India got a glimpse of it’s latest batch of boxers at the IBA junior World Championships that concluded in Armenia this week. Three members of the 26-member Indian contingent returned with gold medals from Yerevan. The winners include Payal Kumari, daughter of a sweeper and the youngest among six sisters, Nisha, the niece of a international medallist who faced serious allegations that nearly derailed her career before it started, and Akansha, a former national wrestling medallist who made the switch to boxing just last year.
Payal Kumari (48kg category)
Although weight is a perennial concern for her considering she competes in one of the lightest weight division in international boxing, 16 year-old Payal Kumari has been allowing herself a bit of a binge over the last couple of days. That’s when the 16-year-old become the new world champion in the women’s 48kg category at the Junior World Championships that concluded in Yerevan, Armenia on Tuesday.
“When I was in Armenia, I’d been eating so many chocolates, and now that I’m home my mother is making matar paneer for me,” says Payal who returned home to Kultaran village in Haryana’s Kaithal district on Wednesday. While she will soon return to the restrictions expected of her as an international boxer, for now, her coaches believe she’s earned the indulgance.
Of the three gold medals India won in Yerevan, Payal’s was considered the hardest since she was up against Petrosyan Heghine, a boxer from the host nation, in the final. Ahead of the final though, Payal was confident of winning. “I was on a call with my coach Amarjit Singh. He said it was going to be a tough fight but I told him I have come so far because of him and I would repay him with a gold medal,” she says.
Payal, the youngest among six sisters and a brother, never thought she was going to be a boxer growing up. Her family was of modest means. Payal’s father works as a construction worker while her mother worked as a sweeper at the school in her village.
“I didn’t even know about boxing. One day when I was nine years old, I went to school where my mother worked and I saw that there was a coach who was teaching some students boxing,” she says.
That coach was Amarjit Singh. A resident of Kultaran, Amarjit had competed at the national level before taking up coaching. He initially trained kids in Kaithal town before returning to his village where he started training kids at the village school. “She was very young but at that time I didn’t have many girls and I wanted some to join. So, I asked her if she wanted to join and she’s been training at my academy ever since,” he says.
Although she was uncertain at first, Payal says she soon got the hang of it. “I was a little scared at the sport but sir always motivated me. He would tell me if I box mera career ban sakta hai isme (I can make my career in it),” she says.
Payal’s family too has been nothing but supportive. “She comes from a very simple family but they have always stood by her. She’s never had to think whether she could continue the sport or not. Her mother always tells her to play the sport as much as she wants. Her parents have even bought her a Splendour motorcycle in which she travels to the academy,” says Amrinder.
Payal has repaid that belief through her actions in the ring. After winning gold at the sub-junior and then junior nationals last year, she was included in the national camp this year. Although she lost in the selection trials for the junior Asian Championships last month, she bounced back and earned the right to represent India at the World Championships in December.
The junior world title accomplished, Payal has bigger targets on her mind. “When I started boxing, my coach told me I could one day compete in the Olympics. I have watched movies and videos of Mary Kom. That’s who I want to be like in the future,” she says.
Akansha Phalaswal (women’s 70kg)
There might be no shortage of Indian accomplishments in boxing, but Junior World gold medallist Akansha Phalswal draws a blank when she is asked to name her role models in the sport. Instead, Akansha, who also has a gold medal at the Asian Junior Championships last month, finds her inspiration from an athlete in an entirely different combat sport. “My role model is (two-time world-medallist wrestler) Vinesh Phogat. I’ve always watched her and admired the way she wrestles,” says Akansha, who beat Taimazova Elizaveta of Russia in the final of the women’s 70kg category.
That’s because Akansha didn’t start off as a boxer. The 16-year-old has been a wrestler for most of her career and only shifted to boxing last year following an injury. The daughter of a national level wrestler, it was almost inevitable that Akansha would first wrestle, starting out at an akhara her father Rajkumar Phalaswal had built next to the family home in New Delhi’s Najafgarh. She was still only nine years old when she started training with coach Virender Dahiya at the Najafgarh Stadium.
“I was a Delhi state gold medallist in the U-15 category. I also competed at the U-15 nationals in Patna in 2021. I only made it to the quarterfinals but I know I could have done better,” she recalls.
Those hopes would be dashed after she suffered an ankle injury followed by another to her knee in training. Although she recovered after a few weeks of therapy, her return to the mat was followed by another injury — this time to her face which required stitches to patch up.
“After the second injury, my dad also thought I should try another sport. He had a friend who’s son was training as a boxer so my father decided to put me in that,” says Akansha who started training with coach Brij Mohan at Najafgarh’s BM boxing academy. Akansha wasn’t entirely enthused about the sport. “I didn’t have strong feelings. But I found out that I was actually good at it. I learned punching very quickly,” she says.
She didn’t require her skills at the Delhi state championships which she entered just a few months after she first laced on boxing gloves. “There were no girls in my weight category so I was automatically picked for the national championships,” she says.
The nationals in Manipur, however, were not as easy. “I won my first two bouts but I lost by RSC ( Referee stops contest) in the second round of the semifinal. It was not fun getting knocked out but at the same time I still got a bronze medal for reaching the semifinal. I thought if I can get a national medal after just training for a few months, I could become really good if I practised more. That knock out motivated me a lot,” says Akansha.
