At 5 foot nothing, Mizoram’s NT Lalbiakkima, still packs a hefty punch. And many times, quite literally so. Specifically, last month in Kazakhstan when he boxed his way to what many are calling the “greatest victory of Indian boxing.”
On June 8, the five-feet one-inch Mizo boxer beat current world number one and Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov from Uzbekistan — qualifying for the 49kg semifinals of the President’s Cup Tournament, in front of a roaring Astana crowd. The next day, however, Lalbiakkima lost the semi-final match against Kazakhstan boxer Ezahn. But it was still a commendable feat — Lalbiakkima got himself a bronze medal for his country in his debut international game. The game announced the young Mizo boy’s arrival on the international boxing stage.
“To be honest, when I first saw the fixtures for my first fight I was nervous,” says Lalbiakkima, “I knew that if I win that, I’d have to face Dusmatov, who is an Olympic champion.” But the Mizo boy persisted. “To win 4-1 against the Olympic champion with loads of gold medals to his name is not easy,” he says.
Lalbiakkima was introduced to boxing in 2009. A local television channel in Mizoram, LPS, organised the state’s first promotional fight and broadcast all the matches live. “I used to watch a lot of LPS pro-fight and that is when boxing became my dream. Earlier, I had always wanted to become a footballer,” he says.
But in growing up in Siaha in Mizoram, even dreaming such dreams was a luxury Lalbiakkima knew he couldn’t afford. His father was ill and his mother would sell fish in the local market to earn a living.
“Lack of funds and facilities forced me to find my own solutions. Back then even weight training with dumbbell was a dream for me,” he says. “So, I would just pick up a heavy stone and run around my hometown because I had heard you need strong hands to excel in boxing,” he says, adding “Imagine, a guy running around town with a big stone in his hand. I am sure it looked foolish. But I didn’t let it bother me.”
It was only in 2010 that he first stepped out of Siaha and went to Aizawl, the hilly capital city of Mizoram. In January 2011, Lalbiakkima started coaching classes at the Mizoram Regional Sports Authority Center (MRA).
Under the watchful eyes of MRA boxing coach -Vulhavunga, whom Lalbiakkima credits as the main man behind his boxing journey, he learned the nuances of boxing, studied the quality of opponents he would need to overcome and honed his skills on the training ring.
Eight months into professional training, in August 2011, he went on to play the national championships, the 27th Junior Men National Boxing Championships, where he won the bronze medal.
“Biakkima is one of the most devout boxers I have ever come across, right from the start all he wanted to do is improve, no matter what,” says Vulhavunga.
In 2015, Biakkima joined the Indian Navy, though offers from Indian Army, Indian Airforce and Railways were also on the table. When asked his reason to join the Indian Navy, his answer was simple. “Because my idol Suranjoy Singh is from Indian Navy,” he says. Known as ‘Little Tyson’, Singh is a boxer from Manipur who won gold in 2010 Commonwealth Games and bronze in 2010 Asian Games.
Hoping to emulate his idol’s achievements Biakkima’s eyes are set on the 2020 Olympics. Along the way, he is prepare to work hard, train hard and make some tough decisions along the way. Like the one he made when he was back in school. “My father asked me to choose between boxing and studies as we could not afford to pursue both,” he says. “I chose boxing.” Clearly, the right choice.