Boxer Shiva Thapa might have not even touched the half-way mark in his career but it could easily be packaged into a drama-filled Bollywood potboiler. The highs and lows have ranged on the extreme. There are times when he is nowhere to be seen on the circuit. Setbacks, though, go hand in hand with some breathtaking highs, and there has been no shortage of them in his career.

Take 2018 alone. He was in scintillating form in front of his home crowd in Guwahati, blitzing his way to a gold at the India Open tournament. That win was preceded by a silver medal at the GeeBee tournament in Finland. Recently, making his international debut in the 63kg category, he became India’s first gold medallist at the President’s Cup in Kazakhstan.

“It was a completely new set up for me. There were boxers who were heavier than me,” Thapa told after clinching the yellow metal in Astana. “There, some of the boxers scaled down to 63kg. And the President’s Cup...It is known to be a tough competition. The top boxers in Asia fight there.”

In what looked like a statement season for Thapa after a stop-start 2018, missing out on the upcoming World Championships came as a harder blow than a stinging uppercut from an opponent. Instead, it will be Commonwealth Games silver medallist Manish Kaushik who will travel to Russia at the expense of Thapa in September after getting the better of the latter during trials.

However, the Assamese shrugs off the setback. His new-found maturity is perhaps a result of treating podium finishes and the occasional dips in form with equal measure.

“Look, we train every single day. Both of us fought really hard,” Thapa recounts the trials that took place earlier this month.

“I gave it my best shot and that was a close fight. If you ask me, I won the bout but you can argue that, at the end of the day, that’s what every boxer thinks.

“I feel am getting better. There will be people who will point out and say that ‘after the India Open [win via unanimous decision in the final over Kaushik], we expected a different result’. For me, it’s just another day in the office.”

Facing up against the best in the world less than a year away from the Tokyo Olympics would have set up Thapa well going into the marquee event. Despite bouncing back in style at Kazakhstan, he knows that the World Championships is an opportunity missed.

“Every loss motivates you,” he says. “Participating in the World Championships was the target of the year for me. Importantly, it is happening in an Olympic weight category [63kg]. It would have been good exposure for me at the world stage but now that I am not taking part in, I am focussing on other international events.”

Gearing for qualifiers

Thapa already has eyes set on 2020 and is plotting a roadmap towards becoming a three-time Olympian... at the age of 25.

“I am looking ahead. I am not going to hold back in any tournament or trials. There is no looking back.”

With the International Olympic Committee stripping off the hosting rights from the Amateur International Boxing Association for the summer games, the Olympic qualifiers will get underway closer to the event. In hindsight, the World Championships not being used as a qualifying event for the Olympics worked out well for Thapa.

“Of course, all eyes are on the qualifiers now,” the former Asian champion said.

“What I am thinking right now is to not take any tournament lightly. Some might say that I might not have a fire in the belly to be a part of the Olympics for the third time but to them, I say that there is a lot of is my ultimate aim.”

One senses that proving his naysayers wrong has remained a constant theme for the Guwahati-born from his days as a scrawny flyweight. But his in-ring skills have come a long way.

He explains: “The scoring system is not what it used to be anymore. I used to be a counter-punching boxer. But you need to do everything to win a bout.

“These days, we are keeping a close eye on the quality of punches and targeting what will fetch us points; it’s quite different from, say, what I used to do with the headgear on.”

Rio 2016 ended with a whimper for Thapa, who bowed out as early as the first round. Determined as ever and with an evolved approach to boot, the belief has not faded. “With each passing day, I am getting closer to an Olympic medal. I believe so.”