It’s on the cautionary list for travellers to Scotland, and it’s usually told with an almighty guffawing laugh. ‘Beware-of-the-Glasgow-Kiss’, a slang for headbutts and sharp thwacks on the temple with the forehead, during a particularly violent welcome, is meant to tickle funny bones.
For Indian boxers though, being at the receiving end of the dreaded kiss-variant could mean a blood trickle from a gashed wound above the eye. In short, the Glasgow Kiss can ruin their chances at the Commonwealth Games in a matter of seconds, and no one will certainly find it either amusing, or amorous.
Linked with the absence of headgear in boxing’s new rules, the ability to steer clear of cuts and headbutts is the single biggest challenge for Indian pugilists in the coming days at the Commonwealth Games.
The sport in India is littered with scarring instances in the recent past, where a mere opening up of a wound has sent careers haywire.
“I had a massive record in World Series Boxing,” says Shiva Thapa with an incredulous gasp, hinting obviously at the fact that the record isn’t remembered particularly fondly. In a space of two outings in two months against the US and Germany, the young Indian bantamweight had had cuts opened up above both the left and right eye-brows through headbutts. “We have to be very careful of cuts and headbutts. There is a strong possibility a bout ends abruptly if any cut opens up,” he cautions.
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The head-gear disappearing has sure helped boxers sense and even see the left and right hooks coming peripherally, but it also means the defensive guard is up almost immediately when the bell for the opening round rings. “Earlier we’d spend the first 10 seconds figuring out the opponent’s style – counterpuncher or aggressive, but now from the first second, it’s hand high and chin down at all times,” he says.
Thapa is not too keen on wearing eye-gashes as a patch-badge of honour, so preaches circumspection against errant elbows.
Perhaps, the biggest sufferer of boxing’s Glasgow kiss was Thapa’s team-mate Devendro Singh, who took a bad one from an opponent in World Championship qualification-trials in India, and was forced to sit out. Nanao Singh took his place but Devendro is not forgetting it in a hurry. It has even calmed down the feisty boxer and convinced him to change his aggressive-at-all-costs demeanour.
Devendro’s learning a few things the hard way — including that sparring with Irishman Paddy Barnes ahead of the Olympics when you are likely to run into him in competition, was not the smartest of ideas. But the whizkid with the speedy flurry, is also determined to zealously guard his face, with the first sighting of red liquid capable of ending things prematurely.
For Viren Rasquinha who’s closely watched his athlete Vikas Krishan being felled by a cut, in the CWG qualifiers, likens the headbutts to cuts sustained in hockey’s hard hits. “They can even be unintentional head clashes that cut open the skin above eyebrows quickly. It’s not a punch that disturbs old wounds, it is bone to bone. Sometimes an opponent may bend down and lift up his head, and you get butted and cut,” he explains.
Strict stoppage rules have been followed with the new rules, and refs are quick to end fights when a bruise reddens. “Once a cut happens, a boxer can’t fight for 3 weeks. If the bleeding doesn’t stop, that’s the end of the bout. They have to be very careful,” he stresses.
Those like Devendro, can yet put a positive spin on these restrictive regulations. The way the 22-year-old will see it is that aggression and attacks will stay true, and no boxer can sneak a punch, and then go into hiding shielded by the protective crown.
But this hemophilic-dread is all-pervasive as Indian boxers start out in what is perhaps only the second event of note – beyond Worlds – of the last two years. The preparation’s involved sparring amongst themselves in national camps, with no international exposure.
“Our belief is strong,” says Shiva Thapa, defiantly. This is one place they’d want to not shed blood for the country. At these games, Indian boxers know they need to flee the Glasgow Kiss.