One of the finest tributes to M. C. Mary Kom after she won her sixth world crown in 2018 came from the high-performance director of the Indian women’s boxing team, Raffaele Bergamasco: “Mary in boxing is like Maradona in football.”

The comparison is not exactly an accurate one. In terms of longevity and achievements, Mary is akin to cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar. But on the international stage, perhaps no Indian sportsperson has had such an impact bar the Wizard himself, the great Dhyan Chand.

A phenom called Mary Kom!  

A decade to remember

Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom was a month shy of 20 when she won her first world title in Antalya, Turkey, in 2002, at a time when women’s boxing in India was at a nascent stage. By the end of the decade, she had won her fifth consecutive gold medal at the worlds. Exactly 10 years after her first crown, Mary was to become the most successful amateur boxer — male or female — in the history of the world championships with her sixth gold. That same year, she won her only Olympic medal, a bronze at London 2012. Gold medals at the 2014 Asian Games and 2018 Commonwealth Games were the other highlights of her dazzling career in the second decade of the 21st century.


The growth of women’s boxing and its inclusion in the Olympics, along with the consequent emergence of new talent, only pushed the ageing superstar to work harder and stay relevant in the changing ecosystem. But to truly put Mary’s superlative achievements into perspective, one must juxtapose her laurels against not only the challenges she has faced in the boxing ring, but also those outside it.<EP>“I have been fighting so long, almost 20 years. Being a woman, a girl, a mother – it is not an easy task. I challenge each and every one, all the members of the sports fraternity, who contribute for the country so much: please contribute for the country as much as you can. Fight like a woman...” Mary said after being named the Sportstar of the Decade at the 2021 Sportstar ACES Awards, where she also received the Sportswoman of the Decade (Individual Olympic Sports) honour.

For Kom, bring out the pom-poms!  

Praise pours in

Tributes from other world-class sportspersons — peers and opponents alike — only lend weight to the moniker ‘Magnificent Mary’ bestowed on the marauder from Manipur. Her state mate, the former weightlifting world champion S. Mirabai Chanu, highlights Mary’s long years at the top. “Any sport at the highest level is very tough and takes a toll on the body and mind. Sometimes I wonder how Mary Kom, in a tough global sport like boxing, has managed to stretch herself for so long,” said Chanu, a gold medallist at the 2017 world championships. “Keeping up the motivation, waking up in the morning, and going through the rigours of fitness and training every day for close to 20 years is no joke!”

“The other factor is competing with youngsters and staying ahead of them not only within the country, but also outside of it. She has set a benchmark that is very high for others to achieve,” Chanu added.


In 2012, Mary Kom won her only Olympic medal, a bronze at London 2012. Today, at age 38, she is seeking an even greater achievement: a gold medal at the world’s biggest sporting stage. In pursuit of that goal, she has already qualified for the Tokyo Games.


Vijender Singh, the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal and the first Indian man to win a world championships medal, was inspired by Mary’s long journey. “She continues to win medals at the highest level and I am sure she will do us proud at the Tokyo Olympics,” said the Beijing 2008 bronze medallist, who turned professional in 2015.

For Simranjit Kaur, who won a bronze medal at the 2018 boxing worlds, training alongside Mary is a learning experience. “We learn a lot by training with such a big boxer. The noteworthy point about her training is that she enjoys every moment of it and never misses her training,” she said.

Ukraine’s Hanna Okhota, who Mary defeated in the final to win her sixth world crown in Delhi, also acknowledged the Indian’s superior status. “She is an Indian star and a women’s boxing legend. I am glad to have had a fight with her in the final,” she said. Honorary posts bestowed on Mary — such being named chair of the AIBA champions and veterans committee, a member of the International Olympic Committee and a member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of parliament – underline her growing stature not only as a leading international boxer, but also as a prominent ambassador of the sport with a wider responsibility.

A letter from AIBA president Umar Kremlev announcing her choice as the champions and veterans committee chair indicates the respect Mary commands: “I am confident with your vast knowledge and experience you will make a valuable contribution to the success of this important committee.”

Mary Kom, Lovlina in India's women's boxing squad for Asian Championships  

Elusive Olympic gold

A sportsperson of Mary’s prominence could not have chosen a better way to give back to her sport: she has set up a charitable trust to run a boxing academy with the help of her husband Karung Onkholer to groom talented boxers in Manipur. The academy in Imphal has produced several fine boxers such as N. Babyrojisana Chanu. “Madam selected me to join her academy and provided all the support. She always had a word of encouragement for us,” said Babyrojisana, who was named the best boxer at the Adriatic Pearl tournament in Montenegro in February.

At age 38, Mary is seeking an even greater achievement: a gold medal at the world’s biggest sporting stage. In pursuit of that goal, she has already qualified for the Tokyo Games — her second Olympics.

A fierce competitor with a strong will, a crusader against stereotypes and an achiever par excellence, Mary is the true embodiment of the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ — faster, higher, stronger — as she looks to add the crowning glory to her glittering career.