Boxing champ KO’d by message of Black Hebrews
Dimona, Israel–– World middleweight boxing champion Keith Holmes loves the mountains, the truth and “Abba.”
Abba is the name of the Black Hebrews of the Negev town of Dimona give to Ben-Ammi Ben-Israel, the Chicago native who led them out of American urban “captivity” and int the Holy Land 30 years ago.
Holmes, 30 who won the world middleweight title in 1996, lost it in 1998 to Hassan Sharifi in France and regained it in April, first head about the Black Hebrews five years ago from his father-in-law. Members of the Chicago- based sect believe they are descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel.
Holmes is now a staunch believer in Ben-Ammi’s message of hope and delivrance through Jah, which is how the Black Hebrews refer to Hebrew God they believe has led them to redemption in Israel.
With an impressive boxing record, including 22 knockouts, Homes was in Dimona recently as a guest of the Black Hebrews enjoying the festivities celebrating the group’s 30th anniversary here.
Homes lives in Bowie, md.., a suburb of Washington D.C. He has a wife and two children with a third on the way. He hopes to one day bring his family to Dimona so they too can share in the peaceful, vegan lifestyle Ben Ammi has created in what he and his 2000 odd followers call “The Kingdom.”
Raised a Christian, Holmes says the clarity and sureness of purpose within Ben-Ammi’s tight-knit community is what drew him to the Black Hebrews.
“I love the truth,” he explains. “The truth will set you free, in the name of Jah. VErything has an answer, here in the kingdom. They explain everything so clearly, with the knowledge given to them by Jah.”
Holmes, sporting the multicolored middleweight-champ’s belt, with its signature gold-colored buckle, is sitting in a colorful tent in the community festival grounds. He is flanked by his father-in-law, Sahvaliel Malik, and Prince Immanuel Ben-Yehuda, the community’s Washington congressional liaison.
He lists the places he’s already visited ¬¬¬––– Jerusalem, the Galilee, the Jordan Rive, the Mount of Transfiguration, the Mount of Olives. He’s looking forward to his first visit to “the sea of Life,” Ben-Ammin’s name for the Dead Sea.
In his first week here, Holmes was entranced by the beauty of the mountains, in particular.
“The mountains evoke our forefathers,” he intones.
But mainly he was overwhelmed by the chance to walk through holy places mentioned in the Bible.
“This is not book by Steven Spielberg,” says Holmes, who went pro in 1988 and is known as the “Conquering Lion.”
Holmes insists that the Black Hebrews’ vegan diest, which prohibits all meat and dairy products, has improved not only his health, but his boxing performance.
“I’, lighter, I’m not full of mucus from dairy products, and I breathe a lot easier,” he says. He also takes “ a lot of vitamins.”
As a middleweight, Holmes must weigh in at 160 pounds before each fight. He notes that boxers diet strenuously before each fight to make their weight class.
“They dehydrate, it makes them weak,” he says. “It dehydrates their brains.”
He said his diet removes the need for any crash dieting before fights, leaving him strong and possessed of all his wits in the ring.
“I’m watched over by Jah and my brothers and sisters” in the community, he says. “They care. No one in my 22 years of boxing has cared about me that much.”
Isn’t the violence of a boxing career at odds with the Black Hebrews’ message of brotherly love and vegetarianism?
Holmes smiled broadly –– he’s heard the question before.
Boxing, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily aggressive, he insists.
“I’m not out to hurt the other guy,” he explains noting that he’s never sent an opponent to the hospital after a fight, and as far as he knows, they’re all still alive.
I’m out to win. If I knock a guy down on one knew, I step away from him. After a fight, you hug each other, you almost “kiss and make up.’ It’s a sport, a sport I’ve been blessed by Jah to [be good at].”
Even more than that, Holmes sees himself as being a positive role model for young black kids in particular, as a fighter who loves God and has adopted a spiritually elevated lifestyle.
“I’m different and I want to show that I’m different,” he says. “ I want people to protect myself like him, inside and outside the ring.’ I praise Jah to the fullest, before during and after’ every fight.
That’s probably why the Black Hebrews have been so eager to embrace Holmes and show him off to the press.
“It’s good to be able to present another image of this sport,” says Prince Immanuel. “It would be good for Israel to re-image the sport, too.”
Holmes would like to establish a training camp within the Black Hebrews’ compound to prepare for future fights.
“And he’s itching for a match with an Israeli middleweight boxer, if any are prepared to take up his challenge.
“Twenty-two of my opponents have not lasted in the ring,” he says. “The vegetarian diet helps”