When I first picked boxing gloves, I did not know that I’d be defeating the likes of Mary Kom someday. Like most older brothers, my brother too bossed me around when we were growing up in Haryana and he suggested that I should try boxing. But when I did, it was only as a pass time. He used to indulge in boxing and I would just tag along. It was not even a major interest of mine.
No one in my family had any inclination towards sports so it had never crossed my mind either. Back in 2004, Boxing for women was not that big in terms of popularity and it was quite a niche sport. But my brother had an inclination that it might be the right step for me and he encouraged me to go ahead with it seriously.
I was already fifteen years old at this point and my life did not revolve around boxing. I devoted not more than 2 hours a day, after school. But after a year of playing around with the idea, I figured that I was not half bad at it. Once I started playing in bigger tournaments in the district levels and started winning, my coaches felt that I was probably meant for bigger things.
I used to participate in amateur boxing but I recently decided to turn pro. In 2017, there were no big tournaments. So the IBC district commissioner suggested that this would be a good time to turn pro and prepare for the following year’s tournaments.
Even I thought that it would be a good opportunity to get a feel of pro-level boxing and get a boost for my confidence before 2018 came up, which is naturally packed with major tournaments.
I believe I made a good decision, in terms of timing, since having that window of not participating in too many big tournaments, I had the option of mulling it over carefully and deciding for myself if I was ready to start pro-boxing.
But as luck would have it, I could play only one match last year and honestly, going back to amateur would have been a decent decision too. But the whole point of turning pro was to prepare harder for Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. So it just makes more sense to remain professional for now.
“Right now, I believe I have proved myself the right amount to have some faith in myself.”
For instance, way back in 2009, it was big news when I defeated Mary Kom. But when you defeat a great champion once, especially as a youngster, it does not mean much to people in hindsight.
All sports have upsets, and I didn’t want my precious win over Mary Kom to simply be treated as a fluke upset. I was only 19 years old and I definitely did not have winning notions in mind. It was only my second national level tournament and all I wanted was to have a good time. I went into the bout with a blank mind, except my coach’s words playing in my head, ‘just give it your all, don’t even think of the result.’
That win against a towering figure like Mary’s was, what I consider to be the turning point of my career in boxing and it was a surreal experience to hear people say,
“That’s Pinki Jangra. She beat Mary Kom”
Despite having a few really great wins, I failed to do enough to get a chance to play in major international tournaments. Something was amiss in my game. Then again, as fate would have it, I found myself facing Mary Kom once again in the semifinal of my Commonwealth trials.
To me, this was had a special degree of meaning. I knew this was my chance to prove to the world that I really was a force to reckon and beating Mary all those years ago was not some coincidence. Thankfully, my hard work paid off and a second time win ensured me of the confidence and determination that I was probably lacking.
It also probably helped that before facing Mary, my opponent was Sonia Lather. So I had the feeling that my hard work was projected in the right direction. Beating Sonia, a national champion and then also getting the better of Mary Kom a second time, who by then was an Olympic medallist as well as 5-time world champion, it was unfathomably mesmerizing for me. It also felt great to win the confidence of the coaches and I was awarded a match.
But I can’t go into 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth with 2014 notions in my head. Last time, the situation was very different. Women’s boxing was introduced for the first time and we were merely testing waters. Sure, there were big names but it wasn’t the most competitive platform that we had ever seen.
Now the women have had a while to prepare and will come out stronger to face new challenges. For instance, the African nations weren’t a worry last time but this year they will be a huge challenge to encounter.
But I am confident enough to say that if the competition is fiercer, so has been my training and preparations and I am not any less prepared than I ought to be. I have been analysing players, using my experience and exposure of the past four years to make use of my second opportunity at the Commonwealth Games.
In the future, I can see Haryana becoming for boxing, what it has already become for Wrestling. Look at our Haryanvi girls, taking over the world. There is Sakshi, there are the Phogat sisters. It is amazing to see how the women of Haryana and reaching the pinnacle of success, across the world while here in India, Haryana and women are rarely uttered in a sentence that doesn’t end in a negative way.
I am not suggesting that I faced no difficulty, simply by virtue of my gender but I had supportive parents who didn’t stand in way of my career. Instead they boxed their way through petty relatives who probably lose their sleep at night thinking Pinki is 27 years old and has still not married.
We Haryanvi girls are born to overcome struggles and we also have huge support from our government in terms of incentives. When we hold national camps of maybe 50 boxers, Haryana makes for almost 50 per cent of it.
Haryana has already seen the likes of Sonia Lather, Pooja Rani have shown the way that we can reach international tournaments and I can see in the future that boxing will be as big and strong in Haryana as is wrestling.
Obviously, every athlete’s dream is Olympics but I want to take it one bout at a time. I can’t ignore the stepping stones before I reach my final destination. I promise to every Indian that I will give more than my hundred percent effort to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Coming from Hisar, I want all girls, especially those who don’t have the luxury of a big city life, to believe in themselves and it doesn’t matter where you come from. Talent has its own way of finding its way out if it is acknowledged and given the hard work that it deserves. If you want to fight, there is no force, strong enough to stop you.