Guwahati: If it was Dingko Singh who left a huge impression by winning gold in 1998 Bangkok Asian Games – pugilists Mary Kom, Shiva Thapa, and others gave a separate identity to the boxing in northeast India. Mary herself being a living legend many a time has recalled how desperately she wanted to be a boxer after seeing Dingko achieve the feat.
Now, meet the new generation of boxers who have given hope to the country to bring more medals at the international platforms, inspired by Mary herself. Starting from the 16-year-old Amisha Kumar Bharti to 81 kg Bhagyabati Kachari, all of them are determined to excel.
“I am hopeful of doing well in Olympics”
For 21-year old Lovlina Borgohain from Assam who came into boxing by accident, it’s the increased competition among them which enhanced the performance.
“We get inspired by the boxers like Mary di (Kom). And when you play alongside these names, the level of competition just goes up. It’s great to see more players coming out from this region in boxing though Haryana still continues to dominate. I think even at our level in this region, the competition has gone up which is a good sign,” Lovlina who has won Gold in the 3rd Elite Women’s National Boxing Championships which concluded at Vijayanagara last month told The Bridge.
She also won bronze medals at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships held in New Delhi in November and at the Silesian Women’s Boxing Championships in September in Poland last year respectively.
Lovlina who plays in the 69 weight category said that now her only dream is to win a medal in the Olympics.
“I’m quite hopeful of doing well in the Olympics. I’m lucky to have my weight category included in the Olympics. Though there are stronger Kazakhstan and China, I’m confident of doing well. I’m working hard for it,” said Lovlina.
Lovlina was into martial arts but she was selected for boxing during a trial in her school Barpathar Girls High School in Assam’s Golaghat district and she went on to win gold in her maiden Championship in 2012.
“I like the way how Vijender plays”
Another young pugilist Amisha Kumar Bharti from Assam’s Tinsukia district is amongst the upcoming prospects in women’s boxing. Starting her journey from the local academy in her district in Tinsukia, the 16-year-old has always aspired to climb the ladder of success.
Amisha even at this young age, braving all the odds in her life including losing her father last year due to illness, made a promising start at her international debut winning a silver in the 13th Silesian Boxing Championship in Poland in her maiden outing for India.
“I want to do well. It feels good but I want to do even better,” a soft-spoken Amisha told The Bridge from Golaghat Sports Authority of India (SAI).
Amisha who looks up to Olympic medalist boxer Vijender Singh, as her idol said, that it was her mother who brought her to a boxing academy in Tinsukia, a town in the easternmost part of Assam.
“I just like the way he (Vijender) plays. I also admire Mary Kom and Shiva Thapa. When I met Mary Kom, she told me not to lose confidence even lose matches and asked me to carry on,” Amisha added.
Amisha made her mark winning the district championship in 2013. Making her way through the immensely talented pool of Indian boxers, she won the silver in the State championship in 2014 and in 2016 she won her first national medal in the form of a silver medal.
“Mary Kom calmed me down”
Tingmila Doungel, yet another discovery of Khelo India campaign from Manipur, is one of the brightest prospects. It was Mary Kom’s biopic which changed her way of life. She won silver in the 2nd Khelo India Youth Games this year.
Coming from a background with no money, no food, no shoes and parent’s lack of interest in sports are only the beginning of the many obstacles that dragged Tingmila miles away from pursuing a life of an athlete. It all though changed as she saw the biopic on the Olympic medalist; she turned the tide despite all the challenges and hardships as she decided to go ahead and fulfil her dream of becoming a boxer.
While she took up boxing, it was a matter of time when the scouts from Mary Kom academy spotted her and took her under their wraps. Since then Tingmila dreams about only one thing, ‘to play for India and win medals’.
Tingmila whose father is a farmer never wanted his daughter to go for boxing but the little girl was unstoppable and she landed at the academy started by Mary Kom herself.
“During summer vacation, I told my father about my wish but he was reluctant to allow me to do so. But I insisted and finally I could do what I love doing,” Tingmila told The Bridge.
Now, she says, the scenario has changed and her father asks her to work hard on the game.
