Imphal eagerly awaits L Sarita Devi’s first ever pro bout for an Indian woman
History beckons Indian Boxing. A new chapter to the combat sport in the country will be added on January 29, 2017, at Imphal, Manipur, when the nation gets it first women professional pugilist. Arjuna Awardee & former world and national Champion L Sarita Devi, the boxing icon from Imphal, will create history at her home town as she will become the first ever female boxer from India to step into the world of professional boxing at the Khuman Lampak Sports Complex indoor arena.
It will be a baptism by fire for Sarita, who is training hard at the Sports Authority India’s National Boxing Academy in Rohtak for her new avatar. Sarita will make her professional debut against the seasoned pro Zsofia Bedo of Hungary, who is a veteran of 59 professional bouts. The 29-year-old Hungarian is better known for knocking out her opponents. The world No. 29, to her credit has 19 wins with a seven per cent knock out record.
The 31-year-old Sarita is honing her skills under the tutelage of American coach Joe Clough. The 73-year-old Clough has coached Evander Holyfield besides being a member of the Mohammad Ali coaching team. Sarita wants to take no chances. That is one reason that she has opted for a male sparring and practice partner at the training camp. “I am training hard and I am going to fight harder,” says Sarita.
Sarita claims herself to be a lady on mission. “Turning professional is not just about winning or losing a couple of bouts. The most important decision of my career is also a mission for me. I didn’t want to start against any average opponent. I am entering the professional circuit quite late in my career. I will have to make longer strides to achieve my goals. The stronger the opponent, the better are the chances to improve my pro rankings,” says the Manipur boxer.
Sarita is excited that her hometown will be the venue for the most important date of her career. “Manipur is the land of warriors. We people love combat sports. Boxing lovers are going to turn up for my bout in big numbers. That’s going to be the biggest day of my career for the simple reason that I have never had an opportunity to contest such a big bout in front of my home crowd. There is going to be an extra pressure. But, that also pumps up the adrenalin.”
Indian Boxing Council president, Brig PK Muralidharan Raja, asserts that the Sarita-Zsofia bout will usher a new era for Indian boxing. “It will not just be historical in the sense that Sarita becomes the first female boxer in India to don pro colors. There will also be many firsts on January 29, which IBC shall share with the boxing lovers soon. Sarita’s presence in Imphal is going to draw a good crowd support. We also plan to create a ‘box park’ outside the arena where the fans are expected to turn up in big numbers to watch live action on giant screens to get the in-stadia-like feel.”
IBC’s commercial partner Sporty Boxing said that launching Sarita’a pro career from Imphal is a strategic move. “We preferred to visit the roots of the sport in India, rather than falling for the lure of launching the pro tour from a big city. The North-East has a huge potential for the sport of professional boxing and Sarita is the right brand ambassador.
Sporty Boxing’s ultimate aim is to create a strong pool of professional boxers. After starting our training camp at the boxing nursery of India, Rohtak, we now aim to go big from Imphal. That is also going to be our hunting ground for talent as we want to catch them young and invest heavily into training. India has potential to be the next Cuba for professional boxing. That is the future,” asserts Sporty Boxing chief executive, Ashish Chadha.
Sarita is eyeing an Asian title belt over the next 6-8 months on way to her ultimate goal and glory of becoming India’s first professional boxing world champion. Sarita, a Manipur cadre Police Service officer, was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2009.
Inspired by achievements of Muhammad Ali, Sarita took to boxing at the age of 15 in year 2000. The next year, she represented India at the Asian Boxing Championship at Bangkok and won a silver medal. Besides the national and world titles and various other crowns, Sarita has also won a silver medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. However, she was let down by a poor decision in the semi-finals of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games.
Dejected, she had refused to accept the bronze medal at the prize ceremony, which led to a huge controversy. The lack of support from the powers that be had hurt the Manipur boxer hard. She eventually decided to turn professional. The aim is to inspire the generations to come as a world champion. Sarita has set up an academy in Manipur where she trains the young talent.
The 29-year-old Zsofia has never contested a bout in Asia before. She had started the professional career at a young age of 19 and in a career spanning 283 rounds, she has garnered 19 victories. Zsofia is the No. 1 Hungarian professional boxer in the light weight category.