Indian boxers readying for ring without headgear

A week after a decent showing at the Asian Championships, Indian boxers are back at training - and for the first time without headgear, at that, in preparation for the World Championships in October.

The International Boxing Association - the world amateur boxing regulator - sought to introduce competitions without headgear from June this year, but the rule was not implemented at the Asian Championships, though the 10-point scoring system was.

For the world championships in Almaty, however, Indians will have to take the ring without headgear and they have started getting used to head knocks at the training camp which started in Patiala on Tuesday.

"It has only been a day that we have started training without the headgear. It (new rule) is going to be a completely different experience for the boys," India coach Gurbax Sandhu told IANS.

"I asked them to volunteer and 80 percent of them said yes to sparring without protection. In the next three to four weeks that they spar, I will get a clearer picture on how they are shaping up for the new rule."

Though the punches will now seem to have more bite, Sandhu feels his wards will have to fight the change in the mind.

"The effect of the punch is going to be greater. Some of them have already got injured but it is more of a psychological issue. Practicing without the headgear against your countryman is comparatively comfortable, the real test will be in international events," said Sandhu.

While Indians have earned respect in amateur boxing, they have had little taste of the professional circuit.

Very few know this better than Vijender Singh, who made boxing popular in the country after winning a bronze in the 75kg class at the Beijing Olympics. He will compete in 81kg at Almaty.

"It (playing without headgear) is not going to be easy. We are still a young boxing nation and hardly have experience of professional boxing," Vijender told IANS from Sonepat, Haryana.

"We have been used to a certain system in the last 10 years and now the changes have been made. It becomes tougher for us to compete against opponents who are used to fighting without the headgear," he said referring to countries like Cuba, UK and Kazakhstan.

How motivated is he for the World Championships after missing the Asian Championships?

"Boxing has been my life so motivation is never a problem. I have been training without the headguard for more than a month and have already have three bruises on my face. But it is okay. That is how you learn about something new," said the 27-year-old from Bhiwani.

The boxers, who reported at the Patiala camp, include the four medallists of Asian Championships. Nineteen-year-old Shiva Thapa (56kg) became the youngest Indian to win a gold while Devendro Singh (49kg) and Mandeep Jangra (69kg) settled for silver. Manoj Kumar (64kg) won a bronze.

"Considering that the boys did not get enough competition before going to Amman and that they competed under the AIBA flag, I would call it a good effort. Now a much tougher task awaits them at the World Championships," Sandhu said, hoping that India's Olympic suspension is lifted by then. 

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