When the fifth of his six sons was born, Nizamabad’s Mohammad Shamsuddin decided to give the baby a suitably impressive-sounding name. The boy was named Hussamuddin – the sword of the faith. His nickname at home is rather less grand sounding.
“ Ghar me uska name Chekat hai. (Everyone just calls him Chekat),” laughs the eldest brother Ehteshamuddin.
The word Chekat, Ehteshamuddin explains, is one of those unique bits of slang in Nizamabad’s Dakhni Urdu dialect. “ Chekat means something jo chuttha nahi hai (something that doesn’t go away), Like a piece of gum that sticks to your shoe. When Hussamuddin was a boy he was impossible to get rid of. Once he decided he was going to do something, it was impossible to shake him off,” he says.
Hussamuddin or Chekat, there’s one thing everyone can start calling the 29-year-old a different name now – world boxing medallist.
He was assured of a medal at the 2023 IBA Boxing World Championships when he reached the semifinals of the men’s 57kg division in Tashkent by beating Bulgaria’s Cuban import Javier Ibanez in the quarterfinals. In doing so he became one of just 10 Indian boxers to achieve that feat.
Hussamuddin might be Nizamabad’s latest boxing phenomenon, but he isn’t the first. By the way, that isn’t Nikhat Zareen, who won the second of her two world championship titles a couple of months ago. Long before Nikhat burst into the scene, the boxing culture in Nizamabad, Telangana, was synonymous with one man – Husammudin’s father - Mohammad Shamsuddin.
For the last four decades, Shamsuddin has been operating a boxing club out of a single room in Nizamabad’s Collector Ground and providing coaching free of charge to hundreds of young boys and girls. “I used to be a boxer in my youth but I had to give up the sport because my family was not well off and I had to provide for them. But I always wanted to coach kids. As a coach I wanted them to achieve what I couldn’t,” says Shamsuddin.
Indeed he has. “Many youngsters have got jobs in the Railways, Police and Army. Some have represented India and won international medals,” says Ehteshamuddin, himself a former Railways boxer.
Perhaps the most famous of Shamsuddin’s trainees is of course Nikhat Zareen – who until recently was the only world medallist out of Nizamabad. But now there is another – Shamsuddin’s son.
With a father as accomplished as his, it might seem that Hussamuddin’s path to boxing was predetermined. This isn’t quite true though. Although four of Shamsuddin’s six sons did box at the state and national level that wasn’t the path charted for Hussamuddin.
‘First choice gymnastics’
Shamsuddin wanted his son to be a gymnast at first.
“He was a really naughty child. Always doing things he shouldn’t be. If he was told not to be somewhere, he was certain to go there. He’d pluck fruit from peoples trees. He wasn’t even ten and he would find the keys to a scooter and go off on a joyride on it. Because of that I thought it’s best not to teach him to box. Let him learn gymnastics. Anyway bandar jaise hai (He’s anyway like a monkey),” says Shamsuddin.
But as luck would have it, the gymnastics coach at the Collector’s ground was transferred within a few days of Hussamuddin joining, and inevitably the youngster made his way to the boxing hall.
Shamsuddin’s early worries about his son taking up boxing would turn out to be ill-founded. Indeed Ehteshamuddin says his younger brother mellowed even as he improved his skills in the ring. “He lost his naughtiness and became very focused. He became obsessed with boxing. ”
It helped of course that he had plenty of role models to emulate. “In our house, the only discussion that goes on is about boxing. Din ki shuruat boxing ki baat hi hoti thi. (The day starts with discussion of boxing in our house). I have boxed at the national level and won a silver at the junior nationals. My younger brother Aitesaamuddin has represented India at the junior world championships. Hussamuddin would try to do whatever we did,” says Ehteshamuddin.