Indeed, Akansha has been on a tear ever since her loss in Manipur. Blessed with a powerful right cross, she’s won the U-19 School nationals, the trials for the Asian Championships, and the main competition in Astana, and finally the World Juniors without being pushed in any bout.
“When I started boxing I didn’t think I would have so much success. People say boxing is very tough but it comes naturally to me. Even the bout in which I got knocked out, I didn’t feel I was doing that badly. I don’t feel scared at all when I am in the ring,” says Akansha.
With gold medals in her last two international competitions, Akansha now wants to keep the streak intact. “I don’t want to get anything less than gold,” she says. And while more time in the ring Akansha might give her time to familiarise herself with more Indian boxers, she says she doesn’t plan on idealising anyone. “I’ve started watching Mike Tyson videos because of his aggression but I don’t want to look up to anyone. I just want to be the best fighter I can be,” she says.
Nisha Chahal (women’s 52kg)
Nisha Chahal didn’t have to look far from home for boxing inspiration. Her aunt, Kavita Chahal, a two time senior World medallist was one of the trailblazers of the sport in India while, more recently, her elder sister, Lalita, had won a senior national title as well as a gold at the Youth Asian Championships.
But while a path might have been paved for her, Nisha managed to carve her own niche in Indian boxing, beating Uzbekistan’s Abdullaoeva Farinoz in the gold medal match of the women’s 52kg category at the Junior World Championships in Armenia to follow up on the medal of the same color at the Asian championships last month.
While the twin golds cement the 16-year-old’s place as one of the top juniors to watch out for, it’s come with its own share of challenges.
Just days before she was scheduled to fly to Kazakhstan for the Asian Championships, the parents of a rival boxer accused her of age fraud and faking her birth certificates.
“I was really excited because it was my first international competition but just one day before, the parents of a girl I had beaten in the trials made that accusation. I don’t know why she did it. She was from Haryana which is very strong in boxing and I think they didn’t want to believe that a girl from Rajasthan was beating her. I had to rush back home and get my original documents. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong but I was still scared, “ she says.
While she produced the documents she needed to state her claim, Nisha was still required to undergo a medical test. “When I got to the hospital, I was worried because her (the complainants) parents, who are very influential people, were there. But I got a lot of support from our coach (Geeta Oinam Chanu) and the federation,” she says.
Even while she was being tested, Nisha says pressure was being put on her parents. “My father was threatened. He was told to take my name out of the team. They told him he would go to jail for fraud. But he stood firm. He said, ‘ meri beti hee jayegi, agar mujhe jail bhi jana pade (my daughter only would go,even if I have to go to jail)‘, ” she says.
While she was glad he stood by her, Nisha says this was nothing out of the ordinary. Growing up in the village of Bagela in Rajasthan’s drought-prone Churu district, Nisha’s father, Vinod Chahal, struggled to provide for his family while making a living out of tending to the land of other farmers.
Despite his financial limitations, when Kavita suggested he let Lalita and Nisha play a sport and recommended they join the famous Bhiwani Boxing Club run by coach Jagdish Singh, Vinod supported them in this pursuit.
“It was not easy to train in Bhiwani. Even though he didn’t find it easy, my father would send 6000 rupees each month. We would spend 4500 each month as rent and use the rest for food. He would take loans just so that we had something,” she says.
And while there were times he would fall short, Jagdish Singh, who has coached multiple national and international medallists including Olympic bronze-medallist Vijender Singh, would make up the balance.
He wouldn’t give it directly though. “Sir knew that the money we had wasn’t enough for a proper diet. So he would give us 500 to 1000 rupees if we boxed well and I would buy juice with that amount,” she says.
Whatever her circumstances, Nisha has been clear about her ambition. “I once met Vijender Singh at a function. He motivated me a lot. He told me nothing was impossible if I worked hard. I also have a dream to accomplish what he has. I too want an Olympic medal,” she says.
While the Junior Asian and World Championships, which would have been her first stepping stone to that ultimate goal were marred by controversy, Nisha says she’s glad she has been able to put it behind her. “After what happened to me, I felt very demotivated. I was very upset. But I realised I had to make the most of it. I got a lot of self belief after I won the Asian Championships. Later, I had a difficult bout in the semifinals at the World Championships (where she beat Diana Sikstus with a 4-1 split decision). In that bout I was only thinking I had to win so I could prove to people that I deserved to be here, “ she says.
While she has two international gold medals under her belt in as my competitions, Nisha isn’t done just yet. “Next year I will be competing in the youth category. I will give the medals that I’ve won to my father and then win more. I want to prove to everyone just how good a boxer I am,” she says.
- UP Warriorz vs Delhi Capitals Live Score, WPL 2024: UPW bank on Shweta Sehrawat, Deepti Sharma for final flourish
- Pro Kabaddi League 2023-24 Playoffs, PKL 10 LIVE Score: DD 24-22 PP, Ashu’s Dabang Delhi leads Sachin’s Patna Pirates in Eliminator 1 before Gujarat Giants lock horns with Haryana Steelers
- East Bengal vs Chennaiyin FC LIVE score, EBFC 0-0 CFC, ISL 2023-24: All square at halftime but Chennai seems the stronger side
- Indian sports wrap, February 26
- Maiden First-Class ton after 110 overs of keeping: Hardik Tamore’s grit takes Mumbai to safety in Ranji quarters