Time for heavyweight Sanjeet to shine at the Worlds after conquering Asia
A file picture of boxer Sanjeet.|
The boxing World Championship 2021, in Serbia, will commence in a week's time and once again the process of identifying the medal prospects has already begun in India as is always the case.
It's one of those onerous tasks which the fans across the country assign themselves with at the start of any competition; go through the rankings, the draws and also what rounds can their favourite boxers reach. The Olympians, who had a relatively quiet campaign in Tokyo 2020, are missing from the roster for various reasons, and the winners only, from the National Championship in Bellary, are boarding the flight to Belgrade. Among them is the World Championship bronze medalist from 2015, Shiva Thapa, who has progressed to the 63kg category and is undoubtedly India's best bet at the competition. The others, though uberly talented, are relatively unknown at the highest level.
With that said, a pugilist comes to mind, who isn't a superstar as yet but has been making the right noises. Sanjeet Kumar, a heavyweight boxer of the SSCB (Services Sports Control Board), who is fresh from a win at the Nationals in the 91kg category, is the reigning Asian champion and is a World Championship quarterfinalist from 2019 as well. All of 25, Sanjeet seems to possess something that separates him from the rest.
Fighting in the heavyweight category is no mean task. One has to be able to move swiftly with all those extra kilos, negate the constant threat of receiving a deadly punch; Sanjeet is all this and also brings an added element of swagger which perhaps comes closest to that of either Akhil Kumar or Vijender Singh. It was the Asian Championship final in the heavyweight category with him facing Rio sliver medalist Vassiliy Levit of Kazakhstan. The Indian displayed incredible footwork and speed to overcome the stiff challenge in the gold medal clash. With the decision going in his favour, he still had enough in his tank to break into an impromptu 'dizzy' dance, something which you don't associate with an Indian boxer. All this came against an opponent -- Levit -- who had knocked out Sanjeet in 2018, during the President's Cup.
"We have a bit of history...I think it was just a way of expressing my happiness. I wanted to avenge that defeat of 2018 against a very strong boxer," Sanjeet told SportCafe in an exclusive interaction.
The boxer from Rohtak, Haryana, is in a weight category where Indians aren't considered as strong, as in some of the lower-weight categories, but this is something that Sanjeet sees as an opportunity. In fact, he puts it across rather mildly, that he could just be the best in his category in India and the next target is the world, despite the country not being known for producing champions in the 91kg division.
"Looking at the field in the 91kg weight category in India, the competition is not that great. But to overcome that, I spar with lower-weight boxers to get the feel of the speed, and the higher-weight boxers to get a feel of that brute strength. I mean, it obviously makes a difference, not having competition in your weight category, but all I can say is that I am feeling good and that I'm right up there in my division.
"It is just about the mentality. I had always heard a lot of people talk about how tough it was to get a medal in the higher-weight categories, and somewhere I too had started believing so. But I played the World Championship in 2019, made it to the quarters, and got a sense that getting medals is actually achievable. A lot of youngsters are of that mindset, and I'm certainly part of that group who plays to win medals."
To have a boxer with that attitude, Sanjeet would have been a great addition to India's Tokyo Olympics team, but had missed the cut due to an untimely injury and later, with all the qualifiers getting cancelled due to Covid-19. That is something that still irks him and makes him think about, what could have been.
"Some of the pugilists I beat at the Asian level, went on to play the Olympics. It would have been great had I been there. Although it was Russian and the Cuban who won the top honours, but I see them beating when I face them, provided I give it my all in the ring.
"That was the time when I didn't feel great. I used to have sessions with the psychologist to help me overcome that feeling. My friends here in the camp, Amit Panghal and Manish Kaushik did help me come out of that tough zone as well. My brother used to check on me every now and then during that phase, only to know if I was doing fine. Though still not over it as yet, now winning at Olympics is a dream."
But still, there is a long way to go for Sanjeet, or one would like to believe so. He is truly a champion in the making and invests decent time in improving different aspects of the game, which ultimately will help him grow as a boxer. Currently, he is getting an insight into how to become one by reading 'The Champion's Mind', a book by sports Psychologist Jim Afremow. The book largely talks about the different tried and tested ways to peak at the right time, by training the mind for it.
"To handle all the pressure, I just read a few books here and there. I am currently reading The Champion's Mind. I mean, as a professional athlete you need to work on the mental aspect as well, and this book has been a great revelation. Hopefully, I can use the knowledge gained from here," he concluded.