Aitesaamuddin joined the Indian army as a boxer under the sports quota, and Hussamuddin followed his brother soon after. The move was an important one. “He might have been the best in Telangana but the standard of boxing here isn’t great,” says Ehteshamuddin. Indeed, Hussamuddin’s world medal is the first by a boxer from the south; boxers from Haryana have won seven medals, while boxers from Delhi and Assam have won one each.
“Because he went into the Army (Hussamuddin is currently serving as a subedar in the Army Corps of Engineers) he was able to get the best sort of sparring partners and facilities. He became a fighter from Services which is one of the best teams in India. That has helped his career a lot,” says Ehteshamuddin.
Boxing for the Services team, Hussamuddin has been dominant in the men’s bantamweight (56kg) and featherweight (57kg) categories – winning three gold medals and one silver at the last five nationals.
“He’s technically very good. He’s also very hardworking and focussed. He keeps to himself and doesn’t get into any sort of indiscipline,” says former Indian national coach Narender Rana, who also coached Hussamuddin in the Services team.
Hussamuddin’s dedication to boxing has not always been easy. “Aitesaamuddin is a coach in ASI (Army Sports Institute) Pune so even when there isn’t a national camp, Hussamuddin will be training there. If he isn’t there he will be at Bellary (at the Inspire Institute of Sport). He has missed so many family events because he wants to be training. He even missed my wedding because he had an international tournament.” says Ehteshamuddin.
For all his devotion to the sport, Hussamuddin, some might argue didn’t have a similar return to show for it. At 29-years-old – he is the oldest member of the Indian team that’s competing at the World Championships. Over the years, he’s built up a solid, if not spectacular resume at the international level. He won two bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games and lost out in the quarterfinal of the Asian Games. “Sometimes he will tell me “ Na khushi me hu, na gham me hu.” (I’m not happy and I’m also not sad’,” says Ehtesham. “He knows he is doing what he loves but he wasn’t getting the kind of reward for it. It’s hard but wahi chekat wali baat hai. (It’s that same stick-to-it nature of his). He won’t give it up” he says.
Generosity of Hussamuddin
For the most part, Hussamuddin wasn’t known to let this affect him. Those closest to him vouch if not for his congeniality but for his good nature. “Hussamuddin is one of the most generous people I know. He helps people without making a show of it. Whenever he comes back from a tournament or from a camp he will distribute his kit to kids who can’t afford it. So often you will see a youngster come and be wearing an ‘India’ jersey. People think that he is a little aloof because he doesn’t speak to a lot of people in the camp. They feel it is because of his ego but that is not the case. He doesn’t even like meeting politicians or people who can help him with sponsorships. We have tried to get him to open up more but he just prefers to box,” says Ehtesham.
There is one person Hussamuddin is open with. It is his daughter Haniya who is nine months old. He regularly posts pictures of her on his Instagram page and has her in his WhatsApp profile picture. “We joke in the family that she is like his lucky charm,” says Brother Ehteshamuddin.
With a medal assured at the world championships, it’s not hard to see why. While even a bronze would be a significant achievement, neither Hussamuddin nor his boxing family wants to be satisfied with just that colour. “After he won his quarterfinals I spoke with him over the phone,” says father Shamsuddin. “I said you can’t be satisfied with just a bronze. You are in a position to do even better. You are in good shape and your body is responding well. You may not get this chance again. He also agreed,” he says.
It won’t be easy as Saidel Horta of Cuba stands between Hussamuddin and a place in the finals. The Cuban is boxing in his first world championships but is rated highly – he is replacing three-time Olympic bronze medallist Lazaro Alvarez in the national squad. He is also in fine touch, having beaten 2021 World silver medallist Serik Temirzhanov by unanimous decision in the quarterfinals.
While the Indian will go in as the underdog in the contest, elder brother Ehteshamuddin believes he won’t roll over easily. “ Woh bachpan se hi Chekat hai. (He has had that never give up attitude since his childhood). Even in the bout, he won’t make things easy. He will keep trying till the end,” he says.
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