Having modeled the aggressive style of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson to claim an Olympic berth, Indian boxer L. Devendro Singh knows curbing those attacking instincts is the only way to achieve his dream of a medal at the London Olympic Games.
“I’m a naturally aggressive boxer, but need to learn how to counterattack better,” the shy Manipur boxer, who will turn 20 next month, said at a Delhi hotel.
“Being too aggressive has its own risks. Boxers from China and Korea are good at counterattacking,” he said.
Devendro, the soft-spoken 49kg category boxer, is a big fan of the US’ Tyson, who, in his heyday, was known as “the baddest man on the planet” for his devastating attacking style.
However, the young Indian is also aware of how Tyson’s career unfolded and the struggles he had with slick counterpunchers like Evander Holyfield, who proved victorious when the duo first met in a world-title fight in 1996.
Devendro is hopeful the work he has put honing those necessary counterattacking skills that Tyson lacked has paid off and he will use a tournament this week in Kazakhstan to find out.
“Honestly, a medal [in Kazakhstan] will not be on top of my mind,” Devendro said before explaining that he was treating the tournament as a “learning experience.”
Devendro is one of four boxers from India who have qualified for London, while a couple of others, including Beijing bronze medalist Vijender Singh (75kg), are expected to make the cut through April’s Asian qualifier in Kazakhstan.
They will be joined by an unprecedented 11 Indian shooters to spearhead the world’s second-most populous nation’s quest for rare Olympic glory.
The aim for all members of the team will be to add to India’s nine Olympic gold medals, a paltry offering which is the result of the South Asians’ obsession for all things cricket.
The bias for cricket is underlined by the very hotel Devendro and his fellow boxers are regularly put up in.
A stone’s throw away from the New Delhi rail station, the modest hotel in the noisy Paharganj area has as much chance of hosting a national cricketer as an Indian athlete has of winning the men’s 100m event at London.
Not that the athletes mind.
The poor cousins of India’s pampered cricketers have long accepted it as fate. Every four years they sense an opportunity to rise above this obscurity — and so did Devendro.
He stunned some of his ranked opponents in the trial for last year’s World Championship in Baku, his first major tournament in the senior category, where he reached the quarter-finals to pocket a London berth.
“I gave everything in the trial, but [I] never thought [that I] would not only qualify for World Championship, but also earn a place for London,” the boxer said.
He adds that he loves boxing, but is equally happy kicking a ball or watching Portugal and Real Madrid soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo on TV.
National boxing coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu has no doubts Devendro has proved himself in the trials, but is equally convinced of the limitation of a one-dimensional technique built around aggression.
“The idea now is to give him the exposure. He has learnt a few things about counterattacking — all he needs now is to apply it in competitions,” Sandhu said before heading for Kazakhstan.
“Maybe opponents would expose some chinks. We would record his bouts, analyze and polish his technique before London. It’s a kind of study trip for him. He’ll get confidence only after he has applied it successfully in competitions,” he said.