Before the evening training period, the Indian boxing team is having an extended video analysis session. High performance director Santiago Nivea is explaining how to evade a clear punch from a southpaw boxer. The video clips are from professional boxers, amateurs and even training footage.
The next day at the national camp which is being held at the Inspire Institute of Sports, Vijaynagar, a fight night is conducted. It is an occasional event where they recreate a competition hall and pit boxers against each other for a bout.
“Some times we do it thrice a month,” India men’s boxing coach CA Kutuppa said. “The last camp had six of them. Mainly, we want boxers in the camp to feel that they are ready for competition. Some of them may not get the competitions outside so everyone needs a chance. Everyone here will be boxing, controlling weight and in process.”
The need to increase the number of competitions, Kutuppa believes, is necessary given that the Asia/Oceania Olympic Qualification Event is just two months away. The event will be held from February 3 to 14 in Wuhan, China.
Why the Wuhan event is crucial
That will be the first chance for Indian boxers to book their tickets to the Tokyo Olympics. Kuttappa said that it is the best chance for India to qualify maximum boxers for the 2020 Games. The World Qualifiers are scheduled to be held in Paris from May 13 to 24.
“If we can repeat the performance we had at Asian Championships, we can qualify six boxers from China,” he said. “We have Vikas [Krishan], 57 kg has some top guys. There is no question of how many. We have to qualify maximum because World Qualifiers will be tougher.”
Indian boxers won seven medals at the Asian Championships earlier this year. But repeating that performance will take a herculean effort from the team which will be selected through a trial, which will be held on December 28 and 29 at the IIS centre.
Since the start of December, the Indian boxing team has been divided in three groups. One batch is participating in the Indian Boxing League in Delhi, other batch went to the South Asian Games while the third stayed at IIS.
“The league wasn’t in our plans [in December] but we cannot help it,” Kuttappa said. “But the league was important because people should know what is boxing. Every sport had a league apart from boxing. We had planned one in 2011 but then the boxing federation got banned and the plan was cancelled.”
The performance of the boxers in the league will be crucial. On the basis of that performance, they will be allowed to participate in the trials. The only category which won’t have the trials is 51 kg. Amit Panghal, who is participating in the league, won a silver medal at the World Championships to get the exemption.
“Other categories will have World Championships boxers, number two will be the national champion, three are silver medallists and then the best one. That will be decided on how they perform in the league, SAG and here in the camp,” he added.
Importance of discipline
Boxing Federation of India’s decision to shift the camp from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala to IIS has come as a welcome change. Both Nieva and Kuttappa pointed out that they were able to host a camp with more synergy.
“Patiala had a problem that on weekends, boxers used to rush home,” Kuttappa said. “That is not happening here and we have 23 new boxers here who are getting top-class facilities.”
Indian boxing has seen a steady rise since the arrival of Nieva and even Kuttappa as the chief coach. The latter said that the number of competitions and discipline at the camp is the main reason for the transformation.
“We were practising earlier as well but we did not have results,” he said. “But now we have competitions. Everyone wants to win and show they are good. Earlier there were trials for everyone but now only the best get it. It’s not like number one or two were getting selected for every tournament. Now, number three and four are also going.”
When Kuttappa arrived at the national at the start of the this year, he felt that too many boxers and coaches took their place in the team for granted. So he began an overhaul.
“Dicispline is primary,” he said. “One boxer was expelled, we began writing reports of sessions, shooting videos, analysing individual boxers. So they knew they have to improve themselves. No coach used to be at the ringside. Now, two coaches are ringside to guide them while they are sparring so they always feel that they are competing.”
There were critics of this style as well. Many would come up to Kuttappa and tell him that the boxers are only focussing on competing and not training, especially after World Championships bronze medallist Manish Kaushik lost to a Nepal boxer at the SAG.
“People tell me that we are only focusing on competition and not training,” he said. “Why are we training? If we don’t get competition, then what is the point of training. Let them box and prove them. An injury here and there is the only issue.”
But for the 40-year-old, this is just the beginning of what can be another memorable era for Indian boxing.
“Boxers are more interested in boxing,” he said. “Tyson and Ali ke video dekhne se boxing nahi hoti [You cannot become good just by watching videos of Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali]. You must know yourself and understand why [you] are in the national camp.”