Ritter Talks to
Boxer Yuri Foreman
Opposite Photo: Yuri Foreman
Photo Credit Adam Ritter
Photo Courtesy of
Rabbi Knows Best
It all began in the showers after swim practice.
It was there that perestroika-era Soviet bullies
inadvertently triggered the launch of Yuri Foreman's
"Older boys beat me up with bags with soap
in it," Mr. Foreman recalls, conjuring a pixellating
jelly doughnut in my mind's eye.
"I was ashamed that I got beat up," he
confesses. "I came home, I was crying."
The American response would of course be to purchase
semi-automatic weapons from the Internet and gleefully
hunt down the Kubrickian bullies, but Mr. Foreman's
family had a more sporting solution; "My mom
the next day took me to the boxing gym. My first
trainer told me, 'This ain't gonna happen again,
An unblemished professional fighting record of 25
wins (8 by KO) seems to have proven that trainer
Photo Credit Adam Ritter
Tale of the Tape
Hailing from Gomel, Belarus a republic of the former
Soviet Union, Yuri, now 27, survived the soap scrape-up
to mention nothing of the infamous disaster at nearby
Chernobyl, about which he says, "Nobody was
safe. They sent me for a month to Estonia, and they
said 'Okay the radiation is gone, come back.'"
With ever so a trace (a bissel, if you will) of
satire, he speculates, "I think it's still
Mr. Foreman is hesitant to agree with me when I
suggest that perhaps fallout from the reactor meltdown
has given him superhuman mutant boxing abilities,
similar to Doctor Bruce Banner (Though, he will
admit to being an unabashed Hellboy fan).
The Foreman family relocated to northern Israel
in 1991, settling in Haifa when Yuri was ten. "We
went there and they started a life from scratch,"
Rather than the warm embrace of fellow Jews, the
Foremans discovered an implicit condescension with
which many immigrants are intimately familiar.
"This is the problem in Israel when you immigrate,"
he explains. "Russians get a little discriminated
(against). People are mad because I was dressed
differently, I couldn't speak the language - I was
learning Hebrew but I couldn't speak it yet. All
the Russians coming were poor."
Mr. Foreman adds aphoristically, "In Russia
you are a Jew, in Israel you are Russian."
In light of the larger narrative, Yuri concludes,
"Look at the news, what's happening right now
in Israel…you cannot fight within each other.
You have to hold strongly together and fight back."
Photo Courtesy of
Undeterred by the inherent bias of being an immigrant
(and sometimes because of it), Yuri spent the next
decade sharpening his boxing skills. The tail end
of a budding amateur career brought him to Brooklyn
in 1999. By 2001 he had become a New York Golden
Gloves winner and shortly thereafter, Yuri turned
pro in the Junior Middleweight Division.
(Sidebar: One man's Junior Middleweight is another
man's Super Welterweight and yet another man's Light
Training at Gleason's Gym in DUMBO led to a different
kind of knockout than he may have anticipated; it
was there that he met Leyla Leidecker, a fellow
boxer and former fashion model from Hungary.
It goes without saying that Mr. Foreman's first
impressions were cemented less by the former than
the latter. The couple was married in 2003.
My vision of a sweatbox populated with pug-nosed
bruisers (based on numerous Rocky montages) is now
officially KO'd. "You go in to Gleason's gym,
there's so many women. It's like the new pick up
place," he assures me.
Unfortunately my doctor has advised me against dating
anyone who knocks people out for a living.
Photo Courtesy of Team Foreman
The Opening Bell
Despite his winning record, Yuri found himself financially
strapped. "I was always broke. Me and my wife
had no money, negative…hundred dollars."
A December 2003 New York Times article about Jewish
boxers quoted Yuri as saying, ''A lot of people
think professional fighters are all rich, but most
of us are all poor.''
Enter local businessmen and boxing fans Alan Cohen
and Murray Wilson, who after reading that article
decided to buy him out of his existing contract.
His former manager was surprised and took the occasion
to inform Mr. Foreman that "'…nobody
would ever pay this kind of money to buy you out
because you're not worth it.'"
Well, who hasn't heard that zinger at the end of
Of his manager's outburst, Mr. Foreman concludes,
"He got pissed and he decided to tell me the
truth…that 'you are not that good actually.'
Maybe I wasn't."
Unless that is, you're the kind of "dilettante"
who impulsively categorizes a string of victories
over the next five years "good."
With this winning record, a sly sense of humor and
demure disposition, what pray tell is his ring nom
de guerre? Mike Tyson was "Iron" (or "Kid
Dynamite" if you played Punch-Out). Evander
Holyfield was the "Real Deal". Eric Esch
snapped up "Butterbean".
And Yuri Foreman is….Yuri Foreman.
My suggestions for a nickname do not exactly turn
his lights out (James Toney); the "Belarusian
Bomber", the "Jewish Jabber", the
"Zion Lion" (Bob Marley beat me to it);
he isn't moved, and I'm probably risking my health
the more I talk.
Sadly, the "Brooklyn Brawler" and the
"Russian Nightmare" were taken by wrestlers.
We can only hope the travesty of this namelessness
will be remedied soon.
By December 2007, Yuri (then 23-0) had captured
the (tongue-twisting) North American Boxing Federation
Super Welterweight Championship. Previous NABF title
holders include Muhammad "Louisville Lip"
Ali (three times) and "Big" George Foreman
(twice), both heavyweights.
Contrary to his first manager's murky declaration
of his worth, no less than boxing icon Luigi "Lou"
Duva compared Yuri to a young "Sugar"
Ray Leonard, asserting, "He's a good boxer.
A good puncher. He's starting to really get…a
real ring generalship."
