It took a series of well-aimed punches and smart defences for Akhil, Jitender and Vijender Kumar to make it to the quarter finals of the Olympics. In the process, they’ve managed to stir enough conversation about professional boxing as a sport. Although boxing lingo like jabbing, bobbing and weaving are not as commonly referred to as cricket’s doosras and sixes, the city’s boxers are hopeful that their sport can be just as popular.
Take boxing coach Pervez Khan for instance. He, since the last 25 years, has dedicated his life to training boxers. At Christ Church School where he trains young students, the Olympic excitement is visible. “Akhil’s aggression and never-say-die spirit is inspiring for boxers like me,” says Sufiyan Shaikh, a national-level boxer. But Pervez is afraid there just isn’t enough being done to popularise the sport. “We need SRK, Preity Zinta and Vijay Mallya to sponsor boxers. Why are they after an already popular sport?” he asks explaining how basic nutrition, sports gear and correct clothing are necessary to make a name in boxing. “Boxers need to drink at least two glasses of milk and have boiled eggs and fruits,” he says, emphasising on the need for funds to provide all of these. Even setting up a boxing ring doesn’t come easy without sponsorship.
President of the Maharashtra Amateur Boxing Association, Homi Dhondy agrees. The sport needs a celeb face. But looking at the way the Kumars are performing, many youngsters are going to take up boxing professionally even if it doesn’t have one.
Dhondy recollects the excitement around the 1990 World Cup which was held at the Bombay Gymkhana. “Although we only won a single bronze at the event, everyone wanted to be a pugilist after watching the live matches of such grand scale.”
Lalit Dengda manager coach of the Mumbai-based South Paw Boxing Club is excited. “I have seen Akhil perform live when he was with me in a boxing camp in the year 1998. He has matured now and I am proud of him,” he says.
Today many believe that the India came to be known as a force to reckon within the boxing arena after it hired Cuban coaches. Even the Olympic team of boxers has been trained by chief boxing coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu with the help of Cuban assistant coach Blas Iblesias Fernandez. The Cuban who has spearheaded the training regime for Indian squads at the 1998 Asian Games, 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Olympics, is known for his technique. “India is the best boxing nation to train in today. We are so good in technique that Sri Lankan and Pakistani players come here to train,” says Lalit.
Be it better nutrition, more boxing rings or Cuban coaches, Mumbai’s pugilists surely need a wealthy guardian angel. But for now, the Kumars have provided a boost enough for people to have coffee-time discussions about.