Spurned by family, hungry Mizo boxer sets ring on fire
Mizoram’s Vanlalhriatpuii didn’t find it natural to throw punches. But when she donned the gloves only for assured meals, the coaches discovered in her a natural switch-hitter, a rarity among boxers.
A switch-hitter is a boxer who switches back and forth between an orthodox, or right-handed, stance and a southpaw, or left-handed, stance to confuse the opponents in a fight.
“Top boxers train hard to be a switch-hitter. But Puii (the name everyone calls Vanlalhriatpuii by) has this natural ability to change stance suddenly during a fight, and this should take her far,” said Bhaskar Bhatt, the head coach of the 10-boxer Indian contingent for the AIBA Women’s Youth World Championships 2017 here.
Vanlalhriatpuii, 18, exited in the preliminary round of the lightweight (60 kg) category at the world event, losing 3:2 to South Korea’s Aeji IM on Monday.
Her coaches blamed the loss on her left shoulder weakened after it was dislocated last year. Vanlalhriatpuii dictated the terms initially, but the Korean exploited her tendency to shield her left arm.
Boxing was not in the Mizo girl’s mind four years ago when she was struggling to come to terms with her parents’ divorce. Her father, a driver in Champhai town 185 km southeast of Mizoram capital Aizawl, remarried and her mother went back to her native Kolkulh village.
The divorce rate in Mizoram is one of the highest in India. The 2011 census says the state has the most divorced or separated women with 6.9% compared to 4.8% men.
“My elder sister got married, a brother is staying with an aunt and my youngest brother, 5 years old, is staying with my father and stepmother. The SAI (Sports Authority of India) hostel in Aizawl has been my home since 2013,” Vanlalhriatpuii said.
She impressed the local scouts at a boxing trial in 2014, just a few months after she had moved into the SAI hostel. “I gave it a shot thinking life cannot be tougher than what I have been through. Besides, it ensured shelter and food,” she said.
Vanlalhriatpuii relished battering the punching bag. The ambition soared as her jabs, crosses, uppercuts and bolo punches made opponents uncomfortable.
She became the School Games Champion in 2015 and gold at the National Championship earned her a berth in the national youth team earlier this year.
“Adversities have perhaps made her a strong fighter. It is remarkable how she has turned things around with the SAI and Mizoram Boxing Association taking care of all her needs,” Bhatt said.
But Vanlalhriatpuii feels she needs more strength and speed to be like her idols – Philippine great Manny Pacquaio among men and Indian legend MC Mary Kom, both southpaws.
Assam’s Ankushita Boro, 17, needs speed and power too. Unlike Vanlalhriatpuii, she has the backing of her parents. But they make only about R3,000 between them. “My maternal grandfather, a teacher who retires in 2019, has been helpful. I might not have come this far were it not for his support,” she said.
Ankushita hopes that her ability to almost always land a punch on target would see her through against the formidable Cagla Aluc of Turkey in the light welterweight (64 kg) category on Tuesday.