Asian Games gold medal-winning former boxer Dingko Singh died on Thursday after a long battle with liver cancer, reported PTI.

He was 42 and had been fighting the disease since 2017. He contracted Covid-19 in May 2020 but had recovered from the ailment.

Dingko won the Asian Games gold in 1998 and was bestowed the Arjuna award the same year. In Bangkok he ended a long wait for Indian boxing as he became the first Indian since heavyweight Kaur Singh won the gold medal in the 1982 New Delhi Asian Games.

He had become the fourth overall to achieve the feat after Padam Bahadur Mall, who won India’s first games gold in the 1962 Jakarta Games, Hawa Singh — the 1966 and 1970 Bangkok winner — before Kaur Singh in 1982. In 2013, he was honoured with the Padma Shri for his contribution to the sport.

Dingko inspired a generation of Indian pugilists with his swashbuckling ring craft and flamboyant personality. The Manipuri superstar, who won his maiden national title (sub-junior) as a 10-year-old, was among the first modern stars of Indian boxing with his Asian Games gold.

“He was a rockstar, a legend, a rage,” six-time World Champions MC Mary Kom told PTI. “I remember I used to queue up to watch him fight in Manipur. He inspired me. He was my hero. It is a huge loss. He has gone too soon.”

A fearless competitor in the ring, Dingko beat two Olympic medallists – Sontaya Wongprates of Thailand and Timur Tulyakov of Uzbekistan – en route to the Asian Games gold medal in Bangkok, which was a remarkable feat for an Indian boxer at that time.

Ironically, he wasn’t the original pick for the Games and made the cut after registering his protest.

An employee of Indian Navy, Dingko had taken to coaching at Imphal’s Sports Authority of India Centre after hanging up his gloves but illnesses came in the way of his progress.

Tributes poured in from the sporting community:

Dingko was airlifted to Delhi last year after it came to light that the Covid-19 lockdown had prevented him from getting crucial radiation therapy for his cancer. Upon landing here, a bout of jaundice did not allow for the therapy to be carried out. He went back to Imphal in an ambulance and contracted Covid-19 on reaching back home. He went on to spend a month in hospital to recover from the infection.

“It was not easy but I told myself ‘ladna hai toh ladna hai’. I was not prepared to give up, no one should,” he had said in his last interaction with PTI after recovering.

(With PTI inputs)