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Wrestling hub Najafgarh takes to the boxing ring

In Najafgarh, a number of academies have come up over the years. These institutions have produced boxers who have gone on to participate in national, international championships.

other sports Updated: Oct 29, 2018 10:08 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
1/8

In Najafgarh, known for having produced cricketing great Virender Sehwag and Olympic silver medal winning wrestler Sushil Kumar, a silent boxing revolution is taking place. Every day, hundreds of children and teenagers --both girls and boys—can be spotted practising punches inside the many boxing academies that have sprung up in Najafgarh and its surrounding villages. (Vipin Kumar / HT Photo)

A silent boxing revolution is taking place in Najafgarh, which is known for having produced cricketing great Virender Sehwag and Olympic silver medalwinning wrestler Sushil Kumar.

Every day, one can spot hundreds of children and teenagers — both girls and boys — practising their punches inside the many boxing academies that have come up in Najafgarh and surrounding villages.

“Until a few years ago, not many in Najafgarh wanted to be a boxer. But now... I have many students who have given up kabaddi and wrestling for boxing,” says Brij Mohan, a coach.

Coaches say the interest in the sport has to do with the growing number of Indian boxers making it big in international events. Bollywood, too, has played its part.

Dressed in a white t-shirt, Sushant Sindhu’s face is shining in the orange glow of the setting sun. He is breathing hard and grunting as he rains powerful blows onto a punching bag. Brij Mohan, his coach, whom he calls ‘guruji’, is watching him keenly and correcting him from time to time, asking him to keep his punches straight.

“No uppercuts, please,” the coach shouts and Sushant immediately changes his punches.

We are inside BM Boxing Academy in Najafgarh, and Brij Mohan, the founder, now shifts his attention to his other wards doing shadow boxing in front of a row of mirrors on the wall. The academy, which was inaugurated 9 days ago — it is still decked with ribbons and flowers from the opening ceremony — also has a ring in the middle, where a boxing bout has just begun between the students. About 70-odd children and teenagers, wearing gloves, are waiting for their turn as they cheer the young boxers in the ring.

“Until a few years ago, not many in Najafgarh wanted to be a boxer. But now the place where youngsters have been traditionally into kabaddi, wrestling and cricket, is becoming Delhi’s nursery for boxing. In fact, I have many students who have given up kabaddi and wrestling for boxing. Many of our students are children of former and current wrestlers, athletes and kabaddi players,” says Brij Mohan, a tall, stout man wearing his academy’s white jersey.

A silent boxing revolution is taking place in southwest Delhi’s Najafgarh — a sprawling, crowded, suburb bordering Haryana, which is known for having produced cricketing great Virender Sehwag and Olympic silver medal-winning wrestler Sushil Kumar. Every morning and evening, one can spot hundreds of children and teenagers — both girls and boys and some as young as five — practicing their punches inside the many boxing academies that have come up in Najafgarh and surrounding villages in the last three years.

Boxing coaches say this fast-growing interest in the combat sport among youngsters has to do with the growing number of Indian boxers making it big in international events, the increasing number of boxing tournaments and championships in India, and glamour associated with boxing. Besides, they say, Bollywood has also played a big role in popularising the sport, with several boxing-related movies — like Mary Kom, Mukkabaaz , Saala Khadoos — becoming major hits. “Youngsters in this predominately rural area are intelligent, well- built, and have a fighting spirit. It is an aspirational sport for them,” says Brij Mohan, whose new academy attracts children from many neighboring villages. “Nowhere in the city is the craze for boxing as intense as in Najafgarh,” he adds.

There are many villages in Najafgarh that now have their own boxing academies. For example, Delhi Rural Boxing Academy in Baprola, the native village of Olympic silver-winning wrestler Sushil Kumar. Started last year, it is located inside a large hall within the premises of the verdant village akhara, where Kumar began as a wrestler.

“Many children from poor families here are getting into boxing, which they feel will help change the fortunes of their families,” says Anil Solanki, founder of the academy, as he watches his wards pulling ropes, punching speedballs and lifting tyres as part of endurance training.

Vipin Vats, 12, one of his students, says he was inspired by Vijender Singh, first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal. “My father feels that I have it in me and will make it big as a boxer,” says Vats, whose father is a vegetable vendor.

So, what has he learnt at the academy? “I have improved my footwork, side steps and my left punches after I joined the academy,” he adds. Vats watches the bouts of his favourite boxers on his father’s phone. Another trainee, Karan Vats, also 12, who has been coming to the academy for the past 10 months says he gave up cricket for boxing. “I find it more exciting than any other sport,” says Karan Vats, who has a silver medal to his credit in school national championship.

Samaspur and Dhansa are among other villages that have boxing academies, complete with boxing rings.

Rohit Shokeen, a boxing coach at Najafgarh stadium, says, “In Najafgarh, children are more focused on sports than studies and parents support them. Most youngsters want to get into the armed forces, and sports only enhance their chances. They feel there is more money and glamour in boxing than in wrestling and kabaddi.”

Many academies have produced boxers who have participated in national and international championships.

Najafgarh Boxing Academy, which started three years ago, has 125 students. The founder, Sunil Khokhar, says his academy — the oldest and the biggest in Najafgarh — has produced 40 players who have played at the national level. “I started training boxers four years ago in the local stadium. Then we had to call parents to try and convince them to send their children to learn boxing. Now parents make a beeline to our academy with their children,” says Sunil, who started with only three students.

The academy’s brick-red walls have mirrors and black and white posters of American boxers, such as Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali and Indian boxing champions such as five-time world amateur boxing champion Mary Kom, Akhil Kumar, Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishnan, among others. There are also posters with inspiring quotes from some of the world’s greatest boxers, including one from Muhammad Ali, which says, “I hated every minute of training. But I said, do not quit, suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”

Many of the academy’s students are young girls, including Sanya Negi, 16, who clinched a silver medal in International Silesian Open Boxing Tournament for women in Poland in September, which saw participation from 17 countries. Asked why so many girls in Najafgarh are getting into boxing and she says, “Who said that girls can only play tennis and badminton. I have never thought of playing those sports and always wanted to be a boxer,” says Negi in fluent English, waiting for her turn for a practice bout in the ring.

There are many trainees at the academy who have been inspired by Bollywood movies that put the spotlight on the lives of boxers and their coaches. Rohan Shokeen, 17, who has been practicing at the academy for the past two years and has played at national level, rattles off the names of dozens of movies featuring boxers and boxing coaches in an instant.

“Boxing movies have been a great source of inspiration for me and many others in Najafgarh,” says Shokeen, who hails from Deenpur village. “In sports, where you come from have no bearing on where you will reach. Unlike a decade ago, we now also have many homegrown boxing heroes to look up to.”

Back at the newly opened BM Boxing Academy, Rekha Solanki is helping her son wear the gloves and a mouth guard. Both her children — daughter Jia, 11, and son Harsh, 10 — are enrolled at the academy. “My daughter is more fascinated by boxing than my son. I come here to see her deliver powerful punches. It gives me a satisfaction that I cannot explain,” says Solanki.

First Published: Oct 28, 2018 13:48 IST