the film, "In the beginning my family struggled, we were on welfare and food stamps. Kids made fun of me. I wore bad clothes. I got into a lot of fights, a lot of arguments, and then at the age of 13 my brother and I started to discuss the idea of boxing."
The Starrett City Boxing Gym, located in the rough neighborhood of East New York, provided a sanctuary for Dmitriy to work out his frustrations as an immigrant, but most importantly, gave him a first community. "I wanted to break out of that level of poverty that we were at, and that social level that we were at, so I could relate to all of the fighters in the gym, and the boxers who made it, and came from other struggling backgrounds. The gym gave me a good sense of being."
As he began to excel in the sport, his mother Lyudmilla became sick with cancer, eventually succumbing to the disease after a long battle. Boxing again provided an outlet for him to deal with his emotions. "It helped me lock out the pain and give me a purpose. I knew that I was winning and I knew it was something that I had, that kept me feeling good."
Like most Russian Jews, Dmitriy and his family were non-practicing, but, he says, "The anxiety of entering the ring helped me develop a personal spiritual relationship." While his mother was being treated at Sloan-Kettering Hospital, she shared a room with an Orthodox Jewish woman. Dmitriy shared his interest in Judaism with the woman's husband, and he directed Dmitriy to the local Chabad Synagogue. Chabad is a branch of Orthodox Judaism dedicated to outreach to secular Jews, especially to Brooklyn's Russian community. It is through the Chabad of Flatbush, and Rabbi Zalman Liberov, that Dmitriy began to observe Orthodox Judaism.
While becoming Sabbath observant and keeping kosher, Dmitriy won the New York City Golden Gloves and the US Under-19 Amateur National Championship at 139-lbs. In winning the national championship, the tournament made concessions for his religious observance by moving his final fight from Friday night to after sundown on Saturday night. Rather than face future scheduling conflicts at amateur tournaments, Dmitriy turned professional and signed a three year contract with Bob Arum, a Jewish promoter, that stipulated he would never have to fight on the Sabbath or any other Jewish holiday, a first among professional athletes.
Jimmy O' Pharrow
Trainer and Director, Starrett City Boxing Club
At 82, Jimmy is one of New York's legendary gym managers and boxing trainers. He opened the Starrett City Boxing Club in the Spring Creek Housing Community in East New York in 1978. For the last 30 years the gym has produced dozens of Golden Glove Champions, and some of the biggest names in professional and amateur boxing: Shannon Briggs, Monte Barrett, Louis Collazzo, Curtis Stevens, Joe Greene and Danny Jacobs.
But of the thousands of young men and women who have come through the gym, Jimmy's relationship with Dmitriy has been one of the closest and most unique. When Dmitriy's mother was dying of cancer, she asked Jimmy to look after her son for her. Despite Jimmy's age, and the addition of new head trainers, Jimmy still looks after Dmitriy, works the corner at his fights, and continues to run the Starrett City gym.
Dmitriy's manager and advisor
The youngest of 11 children from a Chabad Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish family, and the brother of Rabbi Zalman Liberov, Israel grew up in London without a television. With his Bar Mitzvah gift money, Israel purchased a Sony Walkman and began listening to fights broadcast on BBC Radio. He watched his first televised fight at age 14, a re-broadcast of Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns, in a London electronics store. From that point on Israel was hooked, and while studying at Yeshiva, would sneak out of dorms to watch big fights at friends' houses.
Israel met Dmitriy six months after Dmitriy began coming to his brother's synagogue. Israel says in the film, "Dmitriy was shocked at how much I blabbered on about boxing and couldn't believe I was Zalman's brother--like I was in disguise, with a clip on beard." Because of his knowledge and passion for both boxing and Judaism, he calls their relationship "divine providence."
Promoter, Top Rank, Inc.
For the last four decades Bob Arum has promoted the world's biggest and best fighters from Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to Sugar Ray Leonard, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. After winning the NYC Golden Gloves and the Under-19 Amateur National Championship, Dmitriy signed his first professional contract with Arum and his Las-Vegas based company Top Rank.
Promoter, DiBella Entertainment
After running HBO Boxing for 10 years, Lou DiBella has become one of New York City's top boxing promoters. While promoting world champion Jermain Taylor, he is also steering the career of many of New York's top young boxers such as Dmitriy, Paulie Malignaggi and Curtis Stevens, through his popular boxing series Broadway Boxing. After Dmitriy's contract with Bob Arum expired, he signed with DiBella in order to fight in New York and grow his fan base.
Based out of the Red Brick Gym in Newark, New Jersey, Oscar is one of the best young trainers in boxing. He trains dozens of professionals including former world champions Acelino Freitas and Prince Nasseem Hamed.
Working out of the world famous Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, Hector has worked with former world champions Iran Barkley, Buddy McGirt, Arturo Gatti and Junior Jones, and recently trained Hillary Swank for her Oscar-winning role in Clint Eastwood's boxing film MILLION DOLLAR BABY.
Rabbi Zalman Liberov
Chabad of Flatbush