“Everyone wants to be a player like me but that’s not possible. Mere jaisa fir thodi koi paida hoga [No one like me will ever be born].” – Mary Kom said, after defeating Ukraine’s Hanna Okhota by an unanimous decision to win gold at the World Championships for the sixth time.
Mary’s statement at the press conference that followed could be perceived in a lot of ways: It could either be seen as sheer arrogance, bravado or a warning sign to the younger lot waiting to step into those big shoes of hers. But in trademark style, she wasn’t mincing any words and shot straight from the heart. An Olympic gold or not, Mary’s legacy had yet another feather in its hat; she is, without a doubt, one of the greatest sportspersons to emerge from her country. Here, she was encouraged by a packed packed house in New Delhi.
Mary, 35 at the time of her victory, soaked in the applause from a boisterous crowd before breaking into tears. The enormity of the occasion may have finally sunk in: she became the first woman to win six world titles. No Indian had come even close to achieving this feat. The World Championships was a tournament the Manipuri pugilist made it her own. A year later, Mary went on to become the first boxer, male or female, to win eight medals in the competition. And she was outsmarting boxers more than a decade younger to her.
To the London Olympic bronze medallist’s credit, very few manage to get their name on the medal tally as consistently as Mary. Her journey to the sixth world title had already begun a year earlier, where she added a fifth Asian title to her kitty in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
This was a different Mary Kom to what we’d seen in her younger days. That was a different beast, showing immense will power, confidence and importantly, going after her opponents straight out of the gate and setting the tone in the bout. Being a natural athlete, Mary’s footwork was always one of her assets. Most of her wins in the early part of her career saw the flyweight boxer display her attacking prowess.
By 2018, Mary adopted a different approach. She was no longer entangling in punishing physical duels in the early rounds. She had an aura and entered most events as one of the top seeds. Allowing opponents to come to her, Mary, was able to ward off attacks with ease. It was the rock-solid defence that her record title was built on, wearing down opponents before unleashing a variety of combinations in the final minutes. In this battle of chess, there was going to be only one winner. Simply put, Mary just knew how to win bouts.
Indian boxing has struggled to find a replacement for Mary, who continues to be the flag-bearer of the sport in the country. Most of her wins have come after she became a mother. Now, she manages a big family but her medal tally continues to swell. Mary can also take credit for making a generation of fans watch boxing. So many of the younger boxers hail Mary’s influence playing a pivotal role in them donning the big gloves for the first time, on the lines of how the late Ayrton Senna inspired a generation of Brazilians into motorsports. More than the sport itself, Brazil and India are countries who are starved for winners.
And boy, ‘Magnificent’ Mary knows better than most people in on how to emerge victorious in the end. Metaphorically, that could well be the theme of her life: A young woman from a family that struggled to make ends meet emerging out of nowhere to swat away challenges and conquer the world. Always hungry for success, it won’t be a surprise to see Mary bag yet another Olympic medal in Tokyo next year.
Here is how Mary Kom entered history books with her sixth World Championship gold: