Devi hoping to cash in!

25 February,2022 07:10 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Ashwin Ferro

Boxer Sarjubala, who makes professional debut against Tanzania’s Gaithabi in Dubai tomorrow, is struggling to make ends meet; she has been fighting as amateur in same category as Mary Kom

India boxer Sarjubala Devi in Dubai yesterday ahead of her pro debut against Kayage Lulu Gaithabi on Saturday

Losing is not an option when India boxer Sarjubala Devi steps into the ring for her professional debut against Tanzania*s Kayage Lulu Gaithabi in Dubai on Saturday. Having won almost everything in the sport at the amateur level, including a World Championships silver medal back in 2014, Sarjubala finally decided to take the plunge after a COVID-caused break in 2020.

Amateur achiever

"I have won a lot at the amateur level. I*ve been a five-time national champion and two-time best boxer at the nationals besides being the best junior at the World Championships. In the last few years, I*ve been unlucky to lose in the quarter-finals at the 2016 World Championships and the 2018 Asian Games. Then, in 2020, COVID-19 struck and my training was hampered. Thereafter, I spoke to a few friends and experts in the field, and they advised me to switch to professional boxing. I*m 28 and could have turned pro even at 31 or 32, but I feel I*m in the best shape now and can excel at the professional level," Sarjubala said in reply to a question by mid-day during a virtual interaction from Dubai.

Promoter of the fight, Mujtaba Kamal, a former India national champion, who has founded Grassroot Boxing and Management, revealed that Sarjubala is in a financially poor condition. "To be honest, Sarjubala has been fighting in the same category as the legendary MC Mary Kom, so she always had to play second fiddle. Secondly, when one takes the professional plunge, the amateur circuit, which is headed by the BFI [Boxing Federation of India], looks down on you as though you are a criminal," said Kamal.

‘Sincere athlete*

"Sarjubala has fought as an amateur for many years, but has earned nothing. Today, she doesn*t have enough even for her daily bread. Normally, in pro boxing, the purse [in this case, USD 2,500] is given after the fight, but she has requested me to pay her an advance and I agreed because she is a sincere athlete," he said.

Indian Boxing Council chief PKM Raja, who is promoting professional boxing in the country, believes it*s high time the Boxing Federation of India that runs amateur boxing, recognises and gives equal opportunities to the country*s professional boxers.

"Right now, only a handful of boxers from the state championships make it to the national level; even fewer are picked for the national camp and fewer still go on to represent the country.

But there are thousands of boxers in the country, so isn*t it unfair that so many miss out? The international boxing federation [AIBA] allowed professional boxers at the Tokyo Olympics. It*s high time the BFI also recognises professionals and permits them to represent the country," he concluded.

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