This kid has come out of nowhere. Literally. Just over a year ago, Devendro Singh was another wannabe from Manipur. All that he had was the years of training imparted as part of the Army Boys Sports Company — an initiative that picks up raw talent at a young age in a bid to groom them into future champions.
Then the trials for the World Championships came around at the National Institute of Sports, Patiala. Given hardly any chance by the pundits, Devendro shocked the Indian boxing world when he beat the junior world champion Nanao Singh and Commonwealth Games bronze winner Amandeep Singh. That may have been dismissed as a one-off had the then 19-year-old not followed it up with a quarterfinal berth at the World Amateur Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan. En route he demolished a Mexican boxer 41-12 to register one of the highest scoring bouts of the event.
Devendro came to London with a buzz of anticipation around him which dissipated soon enough when the luck of the draw put him in the same quarter as Mongolian Purevdorjiin Serdamba — a Beijing silver medallist. The Army havaldar beat him 16-11 to earn his quarters shot at Beijing bronze winner Paddy Barnes.
Lost to a plan
By now the coaches in the opposition had obviously been watching reruns of his bouts overtime and Barnes came in with a solid game plan. He knew that the youngster liked to fight hard and quick and that he did not have the prudence to temper his aggression with sound tactics.
Barnes denied Devendro points by maintaining a strong, tight defence and did not let his aggression faze. This seemed to frustrate the Indian who went on to lose two points to an irritated head-butt in the second round.
Leading 17-10 by the second round, Barnes had a seemingly unassailable lead. But someone seemed to have forgotten to tell Devendro that as the havaldar from Artillery went in all guns booming. He won the round 8-6 but lost the fight 18-23.
This correspondent has long turned cynical having seen up close the world of Indian sport with all its corruption. But it’s raw desire and talent of the likes of Devendro which makes this job worthwhile.
Star in the making
It’s once in a rare while that one gets to see a star in the making. Devendro has the kind of speed and aggression not seen in Indian boxing since Dingko Singh. \This boy, who is yet to learn how to stitch more than two sentences together in an interview, certainly has no problem talking tough with his fists. He hits, hits and then hits some more. There is limited prudence, oodles of raw aggression.
He is said to not bother listening to his coaches who would rather have him hold back. He just goes in there and doesn't stop till he can't hit hard anymore. While that is suicide in modern boxing which is not just brawn but also clever deconstructing of an opponent's strength, it was a delight to watch.
Aggression and courage aside, it's Devendro's feet that are real interesting. They are a blur. He darts in, hits, hops away, pivots and then hits again in a synchronous dance that promises greatness. Punched out
“He fights strong. He is also very, very young. He can be amazing with proper training. I am older and stronger and my tactical play is superior. I knew what to do,” said Barnes after the encounter.
Disappointed at his loss, Devendro ran through to the athletes’ enclosure before the waiting media could get a word out of him.
He emerged nearly two hours later. Your correspondent was waiting. It was quite pointless.
The whirlwind in the ring looks like a little boy outside and is just as shy. So, Devendro what is the lesson from your first Olympics?
"Work harder." You should perhaps consider more tactical play. "Will." What's the plan hereon? "Work harder." What else do you need to do to improve? "Work hard." Like I said, pointless.
The only question that enthused Devendro was about the unfinished tattoo on his left hand. What's that? "It's a dragon," he said with a wide grin looking at the marking which hardly looked anything like the mythical beast.
Noticing one's look of scepticism, he adds: "I am yet to finish it. I ran out of colour." You tattooed yourself?
"Of course, wait till I complete it. It will be a dragon," he grinned wide, very much the 20-year-old and for just a moment no longer the man with machine gun punches whose threshold for pain is so high that he tattoos himself with crude sharp needles.
Watch out for the machine gun kid, he has the makings of greatness.