There was no malevolent intent in his protest. It was just that Manoj thought he had been short-changed by the referee and that he had to raise his voice. The reputation of the opponent didn’t matter at that point.
The stage was the 2008 senior National championship in Bhatinda. And the opponent was the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games silver-medallist, Som Bahadur Pun. Just when Manoj was set to stage the biggest upset of the championship, leading 21-16 with 20 seconds to go, the referee penalised him after a third warning and called the bout in his opponent’s favour.
The decision didn’t go down well with Manoj and he refused to come out of the ring till the officials intervened and assured him that the bout would be reviewed. The next morning, the federation decided to hold a re-match. Pun didn’t show up and Manoj was declared the winner. That episode changed Manoj’s boxing career forever.Aggression and boxing
“I stayed in the ring for at least 10 minutes after the bout…you can call it an act of indiscipline, but had I not protested in a vociferous manner, the officials wouldn’t have reviewed their decision. I would then have made a quarterfinal exit and would not have been considered for the Commonwealth Games camp.”
As Manoj sits in one corner of the gymnasium, cooling off after a strenuous sparring session, he says in a matter-of-fact tone, “Things might have been different for me today had I not raised my voice. The protest and, later, the national title changed my life. Aggression is part and parcel of boxing but I don’t want to show that trait outside the ring. At the same time, you can’t let anyone take advantage of you. One should be prepared to go all the way to get his due,” he adds.
Manoj is a firm believer in destiny, though he never neglects hard work. “A lot of things depend on destiny, but training hard is in your hands….there is no substitute to hard work. So, why not give 100 per cent to something which is in your hands.”
Like a workhorse he trains all day and competing in his maiden Olympic Games is what he has always craved for since the day he was not picked to the national squad. “Hard work never goes waste. I have added motivation now that I am part of the London-bound contingent.”
Boxing came naturally to Manoj as his father, Sher Singh, too was a national-level boxer. He wanted to live his dream of winning laurels for the country through his three sons. For that, the Army man even continued to work after retirement as the pension and returns from agriculture were not sufficient to raise the family of five.
Those hardships remained etched in Manoj’s mind and the day he got a hefty cheque for his Commonwealth Games exploits, Manoj spent the money on renovating their house in Rajound in Haryana’s Kaithal district and bought a house in Kurukshetra. “I never knew my punches would bring me this far,” says Manoj.
Though Sher Singh dreamt of making his sons international boxers, the eldest one, Rajesh, could only reach the varsity level and later switched to coaching and became a mentor to Mukesh and Manoj. “Today, I am into the sport because of my father and elder brother. Despite financial constraints, they provided me with the best facilities,” says Manoj.