Cheered on by a partisan home crowd, Mary Kom dominated her opponent to record a commanding victory in her opening bout at the AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in New Delhi. (Pic: BFI)
With all eyes on MC Mary Kom’s bout for the day, one could have been forgiven Manisha Maun for feeling under the radar last evening (November 18) — that despite the fact that the youngster had already produced a minor upset in her previous bout and was matched up against the reigning world champion Dina Zholaman in the pre-quarterfinals. By all accounts, the outline of a fairytale script were in place. Mary’s appearance, for the first time in a decade, at home in the World Championships, just seemed more narratively relevant.
The narrative hierarchy didn’t matter for Maun though, and did what she did in the previous round, putting in a commanding performance to take win with a 5-0 verdict over Zholaman, putting herself a step closer to an assured medal in her debut Worlds.
“She is a tough boxer, but I can beat her,” Maun said in the lead up to the bout. The confidence was based on the fact that she had beaten the Kazakh in a meeting in September this year. In what was a high intensity bout, Maun controlled the distance while landing the cleaner shots. Zholaman though had reason to feel aggrieved having caught the Indian several times with charging flurries in the later rounds.
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Her complaints, though, were with the clear cut nature of the loss, rather than the nature of it itself. “How was it a unanimous decision? I knew something like this might happen,” the Kazakh said, before the ominous, “we will see how far the Indians go.”
And to go far, Maun, the Indian in charge of the drama, there is no room for relaxation. The intensity will have to still be up. Now more than ever perhaps because boxing offers no easy rounds. Her next opponent will be the top seed and the 2016 World Championship silver medallist, Stoyka Petrova of Bulgaria.
Maun’s response, outside of the ring, is as usual. Her devil-may-care for accolades manner should be patented now. “For me, once I am inside the ring it does not matter whether my opponent is a world champion or a silver medallist. I play my game and do what the coaches told me. So, my approach will be the same in my next bout also," she said.
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Any observations that results were favouring the Indians on home turf though should be put on the back burner — for now — simply because of the nature of Sarita Devi’s loss. The Manipuri boxer’s contentious loss marked what was otherwise a perfect day for India. If Zholaman was aggrieved for having lost by such a clear margin, Sarita’s grievance may have been against the razor thin tilt of scorecards.
The veteran lost a split decision to Ireland’s Kellie Harrington in the pre-quarters. Both boxers dominated the bout in patches. The clincher though perhaps was a clean left that landed for Harrington and resulted in Sarita getting a standing eight count.
Where Zholaman was petulant though, Sarita was more pensieve. Having earlier faced sanction for protesting against irregular decisions (most famously at the Asian Games in 2014, after which she was banned for a year from competition), Sarita chose to question fate itself. “I thought I got unluckier. Some points did not go my way. But I will continue to box as long as I can,” she said, visibly distressed.
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A surprise win, a close loss, for the crowd the day’s garnish was added by the ageless Mary Kom. Even in a straight forward victory, it was hard not to miss the nerves Mary showed. When your face is plastered across the stadium in the form of posters, it is hard perhaps to completely shake off the pressure. Mary is battling for her sixth World Championships gold, an unprecedented feat, and she knows what that weight feels like.
Maun may have been talking down the pressure, and the others not ever mentioning it, but with age comes the ability to talk to your demons before battling them into submission.
“Sometimes, winning medals, also puts pressure because people expect it from you,” she said. “We are hosting the world championships. So, there’s a question of what can I do? Can I prove myself or not is always on my mind. All I do is try and be better and better.”
And so she did. She circled, she feigned and she countered. In a sport that thrives on contact, she looked to avoid it. She prefers the smarter tactic — stick and move. When her opponent Kazakhstan’s Aigerim Kassenayeva charged, Mary countered. When she stuck back, Mary picked her off. It wasn’t effortless, but it was worth it. 5-0 Mary, Delhi rejoiced, and collectively heaved a sigh of relief.
Now she will take on Wu Yu of China in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
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