The tiny state of Manipur has given India many champion boxers, from the likes of Thokchom Nanao Singh to London Olympics bronze-medallist Mary Kom.
The latest pugilist to emerge from the North East state's conveyor belt is 21-year-old Sarjubala Devi, who won silver at the recent World Boxing Championships at South Korea's Jeju Islands.
Sarjubala has often been called the next Mary Kom, partly because both boxers come from the same state, and partly since they are associated with the same weight-class (48kg). Mary won five world titles in this weight category before moving up to 51 kg at the London Games.
Better than Mary
However, Khoibi Salam, General Secretary of the Manipur Amateur Boxing Association, believes that one day Sarjubala will be better than Mary.
"Sarjubala will break the records of all the other Manipuri boxers," Salam says.
The prophecy may seem premature, considering she is just 21 and Mary has multiple world titles apart besides an Olympics bronze under her belt, but the promise and the heart young Sarjubala has shown recently has made many sit up and take notice.
Among them has been Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), who signed her up in 2012 — a year after she clinched the prestigious World Youth Boxing Championships in Turkey.
"In the 2011 Nationals in Bhopal, Sarjubala won gold despite being the underdog. She beat a local boxer from Madhya Pradesh, who was not only more experienced but was also the overwhelming favourite.
In fact, going into the last round, Sarjubala was down by five or six points, but rallied to victory.
That win showed she has heart and in boxing, heart is everything. I immediately decided to sign her," recalls OGQ's CEO Viren Rasquinha before adding, "I also spoke to her state-mate Mary Kom and the Secretary of the Manipur boxing association (Salam), both of whom recommended the move."
While it remains to be seen whether Sarjubala does become the next Mary Kom or betters the star boxer whose poster adorns her bedroom wall, the World Championships silver at Jeju is a sign that she's on the right path.
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