She finished with gold in the same lightweight category as her idol, at the 13th Silesian Boxing Championship in Poland. Though, Tingmila had already established her credentials prior to that too, when she had won a silver medal at both National Inter-School competition and Khelo India Games.
While talking about Mary Kom’s contribution to her growth, she says, “I had nothing to start with but I got everything at the academy. There were times when I didn’t even have money to go for the tournaments but Mary ma’am looked after all of it. I come from a poor family and I want to do well in boxing so that parents don’t have to struggle anymore and I can take care of them”.
While in Poland, the teenage boxer had the opportunity to fight her final bought while her idol, the boxing legend watched and guided her from the sidelines. Reminiscing her experiences, she said, “It was dream come true to play in front of her. I was very nervous in the beginning but she calmed me down and guided me home,” while Mary’s pupil won the yellow metal with ease just like her guru, who also won Gold in Poland.
“North East can be the powerhouse of boxing”
Another Manipur pugilist Mohammed Etash Khan also had a blasting start to the world of boxing. The 19-year-old southpaw has already marked his arrival with beating some of the big names of the fraternity.
Khan too comes from a poor background and he too bravely faced all his odds to emerge as a champion. His elder brother Ibrahim who also used to be a boxer and this is one of the reasons why he took up boxing.
“I had a very difficult childhood. We are poor and my father is a farmer. So, there are not many facilities for sports. I had to travel to Imphal training centre at 4 am every day. But I always wanted to be a boxer watching my elder brother,” Khan told The Bridge.
Khan also went to Mary Kom Academy to polish his skills in 2014.
Following such impeccable display, Khan earned his WSB debut in the home side’s maiden outing at the event earlier in the year. His aggression came to the fore as the whole world witnessed a lethal Etash cut his opponent from Kazakhstan’s Astana Arlans with his vicious punches on his temple as blood came oozing out of his face.
Now, Khan aims World Championship and doing better than before. “I believe that northeast can be the powerhouse of boxing. There are more young boxers are coming up,” Khan told this correspondent from Army Sports Academy in Pune.
For Bhagyabati Kachari who fights in the 81 kg category, the region is going to be the next big thing in boxing. Bhagyabati who silver Elite Women’s National Boxing Championship said that she is going to give her best.
“Boxing gives you a challenge and I love to accept it. In every tournament, I set a target,” Bhagyabati who won gold at the 32nd Ahmet Comert Boxing Tournament in Turkey told The Bridge. She won silver at the 3rd Elite Women’s National Boxing Championship in January this year.
Hopes from all quarters
Boxing Federation of India (BFI) President, Ajay Singh had high words for the pugilists from the region.
“North East has been the cradle for Indian boxing for years and we have seen some very talented players coming up the rank from here. I firmly believe if they can work hard and maintain their focus; big achievements won’t be an impossible target.”
“We recently had young (Nutlai) Lalbiakkima defeating the Olympic Champion, Hasanboy Dusmatov- these are indications that Indian boxers are in the right path and North East is a crucial cog. We have been focusing on grassroots development in the region, which is why we are also working to get a satellite AIBA academy in North East for further growth of the sport in the region,” said Singh.
Hemanta Kalita, general secretary of Assam Amateur Boxing Association (AABA) said that Assam itself has at least 10 to 15 boxers who can really make their marks at the international level.
“We are having the best phase of boxing. New talents are coming and proving themselves from different nook and corners of the state. In the last several years, boxers from the state have won medals at different international championships both at the senior and junior levels. So, I’m extremely hopeful of the future,” Kalita told The Bridge.
Senior sports commentator Prarthana Hazarika says that players like Dingko Singh and Vijender Singh after winning medals at the Asian Games and at the Olympics have brought a huge change in the game in India.
“But for the North East, it was Dingko Singh who opened the door for many. It’s very significant as players like magnificent Mary Kom and others came out and changed the way it was. And after that, there has been no looking back. We have seen a lot of young boxers have come out from the region after that. When we talk about male boxing, players like Suranjoy Singh who is known as ‘Chota Tyson’ and 22-year-old Nutlai Lalbiakkima from Mizoram have proved themselves. When we talk about Indian boxing, these boxers from the region play a major role,” concluded Prarthana.