KOCHI: Dawn breaks early at the Regional Sports Center (RSC) in Kadavanthra, where grunts and shuffling screeches from its boxing academy welcome one. From eight-year-old children to adults, both men and women, follow the stern instructions given by their coach. Their zest fills the air. Boxing has always been popular in the city, but at a latent level. Now, however, it is on the rise and getting mainstreamed. Also, across Kerala, there is a welcome trend of more women and girls entering the boxing arena.
Sports veterans believe the victory of Nikhat Zareen at the recent world championship in Turkey would further boost female presence in the ring. Nikhat has joined the elite club of Indian women champions, which includes the Mary Kom (2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2018), Kerala’s own K C Lekha (2006) Sarita Devi (2006) and Jenny R L (2006).
Nikhat punched all the way up through barriers. Hailing from a conservative background in Telangana, there were people who tried to discourage her. Her father recently revealed that some relatives even had an issue over Nikhat choosing a sport that required her to wear shorts! But the family supported her to pursue her dream.
Anaswara P M, 23, who won the gold medal in the women’s boxing championship (81kg category) at the recent Kerala Games 2022, is exhilarated about the global arrival of Nizkhat. “We were roommates during a Sports Auhtority of India national camp in Haryana. Boxers like Nikhat inspired me to believe in myself and punch ahead in life,” she says.
Ananswara recalls she started off as a hammer thrower in her early teens. Later, Dronacharya award-winning coach D Chandralal encouraged her to take up boxing. “I joined the Sports Authority of India centre in Thiruvananthapuram in 2015, when I was about 15 years old,” she says. Anaswara believes Kerala can produce many champs with the stronger promotion of boxing. “We also need more films about boxing. Also, parents need to be educated about the sport,” she adds.
Parents’ mindsets are changing, indeed, notes RSC coach Shanmugaraj. “Lot of children are coming into the boxing arena and what is more interesting is that an increasing number of families of girl children are encouraging them to take up the sport,” he says. “If we coach ten students, we will be able to get at least one champion to contest in boxing at the national and international levels. Presently, there are 14 male and eight female trainees at RSC.”
Kochi, however, needs better boxing infrastructure, adds Shanmugaraj, who also runs Perfect Boxing Training Center, which has 30 students, in Fort Kochi. Saaya Susan Alex, 16, who has been training in boxing for four years at the centre, won two gold medals at the recent state-level amateur boxing championship. “First, I was into kickboxing. Later on, I went on to learn boxing as well. I love boxing and it is a great stress-buster. Many girls are taking up boxing now,” she says.
Yay to Muay Thai
Combat Fitness Cult (CFC) at Padivattom offers training in mixed martial arts, which includes boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, wrestling, judo and jiu-jitsu. Partner and coach Jophil Lal claims CFC is “probably the only centre in the state providing proper training in muay Thai, which is referred to as Thai boxing”. A large number of women opt for muay Thai training, mostly for fitness and self-defence, he adds.
Jophil says the improvement in concentration levels has been observed in children in this martial art. “However, the challenge in our state is not just the infrastructure; there needs to be more support from families, especially for girls,” he says. “Some parents, however, encourage girls to take up such sports. I have a 16-year-old student, Balamani K R, who is currently training for a Muay Thai championship to be held in Madhya Pradesh in June.”
Balamani is a three-time state champion in Muay Thai and a two-time champ in kickboxing. “I have been interested in boxing and martial arts since I was in Class 6. I first joined a boxing club at the school level. However, I wanted to study the sport seriously, but it was difficult to find a coach. Then I came to know about Muay Thai, and started training under Jophil.”For the upcoming national championship, Balamani has been training for three hours every day. “My daily training schedule includes 6km walking and 15km cycling,” she says. “I hope to see more girls take up boxing or martial arts.”
“It is not easy to become a boxer and emerge victorious,” says former world boxing champion
K C Lekha. Injuries are the main villains, especially for women. But we should give up. Everyone should admire Nikhat’s journey to glory, overcoming her injuries,” says Lekha, who also had overcome serious hand injuries.
The 2006 world champion says she is happy to see more girls entering the boxing ring in Kerala. It is vital to support budding talents, she quickly adds. “I hailed from a poor family in Kannur and was away from my home from the age of 15,” Lekha recalls. “I was 90 kilos and went on a strict diet to lose weight and take part in 72-75 kilo categories. I was enthusiastic to take part in big tournaments, just to experience the real boxing ring, as we did not have proper facilities back then.” Her success formula — stamina + power + self-motivation + determination.
The Sports Kerala Foundation is set to launch ‘PUNCH’ — a grassroots-level boxing training programme for girls. Sources in the directorate of sports and youth affairs say the project is likely to start in the 2022-23 academic year. In the first phase, girls above the age of eight would be selected for training from schools in Kollam, Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kottayam. “Boxing talents will be identified through an intensive programme. Developing boxing skills in the children and providing them with an opportunity to play at a higher level will be prioritised, along with imparting self-defence skills,” says a source. “Currently, processes are on to select the coaches.” As per the plan, training centres would be set up at one school each in the five districts covered in the first phase. Each centre would train about 25 girls in the initial stage, the source says.