"You cannot argue with him," Mr. Foreman
responds playfully, adding "I love Lou Duva.
He's a legend."
Yuri describes his particular fighting style, saying
"I look at boxing as to hit or not to get hit,"
before sagely concluding, "I don't like to
Are there boxers who LIKE being hit? Yuri explains,
"Some people might, they have lots of heart.
For them, victory at all costs. They get punched
like crazy and they still go forward. That is the
reality. I am a more skillful fighter…I like
to move and not to get hit."
To get hit or not to get hit; that is the question.
The answer often has grim consequences. On the night
before we met, welterweight Oscar Diaz, Yuri's good
friend, stood up for the 11th round of a grueling
battle and after a wrenching yelp, he clutched his
head and dropped to the canvas. Emergency surgery
was performed to reduce swelling of the brain and
Mr. Diaz is now in a coma.
His concern for his comrade evident, Yuri says of
Oscar, "He's of Mexican heritage but he's an
American fighter. He's known for his heart. And
last night, tenth round he collapsed, and now he's
in critical condition. This morning I woke up and,
WHOA…Right now he's 50-50. He's 26 years old."
Indeed it seems there must be a looming Sword of
Damocles over every boxer's head. In the face of
such a tragedy does a fighter reconsider his day
"If I'm going to think about what happened
to other fighters, I would be afraid it's going
to be in my mind all the time," Yuri explains.
"I don't see the point to think about negative
things. Everybody's different."
Counter and Move
Speaking of different, did you hear the one about
the Rabbi, the boxer and Raquel Welch?
Wait, scratch that last part.
Rabbis and boxers don't seem like the most natural
combination, but then again neither were Jay Leno
and Pat Morita in the box office smash, Collision
Course, and look how… Well, maybe "Chris
Tucker and Jackie Chan" would be a more suitable
After a lifetime of parenthetical association, Mr.
Foreman, in the wake of his wife Leyla's conversion
and with her encouragement, embarked on a long spiritual
voyage, ardently committing to rabbinical studies.
"Living in Israel I was a secular guy. I knew
nothing about it and I didn't care. Not that I didn't
like it, or didn't like religious people, I just
didn't care. I was like please, leave me alone,
I'm not interested."
Now Mr. Foreman stalks his prey in the night, but
attends Talmudic classes by day, which can lead
to soul-searching about the very essence of life.
"Sometimes you need a break to stop it and
to reconnect with your own spiritual self. Not your
knowledge or intellect…no it's more than that.
What's your reason? What are you doing? Where are
you going? Where are you heading?"
Sometimes the pursuit of answers begets only more
questions; Such as, aren't Judaism and beating people
"By law you are not allowed to injure people.
But you have to look from a different perspective.
I'm doing it as sport, you know? I'm not looking
to injure him. I'm looking to box. It's a chess
Will he pray for his opponents?
"You're not obligated by law, but boxing is
rough. Like right now what's happening with my friend
(Oscar). Sometimes you're saying a prayer…me
and him are going out of this fight without major
What would his reality show be called?
"Rabbi Knows Best."
During a recent fight, his opponent's untamed dreadlocks
were constantly in his mouth… Was he in trouble
because it wasn't kosher?
"When you're in the fight, it bothers you,
but you have a bigger fish to fry."
(I credit Mr. Foreman for even responding to that
To what end will these studies take him?
"God-willing, I can inspire kids. It would
inspire a lot of Russian teenagers hopefully, that
actually it's a cool thing. I understand how they
would feel because I have been just like them."
The Score Card
The ultimate goal of any fighter is naturally to
become world champion (except for that ultimate
meatball Balboa, who's always trying just to go
the distance). Thus the obvious question is whether
a title shot will align on the horizon for Mr. Foreman.
In the esoteric labyrinth of pro-boxing sanctioning
bodies, a championship match can seem as elusive
as that Sonny Liston phantom punch.
"My last three fights," Yuri says, "basically
the winner gets the title (match)… Never happened.
Now they give me their word of honor."
Of course the often unappreciated
benefit of winning a world championship belt is
being able to threaten your kids with it when they
misbehave. But Yuri assures me that when he and
Leyla do have children, they won't use the belt
for that purpose.
Mr. Foreman is planning for another fight later
this year, but in the meantime, you can catch his
upcoming silver screen debut; he will appear as
a brawling Russian pugilist who must break Channing
Tatum in the aptly titled Dito Montiel movie, Fighting,
scheduled for a September 2008 release. Terrence
Of the film's fight choreography, Yuri reveals,
"Channing Tatum was basically saying, 'Don't
hit to the face hard, but body,' he said, 'just
unload.' We were going at each other. Once actually,
I hit Channing and he was bleeding."
Although I assumed that Mr. Tatum must have cried
between takes (I don't really 'Do the Dew'), Mr.
Foreman assured me otherwise; "He was the MAN
and he didn't complain. Channing Tatum is the nicest
Our time together winding to a close, one final
question remained; did Yuri ever again see those
swim bastards that Irish-Springed him in the locker
"A year later I was with a friend, going home
(from the boxing gym) and the same one of the kids
who beat me up and another guy - he was bigger -
confronted my friend, who was much smaller."
Yuri interrupted the altercation to ask his former
nemesis, "Do you remember me?"
The soap scum, his list of victims undoubtedly stout,
labored to recollect. Yuri's response; "I punched
him, then he ran away. It was funny…I did
Stop by Yuri's website, www.yuriforeman.com
for more information and fight updates. You can
also "do a google" (as John McCain would
say) to be greeted by a bounty of blogs, videos
and feature articles about the "Wrath of Gomel"…No?
A "Kosher Crusher" perhaps?