He can go overboard after a win and sulk and sob big time when he doesn’t. But put him in a ring and, irrespective of the circumstances, Jitender Kumar’s punches cut like a knife.
For the 20-year-old, every half-step and half-punch on the canvas is a journey in discovering himself. “I am still learning,” says Jitender.
On Saturday, nothing could have stopped him. Not even a bloodied face. As blood smeared his T-shirt, it spurred Jitender to approach the bout with greater determination. “Dard kya hota hai? Desh ke liye ek-ek boond nichod lenge,” he said, quite theatrically after beating Tulashboy Doniyorov of Uzbekistan 13-6.
When Vijender Kumar won his middleweight bout in the evening, India had three boxers in the quarter-finals — an Olympic first for us. Vijender’s good run of form since last June continued at the Workers’ Stadium when he beat Thailand’s Angkhan Chomphuphuang 13-3 whom he hadn’t beaten before. Just one good fight can change the dressing room atmosphere, said Vijender referring to what Akhil Kumar did on Independence Day.
Vijender meets Carlos Gongora from Ecuador on Wednesday, the same day Jitender takes on Russian Georgy Balakshin.
With pretty faces in minis, the boxers are led to the arena here in a manner reminiscent of drawcards at Las Vegas hotels. Surprisingly, the crowd cheered as soon the public address system boomed ‘Inddiiiiiiaaaaa’.
On the first day when Vijender fought, no one was cheering. But now things have changed. The myth that Indian boxers can’t last the first round has changed. A message has been sent. “We are Indians and we are no pushovers,” said Jitender smiling. “Hope our wins here will help popularise the sport back home.”
Combination was not right
At the end of the day victory is what matters most. No one will question how you fight as long as you win. On Saturday, amid the frenetic din, Jitender wasn’t getting his combination right. His favourite uppercuts and the straight right were not in sync. Somehow after a low uppercut to the body, he was not being able to connect his straight on the face. “The Uzkbekistan boxer was ducking too much,” complained Jitender.
After a regulation first round, Jitender was unable to find an opening. In the second, a low uppercut on the body had his opponent convulsing. Finally, he managed to break through and pounded Doniyorov’s body more regularly.
Call it overconfidence or overenthusiasm, Jitender kept moving within the southpaw’s range. “Move back, move back,” yelled coach B.I. Fernandes. But to no avail. Within the rings yells are silent. The only voice you hear is from within. And a true boxer always fights with his heart.
“He can fight much better than this,” said Fernandes.
Cut above the rest
It will give him sleepless nights. In boxing, a stitch is enough to rule him out of the next bout. “But this is nothing,” insisted physio Heath Mathews. “It happens and in three days it should heal.”
Even Jitender was confident.
“Kuch nahi hai. Yeh to hota hi rehta hai,” he said, smiling. But in a sport that demands 100 per cent fitness a cut on a chin, though small, will be a worry.