November 1964 saw me in the Indian Military Academy (IMA) for the final part of my pre-commission training. I was in the boxing team of the IMA which was to go to the NDA for an inter-academy competition. However, the trip got cancelled. It was decided that there would be an exhibition boxing tournament instead. A boxing tournament used to be a big show those days.
The officers came in their dinner jackets while the ladies came in their evening best. I was paired off with Gentleman Cadet Rajpal Singh Guliya, who was a weight class above me. The scary part was that as a soldier he had been the Services champion for a number of years.
I was expecting a real hammering from him and my only wish was to somehow come out of it without getting disgraced. The day of reckoning arrived and there I was in the red corner being introduced to the crowd. Guliya, in the blue corner, looked ferocious with scars from his many bouts clearly visible. Those days we did not wear head guards.
Soon the gong went off. As I turned around I found Guliya moving menacingly towards me with the clear intention of finishing the bout in a flash. Out of sheer panic I went against the ropes and put my gloves up to guard against the onslaught. The next moment I saw Guliya leaping in the air and coming towards me. Just out of defensive instinct I let fly a right hook blindly and heard a crunching sound as it got Guliya flush on the point of his chin.
He was caught in mid-air and got a double whammy with his own velocity and the power of my punch. His head snapped back and he hit the ground with his head. I could not believe when I saw Guliya being given a knock-out count by the referee. Soon Guliya was on his feet. The bout resumed and I went for him. I gave him a real hammering but he would not go down. Finally, the referee stopped the bout and gave a technical knockout in my favour.
Guliya refused to leave the ring and asked the referee for the bout to continue. The bout resumed, but despite trying hard, I could not put him down. Instead he started a counter-attack. He lasted the three rounds but looking at his blood-splattered face I thought I would win. Surprisingly, he was declared the winner. Frankly, I did not mind because it was only an exhibition bout and if any one looked at the two of us he would know who got the hammering.
The important point in this episode was the courage shown by Guliya. Most people would have called it quits. But he had a lion's heart and asked for the bout to continue and just for that he deserved to be the winner. Next day Guliya was rewarded with the stripes of a corporal. Later, Guliya came to meet me and told me that he had never been hit with a punch like that. I patted his back and told him that it was the 'Punch of the Century'.