‘The Machine' is all set to roll

Paul Koon..."Boxing is like chess for me. The approach is the same; I like to play defensively. Jab, jab and force the opponent to commit a mistake, then… (he executes a dummy left hook) ‘checkmate!'"-Paul Koon..."Boxing is like chess for me. The approach is the same; I like to play defensively. Jab, jab and force the opponent to commit a mistake, then… (he executes a dummy left hook) ‘checkmate!'"

Paul Koon, a professional in the World Series Boxing (WSB) and a heavyweight boxer, who, at one time, was ranked the number one amateur in the U.S., is known for his ruthless punching. He is also an avid chess player. By Nandakumar Marar.

Paul Koon is of the view that there are striking similarities between boxing and chess; between ring craft and moves on the board. “You have to use your brain in both,” he says, pointing a finger to his head for emphasis.

But the American, with his muscular biceps, tattooed arm and fast-moving hands, pushing a rook or a bishop on a chess board looks out of place. Nicknamed ‘The Machine' for his ruthless punching, Koon is a professional in the World Series Boxing (WSB) and a heavyweight boxer, who, at one time, was ranked the number one amateur in the United States of America.

In the WSB last season, Koon won two bouts representing Miami Gallos. Mumbai Fighters have, indeed, signed an amazing character for the WSB 2011-2012 season. Evander Holyfield and Floyd Mayweather are Koon's favourite boxers. And his favourite chess player is Bobby Fischer.

“He (Fischer) is from my country,” says Koon, who has been training and sparring in Pune, which is the base of Mumbai Fighters, and the venue for the franchise's Group A bouts.

With 16 other boxers, both foreign and Indian, in five weight categories focussed on fine-tuning their skills under Technical Director Joe Clough at the Balewadi Sports Complex, the identity of Koon's chess partner is a mystery. “It is easier finding a sparring partner. I play chess on my computer,” reveals the 25-year-old boxer from Philadelphia.

Comparing boxing with chess, Koon says, “Boxing is like chess for me. The approach is the same; I like to play defensively. Jab, jab and force the opponent to commit a mistake, then… (he executes a dummy left hook) ‘checkmate!'”

A powerful frame with a hint of quiet menace sits well on Koon no doubt, but why did this chess enthusiast choose boxing as a profession?

“I played many sports as a kid. Boxing was my choice because I love fighting. I did not go for team sports, where I would have to give my all and depend on the others to decide whether we win or lose.

In boxing, you are responsible for your results, and nobody else can be blamed (for your loss),” Koon explains.

Taking up boxing at the age of 13, Koon became the Pennsylvania Gloves Champion in 2006. Training under Zahir Justice and Blaine White, he retained the title in 2008 and 2009. A bronze medal in the 2008 Future Stars National Boxing was followed by a silver medal in the USA Golden Gloves event the same year.

Koon was also adjudged the U.S. Boxing Athlete of the Month in March 2008 on the strength of his performances in the United States versus Ireland duel in Kildare, Ireland. He was the final U.S. boxer to step into the ring and face John Sweeney.

Both boxers were tied 19-19 at the bell after three rounds, but Koon's total punch count of 47 against Sweeney's 35 in the tie-breaker titled the verdict in the American's favour.

It was Koon's first international competition as an amateur. Before the Ireland bout, he attended a preparatory camp at the Olympic Training Centre, Colorado Springs.

Miami Gallos drafted Koon for a professional career in WSB where he made a mark in a home match at Filimore Miami Beach against Los Angeles Matadors.

He edged out Javier Torres in a close contest, winning 49-46, 48-47, 48-47 to give Miami a winning 3-0 lead.

“The World Series Boxing will not only help boxers make money, it will also help them grow,” says Koon, for whom the move from Pennsylvania to Pune allowed him the chance of visiting a new place and understanding a new culture. Miami Gallos' heavyweight Trent Rawlins of Australia has joined him at Mumbai Fighters.

The WSB fighters have the option of going back to amateur boxing where the thrust is on precision punching with safety measures like head guards in place. Amateur boxing also gives the pugilists the chance to win medals and glory for their countries.

Koon, however, does not want to think about it. “The thought of wearing head guards puts me off,” he says in jest.

Clearly this boxing machine from America is ready to roll in the WSB. Five rounds in the ring with no head guards, but with his fists, courage and hard training to back him in his attempt to carve out a professional career.

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Akhil Kumar... a bronze medal winner in the AIBA World Cup will be fighting for Mumbai Fighters in World Series Boxing.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Reputations to maintain

Lightweight Akhil Kumar and bantamweight Jitender Kumar, both bronze medal winners in the 2008 AIBA World Cup Boxing, are fighters with reputations to maintain in World Series Boxing 2011-2012. The two boxers, representing the Indian franchise, Mumbai Fighters, will be competing for the first time in professional boxing. Both are from Bhiwani (Haryana) which is now known as the cradle of boxing in India. Their performance in the ring during WSB will be keenly watched by youngsters across the country as the bouts will be telecast live on ESPN.

WSB comprises bouts in five weight categories — five matches home or away and five rounds to each bout. Boxers do not wear head guards or vests.

Twelve teams are divided into two groups of six teams each. Top four qualify for the quarterfinals. The Indian franchise, Mumbai Fighters, is in Group A.

Mumbai Fighters' schedule:

At home — November 11: versus Dolce & Gabbana Milano Thunder; December 9: versus Los Angeles Matadors; December 16: versus Astana Arlans, December 20: versus Dynamo Moscow; February 3, 2012: Bangkok Team.

Away — November 18: versus Dynamo Moscow ; December 2: Bangkok Team; January 13, 2012: versus Milano Thunder; February 10: versus LA Matadors; February 17: versus Astana Arlans.

Mumbai Fighters line-up — Bantamweight: Jitender Kumar, Balbir Singh, Gaurav Bidhuri, Vipin Kumar; Lightweight: Akhil Kumar, Diwakar Prasad, Siddharth Varma; Middleweight: Patrick Gallagher (Ireland), Mandeep Jangra, Vijay Hooda; Light Heavyweight: Marko Calic (Croatia), Jasveer Singh, Rahul Kumar; Heavyweight: Paul Koon (U.S.), Trent Rawlins (Australia), Krishan Kumar, Sumit Rangi.

Technical Director: Joe Clough. Coach: Shiv Kumar Pal. Team Principal: Udit Sheth.