Over many decades Indian boxing has always strived to keep spectators ‘excited’ via the power-packed performances of its pugilists, especially in the Asian Games. But the seeds of India’s stock as a ‘serious boxing nation’ was sown at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Vijender Singh catapulted Indian into global prominence, bagging a coveted bronze medal in the middleweight category (75-kg) - the country’s first-ever Olympic boxing medal in a sport that made its debut in 1904.
An exciting start
Indian boxing built on Vijender’s Beijing ‘bronze party’ – a year later the Bhiwani lad lapped up India’s first-ever medal at the 2009 World Boxing Championships in Rome, winning a bronze in 75-kg category – a tournament considered as high in stature as that of the summer Olympics.
Boxing in India steadily picked up momentum following the Olympics and World Championship bronze-medal feats of Vijender – the 2010 Commonwealth Games saw Indian boxers put up their best-ever showing in the event, sewing up a rich haul of 3 gold medals via Suranjoy Singh, Manoj Kumar and Paramjeet Samota en route to a seven-medal haul.
Indian men pugilists continued their rich vein of form at the 2010 Asian Games - the likes of Olympic bronze medallist Vijender and Vikas Krishan Yadav pocketed two golds medals as the country also picked up three silver medals as well en route to a nine-medal haul. Vikas ensured Indian boxing was heard loud and clear on the world stage, as he bagged a bronze at the 2011 World Championship.
Indian women boxers weren’t far behind their male counterparts in the last decade or so – MC Mary Kom won a gold medal at the 2010 World Championship in Barbados, while heavyweight boxer Kavita Chahal pulled off back-to-back bronze medal wins at the 2010 and 2012 World Championship.
A dark period after the intital highs
Just when it appeared like the sky was the limit for Indian boxers, calamity struck the sport. The body governing the sport in 2012 – the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) was first provisionally suspended by the Sports Ministry and subsequently, de-recognised – the federation was also subsequently de-recognised by the International Boxing Federation (AIBA).
The sport took several backward steps during this period and it seemed like undoing all the highs Indian boxing had scaled after Vijender’s 2008 Beijing feat. The 2012-2014 period was a dark phase of Indian boxing – no nationals were held and boxers who came through the sub-junior and junior ranks were staring at an uncertainty.
However, it cannot be denied that the lack of a credible federation meant that the performance of our boxers, especially our men pugilists took a dip, as they were unable to deliver on expected lines at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Asian Games and 2014 Commonwealth Games. Shiva Thapa was a revelation at the 2015 World Championship, where he had won a bronze medal.
National federation or on federation, the Indian women boxers continue to dazzle during this period – MC Mary Kom landed a famous bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics as well as a medal of the same colour at the 2014 Asiad, while the duo of Sarjubala Devi and Saweety Boora pocketed silver medals at the 2014 World Championship held at South Korea. A de-recognised federation meant that Indian boxers competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics under the AIBA Flag.
Bhiduri, Panghal's rise; Mary Kom being Mary Kom
All the administrative mess was soon forgotten when Gaurav Bhiduri ensured Indian boxing was known on the world stage for the right reasons, as he won a bronze at the 2017 World Championship in Germany.
Amit Panghal literally made all of us feel that Indian boxing is in good health when he won the 2018 Asiad gold – a performance that was built on by our women pugilists who spearheaded by gold-winning MC Mary Kom, turned on the style in their own backyard, winning four medals in the 2018 World Championship in New Delhi – Mary became the first woman boxer to win 6 world crowns – a massive feat by itself.
The 2019 World Championship saw Indian women boxers match their performance of the 2018 bagging four medals save for missing the gold medal. Our men pugilists also stepped up as Amit Panghal and Manish Kaushik lapped up silver and bronze medals respectively – attaining a significant first of Indian men winning more than two medals in a single World Championship.
Indian boxing took new strides this decade: former chief national coach
Dronacharya awardee and former national chief boxing coach Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu offers his perspective on the success story of Indian boxing.
The biggest positive change in Indian boxing according to Sandhu, has been the enhanced number of foreign exposure trips. “If you take a closer look at Indian boxing, the number of exposure trips in a year used to be three or four until 2017, but BFI has ensured that our boxers are embarking on such trips on a regular basis. I recently observed that four men’s teams were travelling abroad on the same day and that sums up everything.”
The former chief boxing coach is convinced that Indian boxers can come out with their best-ever medal haul at the Olympics. “I’m not expecting a medal but medals, and when I say I mean it will be surely more than one medal from our men and women boxers – something that is very doable,” he says flashing a grin.
Clearly, the 2010-2019 period must rank as one of the best phases of Indian boxing – our boxers snapped up as many as 19 medals (men won 5 and women won 14 medals) at the World Championships as well as 16 medals (men won 11 medals and women won 5 medals) collectively at the 2010, 2014 and 2018 Asian Games besides consistently standing atop the podium in other events such as the Commonwealth Games and Asian Championships.