Behind every successful woman, there may be a man. In MC Mary Kom’s case, there are two – her husband and her ‘Coach Sir’. While Onler was at hand to see his wife win her maiden Asian Games title, coach Leishangthem Ibomcha Singh, arguably India’s most successful, was in the Manipur capital, where his boxing school has churned out an assembly line of champions.
Ibomcha spotted Mary in 2000 and enrolled her in SAI campus here. She was his fourth ‘uncut diamond’ in a row after Asian champion M Suranjoy in 1999, P Narjit in 1998 and L Sarita Devi in 1997. He had also spotted Ng Dingko Singh in 1990, who ended India’s 16-year wait for an Asian Games gold by triumphing in Bangkok in 1998.
Referred to as Oja, a Meitei honorific, Ibomcha has produced 53 international and national medalists. They include four Olympians and two world champions.
“I seem to have the knack of spotting them and creating ordinary to top level boxers,” Ibomcha told HT. “Success is nothing but a repercussion of one’s daring to have a big dream and wrapping this dream with determination, hard work, discipline and humility to turn this into reality.”
For Ibomcha, 56, producing world class boxers is a ‘hobby’. So close is he to his wards he remembers the birthdays of most of them. He even cooks food for the needy with his family’s help.
“I give training with sincerity as sports for a Manipuri is religion,” Ibomcha says. “Hard work enables one to participate in contests, but one needs to have some talent to be at the top.”
A diehard Muhammad Ali fan, Ibomcha uses many popular local proverbs during training to motivate his students. Practice till it becomes a habit is one of them.
Ibomcha was introduced to modern boxing while in the army. “I wanted to be a footballer but switched to boxing after my brother presented me with boxing gloves,” said the man who still runs 10 km daily.
Ibomcha moved to Imphal to teach boxing for beginners in the early 1980s. Appreciation came from unexpected people – local goons who were in awe of his punch. “One of them gave me R50,” he recalls. He was conferred the Dronacharya Award in 2010.
Ibomcha believes a coach’s success lies in the ability of his wards to outshine him. Why does Manipur produce so many boxers? “It is probably in the genes since we have been born and brought up in conflict situations.”