Jayesh Desai has dominated every bout he has fought at the fourth Men’s Boxing National Championships in Baddi, Himachal Pradesh. After two Referee Stops Contest wins, Desai won his quarter-final against J Sabri of Tamil Nadu in a similar manner on Tuesday. With the win, Desai confirmed his first medal at the Senior National Championships and a first for Gujarat in 33 years since Siddi Yaaruddin won one in 1990 at Sangrur.
While Desai has made his state proud, he is not your ordinary boxer. He did not start early and was not introduced to the sport until he was 19-years-old. For the most part of his teenage years, he completed his studies to get a commerce degree and help his father run a shop to sell milk in Gandhinagar district. In 2011, he decided to start a business and made a successful living off it. He bought four cars and made a big house, all through his milk business.
“I used my father’s experience and my education to start the business with Mother Dairy,” Desai said. “We have been involved in the milk business for centuries.”
That meant that no one in Desai’s family had ever boxed or even played any combat sport before. So boxing did not come naturally to him. He began only in 2009 after watching Vijender Singh’s bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In 2008 he began training in kung fu and competing in state-level competition. But despite some good results, he failed to make a mark.
“It was not an Olympic sport and nobody cared about it,” he said. “I was winning but I was paying from my pocket and even after winning I was not getting anything. I know if there is something in which I have to pay and play, there is some scam. I am a businessman.”
Desai prefers to introduce himself as a businessman rather than a boxer. He bought the distribution rights of Mother Dairy – a national company selling milk and milk products – in Gandhinagar. That was 2014 when his first stint in boxing had failed.
“I participated in 2009 Nationals,” he said. “There was only Haryana. Chhaya hua tha Haryana sab jagah. There is no boxing in Gujarat and I did not even know that we have not won a medal for that long in National Championships.”
With a thriving business, Desai stopped boxing and put on a lot of weight. A few bad deals with dealers in the area also forced him to lose his temper and he picked up fights with them.
“I was around 98 kgs and it was disturbing,” he said. “My father was cool and calm and he knew in business you need a cool-headed person. It went on for 24 years until I decided to leave the house. I did not even know where I was headed. I was doing this business and money was good. But the company started messing with the contracts. That time my mind was upset and I felt, this business could mess with me at any time. So I wanted to do something.”
Desai landed in Bhiwani. He wanted to try his hand at boxing again. Bhiwani had by then become the hotbed of boxing.
“He was a stubborn,” Amba Lal Desai said. “In business, you need a calm person and same for boxing. So boxing was also good.”
But picking up boxing again meant he had to leave his wife who he married when he was 18-years-old. He also faced criticism from peers who were much younger to him.
But all that meant nothing when he entered his second senior National Championships in Guwahati in 2016, seven years after his first.
“In Bhiwani, I trained with best national boxers and Olympians,” he said. “But in Guwahati, I lost in the first round to a boxer from Uttarakhand,” he said. “I was prepared well and everything was in place but I was not experienced enough.”
Three years later in Baddi, Desai is on the right path after making it to the semi-final in which he faces Parmod Tomar of All India Police. Though he is targeting a gold medal in Baddi, Desai is happy that he managed to find his love for boxing and does not want to return to the milk business in Gandhinagar.
“Boxing is the easier than business,” he said. “Here you only have to find a way to stay in the ring for nine minutes. Out there you have to be on the job for nine hours straight and you have to play with people’s mind.”
But Desai also knows that his business has helped his boxing as well. “It’s business everywhere,” he said. “I’m taking boxing as a business too so maybe in future I want to be a professional. I am mixing the two and trying to find a path for myself.”