Akhil Kumar: ‘Age is not a problem’

"You look at players like the Brazilian football star, Rivaldo, or our own tennis star Leander Paes. They have set examples and proved that if one remains fit then he can play even in his 40s. A lot of will power and discipline is required to remain fit," says boxer Akhil Kumar, who has decided to turn professional.

Akhil Kumar with his open stance during a 56kg bout against Ian Weaver of England at the 2010 Commonwealth Boxing Championship. Akhil is known more for his style of boxing than his exploits in the ring.   -  Sandeep Saxena

Thanks to his brave performances, Akhil Kumar has earned a prominent place in Indian boxing. More than his 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medal or the World Cup bronze medal, or the Asian Championship bronze medal, the fans will remember Akhil for his valiant ‘open-guard’ fights in the 2008 Beijing Olympics even though he lost in the quarterfinals.

One of the most fascinating boxers to watch, Akhil, 35, has decided to turn professional after recovering from a knee injury.

Read: >Akhil meets Haryana Sports Minister for pro career

After Vijender Singh, a medal winner in the Olympics and the World Championships, had a successful first year in professional boxing, Akhil’s entry, along with his long time friend and follower Jitender Kumar, will definitely prove to be a big boost for the sport in the country.

In a chat with Sportstar, Akhil spoke of his expectations from professional boxing.

Excerpts:

Question: What made you to take the plunge into professional boxing?

Answer: For a long time, Neerav Tomar of IOS (a joint promoter of Vijender Singh) has been in touch with me, trying to convince me to turn professional. Since I was keen to qualify for the Rio Olympics, I asked him to wait. But I injured my right knee while playing football and had to undergo surgery. When I was recovering, Tomar approached me again. Since I knew that he was the first man to conduct Fight Nights more than a decade ago and knew how to promote pro boxing, I thought why not give it a try. I am a sportsperson and it is better participating in a sport than not doing anything.

When are you planning to start your training, and where?

I work with the Haryana Police. I am posted in Hissar as District Superintendent of Police. My job is top priority for me. So, first I have to get permission from my department and then plan the other things. I applied for permission in mid-October and I met the Director General of Police, K. P. Singh. His response was very positive. I also met the Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar. He was equally supportive. Hopefully, I will get the clearance.

Since your wife (Punam) is a boxing coach, did you consult her before taking the decision?

Yes. I always take advice from my family and friends on anything important. I am happy to have their support. In this decision (to turn pro), my wife supported me.

Since you are 35 now and have not been in competitive boxing for some time, will it not be a challenge for you to get into professional boxing?

 

Those times were different when we did not know much about fitness training and used to drink cold drinks to reduce weight. Now I have gathered enough experience and knowledge about the sport. These days, fitness trainers and nutritionists play an important role in a sportsperson’s life. They tell you what is good for your body and what is not. Awareness about keeping fit has increased. You look at players like the Brazilian football star, Rivaldo, or our own tennis star Leander Paes. They have set examples and proved that if one remains fit then he can play even in his 40s. A lot of will power and discipline is required to remain fit. Age is not a problem.

How did Jitender Kumar come along with you?

Jitu has always been in touch. I advised him that he could turn professional as well. Initially, he was reluctant, but later said, ‘If you do it, then I will do it.’

Some promoters have started popularising professional boxing in the country. What do you think about the future of pro boxing in India?

There are so many boxers in the country. How many of them will compete in the Asian, Commonwealth or the Olympic Games? It is a good thing that there are other options before the boxers. It will help raise their standard of living. Other sports such as kabaddi, football, badminton, hockey and cricket have professional leagues. So what is the harm in a boxer joining a pro league?

Since the International Boxing Association (AIBA) has allowed professional boxers to take part in the Olympics, do you see another chance to fulfil your desire of competing in the Olympics and winning a medal?

Yes, why not? The Olympics is the ultimate thing for a sportsperson. Many top professional boxers have come from amateur boxing, after achieving success in the Olympics.

Now the AIBA has given a chance to the pros to have a go at the Olympics medals. The coming together of amateur and professional boxing is good for the sport. The age limit for the Olympics is 40. If someone is good enough to win an Olympic medal at 40, why not?

Do you think your experience in World Series Boxing will help when you turn pro?

Oh, yes. I had some experience of pro boxing during the WSB, and it will be good for me.