SOME HAVE described boxing as a path to spiritual awakening, but that generally applies only to baptisms by fire in the ring.

Anthony "The Messenger" Thompson, the junior middleweight contender from Southwest Philadelphia, aspires to a higher calling that has been at times in direct conflict with his profession.

"To me, this is no small matter. I'm taking it very much to heart," Thompson (23-1, 17 KOs), a member of the Hebrew Israelites sect, said of his first trip to Jerusalem, where for a week he will continue to train in preparation for his June 9 pay-per-view bout with Yuri Foreman (22-0, 8 KOs) in Madison Square Garden.

The scheduled 10-rounder leads off the four-fight PPV portion of a Top Rank-promoted card whose main event is the matchup of WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto (29-0, 24 KOs) and former undisputed welterweight champ Zab Judah (34-4, 25 KOs).

Thompson and his older brother, Tyonn, left Sunday for the Holy Land with several other members of their traveling party. While in Jerusalem, they will be the guests of Ben Ammi Ben-Israel, leader of the 900-member Kingdom of Yah, known in Israel as the Black Hebrews, which has had a presence there since 1969. Among the American celebrities who have met with Ben Ammi Ben-Israel are Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston and Stevie Wonder.

In addition to continuing his preparations for perhaps the most important bout of his career, Thompson, who is ranked No. 7 by the WBA and No. 11 by the IBF, will visit the Red Sea and stand in the waters of the Jordan River.

"My brother thought it would be good for me to go to Israel," Thompson, 25, said the day before he departed. "I'm finally getting a chance to go to the place I've read about for so many years."

Thompson's beliefs hold that he must observe the Sabbath and thus can't fight from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. That made it more difficult for Top Rank's Bob Arum to procure for him the television dates that would have spurred his early career development. Only recently, and with the consent of his religious advisers, did he grudgingly agree to make exceptions as needed to what he had considered a hard-and-fast rule.

Ahead of his time

Mixed martial arts is increasingly popular these days, which means that Augie Pantellas, who will be inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday, was way ahead of his time.

Mixed martial arts is increasingly popular these days, which means that , who will be inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday, was way ahead of his time.

A standout wrestler as a sophomore at Upper Darby High, Pantellas took up boxing only because he was a dropout, between jobs and, he admits, "without much of a future."

Under the tutelage of trainer Marty Feldman, however, Pantellas, now 63, became a formidable featherweight who posted a 28-6 record, with 20 knockout victories, from 1967 to '79.

Inducted into Delaware County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1994, Pantellas is still a recognizable figure, having operated a hotdog stand outside the Delaware County Courthouse in Media for 22 years.

"Boxing never interested me," Pantellas said of his teen years. "After I was out of school, a friend of mine kept telling me I should give it a try and finally I said, 'What the heck.' "

Pantellas' strength stemmed from his wrestling background.

"When Augie popped a guy," Feldman notes, "he went down and stayed down."

Pantellas is one of seven members of the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame's class of 2007.

Other living inductees include Bennie Briscoe, "Rockin' "

Rodney Moore, Dick Turner and Jimmy Sykes. Danny Dougherty and Len Matthews will be inducted posthumously.

The awards dinner will be at Romano's Catering, Castor and Wingohocking, from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $50. For more information, call John Gallagher at 215-465-1778.

Glove story

Asked to name a Russian love story, most Americans probably would come up with Boris Pasternak's "Doctor Zhivago," which was adapted into a popular 1965 movie that won five Academy Awards.

Asked to name a Russian love story, most Americans probably would come up with "Doctor Zhivago," which was adapted into a popular 1965 movie that won five Academy Awards.

The Philadelphia equivalent has middleweight Aslanbek Kodzoev (17-2-1, 12 KOs) filling in for Yuri Zhivago. Kodzoev fought eight times in the U.S. for promoter J Russell Peltz, including three bouts here, but he fled his apartment in South Philly and returned to Moscow, heartbroken, when his "Lara" - a Russian girl in this country on a student visa - dropped out of college in Florida and was sent home.

Kodzoev fights for the first time since Jan. 27, 2006, when he takes on an opponent to be named Saturday night in Moscow.

Peltz would welcome Kodzoev back, but, he said, "he won't come without her," which means he'll probably stay put.

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