Axl Rose screeched "welcome to the jungle", as Mary Kom strode out wearing fiery red and the crowd clapped politely. It was kind of fitting for Mary was not entering her comfort zone, she was treading into the unknown.
They say destiny is in the hands of the Gods. Mary's Gods were
certainly smiling when the draw was made as the Indian got into a quarter that saw her face two boxers who were reasonably good but nowhere near great at what they did.
She evaded the top two seeded boxers in the initial rounds. That bit of favour from providence apart, Mary showed grit and rare courage to take on bigger opponents, read their strategies well and then countered by adapting her own game plan to out punch them in the first two bouts. On Wednesday the makeshift stands shook to the reverberations of the applause that greeted local girl Nicola Adams. The home crowd was overwhelmingly loud — loud enough to drown out the sizeable Indian presence in the stands. To counter her taller opponents Mary had relied on penetrative moves that allowed her to get close enough to land scoring punches even as she weaved to avoid the counters.
But that particular strategy came to naught against the nimble Adams who has been seeded No. 1 in the women’s fly weight (51 kg) category.
She stepped in the moment Mary came close enough to score and stunted the Indian’s jabs by jamming the free flow of her arms.
From the moment the bout began, the Briton's plan seemed to become apparent as the first minute almost resembled a wrestling bout with Mary looking to score and being thwarted by lack of room. By the end of the first round, Mary was looking wary as her penetration was dulled even as her opponent moved in to score with alacrity the moment the Indian looked to back off from the body hug.
By the third round Mary was not backing down but was driven back as Adams began to unleash a widening arc of fire.
As the contest wore on, Mary looked desperate to score and her determination to get those elusive points saw her make some moves which were not as prudent as the sculpted ploys of the street fighter she resembled in her earlier rounds. This, in turn, sealed her fate as she committed mistakes in her haste allowing the lanky Adams to evade her guard.
Word from the Indian camp suggests that the boxer’s period also started on Tuesday. "In the case of a majority of female athletes that has an adverse effect on performance," says physio Heath Matthews who had been pivotal in India’s boxing success at the Beijing games. If Mary looked a little bit slower, her physical condition may have also played a crucial role in that.
The 11-6 final verdict did end her dream of a brighter coloured medal than bronze but by then the little woman from Manipur had already punched way above her weight to prove that she had the heart of a lion.
Just that in this new jungle — far removed from the two kg less weight category that she is more comfortable in — it was not possible to tame the reigning queen.