Boys whose fathers work in a tailor’s shop or run a taxi service, daughters of neighborhood store owners or businessmen, the story of the Indian boxing champions of tomorrow is varied and fascinating.
Most of the talent still comes from boxing powerhouse Haryana and many of the kids have overcome difficult circumstances, but change is on the horizon – budding boxers also come from financially stable backgrounds. And then there are those who got sucked into fighting and training because they had their father or brother in the sport at some level.
India recently won 39 medals, including 15 gold, at the Asian Junior and Youth Boxing Championships in Amman. Unsurprisingly, Haryana pugilists won nine of the gold medals, the most of any state.
Significantly, the spate of medals showed encouraging signs of boxing’s revival in states where the sport has a sizable following.
39/50 for India
- Out of a total of 50 medals offered, India won 39 medals.
- The combined junior boys, girls, youth boys and girls team came away with 15 gold medals.
- Haryana pugilists led the medal tally winning 9 gold, 3 silver and 5 bronze medals.
- The girls and youth team won the maximum medals for India with 11 gold, 7 silver and 4 bronze.
Vishwanath Suresh of Tamil Nadu is an example. A trainee at the Army Sports Institute in Pune, the 17-year-old from Chennai fulfilled a small part of his father Suresh’s dreams after winning gold in the 48kg category.
Suresh was an aspiring boxer and won a sub-junior silver medal in 1995, but had to quit the sport after his father’s untimely death. With four younger siblings to support, he had to give up his passion for boxing. Suresh, who works in a tailor shop, lives his dream through his son.
“The day I won the gold medal he had no words to say. Normally he calls me every day after practice and after the niceties the conversation quickly turns to how I trained,” Vishwanath explains. “That day, he was stunned. I found out later that he was crying. I had tears in my eyes too. I had won gold, and that’s what he always aspired to. It was an emotional day for the family.
Vishwanath could have been lost to boxing – he was set to quit the sport after being rejected twice during trials for sports company Madras Engineer Group (MEG). The scouts weren’t thrilled with his small size.
“They told us height kam hai,” he said. “But my dad kept persuading me to stay in the sport. We learned about the ASI Pune trials and went there. For me, it was my last chance. We didn’t know any Hindi and Pune was a new place. It was a struggle.
In the trials, he was competing with “more than 5,000 pregnant women” for just seven places. “Fortunately, the coaches there liked me. I was first asked to shadow-box and then to train with different boxers. I think 3,000 boys were rejected after just the round of ghost boxing,” Vishwanath proudly recalls.
He thus found his place in a very important boxing center in the country. “My father trained me after his daily work. I didn’t like it at all. I was in love with cricket. Everyone loves cricket, but after a while I started falling in love with boxing, and here I am,” he said.
Raised at the box
Vanshaj, a gold medalist in the 63.5kg youth category, is from Hisar.
His story is also of extremes. The young pugilist is staying in rented accommodation with his mother, Mannu Chauhan, in Sonipat. Vanshaj left Hisar, also known as ‘Little Cuba’ for his boxing centers and talent, to train with his trainer Rohtash Sheoran at his academy at Little Angels School.
“I feel a lot better here because I have better sparring partners here. I don’t want to change things unnecessarily when I see good results,” he says. The 18-year-old credits his father Hardas Chauhan, a teacher in Hisar, for introducing him to the sport.
Vanshaj’s big break came at the 2019 Khelo Indian Games. “I beat Aakash Gorkha in the final. He had previously represented and won for India,” says Vanshaj. “By beating him, I felt I had a career in boxing.”
“Winning the gold medal in Amman is the highlight for me so far. Our national anthem was played… It was a proud moment for me,” he recalled.
Interestingly, his mother is also well versed in sports and takes care of his dietary needs. “She’s the one who accompanies me on tours and although she doesn’t say so, I can see that she gets tense before my matches,” says Vanshaj.
Vanshaj follows the tough diet of a sportsman, but sometimes gets a cheat meal. This is especially after big wins. “I treated my friends Anand Yadav and Rudra to a non-veg pizza after winning gold. In our life everything is regulated, but sometimes I get a cheat meal,” Vanshaj says with a smile.
Deepak Poonia, bronze medalist in the youth 75kg category, is from Rohtak.
Boxing runs in Deepak Poonia’s family – his older sister Sonu was the standard bearer, but she quit boxing to ease the family’s financial troubles in 2018.
His passion, however, was passed on to younger siblings Deepak and Poonam, who were crowned Junior World Champions in the 57kg category. “I learned boxing at virasat,” says Deepak.
Deepak, who trains at ASI Pune, had set his sights on gold but faltered against taller opponents with greater reach. “I went there thinking I had it in me but I failed to execute plans against them. It still hurts but life goes on. I will try harder next time,” said he declared.
Her sisters are her biggest idols. One sacrificed her boxing career to help the family of five – father Omprakash Poonia runs a small taxi business – and the other showed her how to win.
“Sonu had to leave the sport for us. She showed us the sport. Poonam is my idol. I was so proud after she won the Junior World Championships. Usko dekh dekh ke primary boxing research,” says Deepak, who began training with Mahendra Singh Dhaka at SAI’s Rohtak Center.
He is a huge fan of Canelo Alvarez, who has won multiple world championships in four different weight classes. “He’s been undefeated for many years. He’s sharp and has powerful punches. I watch his fights a lot on YouTube. he.
Shaheen Gill, a gold medalist in the youth 60kg category, hails from Khanna, Punjab.
Shaheen, 18, can’t help but smile as she talks about her younger brother Armaan, all 11. The boy took his first steps in boxing, following his sister. Shaheen has only boxed seriously for the past two years. Encouraged by her journalist father Sultan Khan and her mother Rosy, Shaheen is ready to chart her career in sports.
Until two years ago, Shaheen was a budding karate athlete and had participated in a few international tournaments, in Malaysia and Thailand, where she won a silver medal. She was brought down to earth when she realized that karate as a sport was not widely recognized. “Getting into boxing was no problem as I was already in the fitness regime. All I needed was a coach to train me with the technical side of the sport,” Shaheen says of his change.
Making his India debut in Amman, Shaheen felt the nerves. A favorable draw meant she only had two bouts left to challenge for gold, and she scored unanimous wins in both.
“I was a little tense because it was my first major international tournament. Before my fight, someone on our team lost. This motivated me because I wanted to avenge this defeat. I think it eased my nerves and I was able to win my fights,” Shaheen said of her memorable debut. “But this is just the beginning, I have a long way to go. To sustain a long career, I have to work hard every day.
I salute you marie
Supriya Devi Thokchom won silver in the Junior Girls 54kg category and hails from Moirang, Manipur. Supriya is heartbroken – she thinks her final was not officiated well. She feels that even if she lost, it had to be in a split verdict (against Uzukjamol Yunusova of Uzbekistan). However, the result sheets indicate RSC (referee stopped contest).
“I can’t believe they called it an RSC. In my opinion, I had taken the second round, but somehow it was decided otherwise… Whatever Either way, it happened and I have to move on,” says Supriya.
A fan of Mary Kom, Supriya began training with the legendary L Ibomcha Singh, who trained iconic boxers such as MC Mary Kom, Suranjoy Singh and the late Dingko Singh.
“I started the sport because of Mary Kom. She is a national icon and more so in my state. I never met her, but she inspired many including me,” Supriya says.
His father, Singhjit Singh, runs a department store in his home, but his biggest supporter is his uncle. “My family wants me to succeed in sport but it’s my uncle Biren who is really involved in my well-being”, says the young pugilist.