Neeraj Phogat won the gold in the 57kg category at the Indian Open on Saturday, with unexpected victories against two big names, Sonia Chahal and Manisha Moun, who excelled at the World Boxing Championship at home in November.
It is inspired by the way in which Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia fight, but he does not use it on the mat, but within a ring.
What adds more strength to Neeraj's title win is that this was her first competition in this weight category. She has been trying different categories, to find one that suits her natural abilities. She has won the national championships in both 51kg and 60kg and has been on the sidelines of the national team since 2017. This March, after losing the 60kg Asian Championships with the veteran Sarita Devi, Neeraj decided to go down to 57 and stay with it, with the objective of qualifying you for the 2020 Olympic Games.
Throughout this journey, the fight has been a constant companion. She belongs to a family of fighters from a village in Charkhi Dadri, just an hour's drive from the Indian Boxing Center, Bhiwani. Her older brother, Hitesh, a fighter, was the first to attack the life of an athlete, but saw his career cut by two knee surgeries. By then, Neeraj had begun to dabble with boxing in the local ring in the city of Charkhi Dadri.
"My brother was a good fighter, but after the injuries he could not continue," says Neeraj. "My father, who is a farmer, could not have managed the finances if we both wanted to play sports, so my brother stopped fighting and started helping me."
Neeraj grew up watching her brother train in the akhadas of her village's land, but she was not attracted to the idea of fighting on earth. She was not interested in having her ears smashed, the hallmark of wrestlers around the world.
"But there are a lot of my family in wrestling, I've grown up listening to them and observing them," she says.
Boxing happened to Neeraj when an army trainer came to his university and introduced the sport. "I took it because I wanted to learn some sports, but not fight," she says.
Hitesh channeled his energy to help Neeraj, and took her to Bhiwani, where she joined the Captain Hawa Singh Academy.
"We rent a house there, and my brother is always there for me," says Neeraj. "He takes care of my practice, the food ... he makes sure that I get enough sleep ... everything, he's there in training, and he's in the tournaments, she could not have done it without him."
It is possible that Neeraj did not want to be a fighter, but she follows the sport very closely with her brother. "It makes me see combat fighting to inspire me," she says.
"Bajrang Punia fought until his last breath, Yogeshwar (Dutt) showed that defense in the 2014 Asian Games final, staying at a single point of advantage to win gold, the mental focus is the same in any sport, and these matches I'm taught a lot about fighting, I extract my motivation from the fight. "
But there's a physical aspect to the fight that Neeraj says has adapted to his sport, and that's the way wrestlers train to resist. "In the fight, I feel that you need more resistance," she says. "It's more difficult than boxing, my brother has worked a lot with me on that, sometimes he used to cry, but then I do not resent him."
By: Preeti Narula