Comebacks are never easy in boxing, more so for someone who left the ring without realising his full potential and ended up trading the gloves for a conventional job he quite likes.
But as the old adage goes, one can take a sportsperson out of sport, not the sport out of that sportsperson.
Jitender Kumar was all of 20 when he lit up no smaller than the Olympic stage with a couple of lion-hearted performances before nine stitches on his jaw left him severely hampered for what could have been a historic medal-confirming bout.
That itself should have been the start of a blazing career given how boxing took off from that point in India but for Jitender, a bronze-winner from 2006 Commonwealth Games, that was the beginning of a series of lows forced by a combination of circumstances.
Eight years on, the two-time Asian bronze-medallist, who is a serving as DSP in Haryana Police, is ready to don the gloves again, the only difference being that this time he would be competing in the professional and not the amateur arena.
He is set to sign up with Infinity Optimal Solutions (IOS), the promoters who manage reigning WBO Asia Pacific champion Vijender Singh.
“It is a rebirth for me, a rebirth inside the boxing ring, is there a better way to put it? I don’t know. I am coming back because of lots of pushing by my mentor Akhil Kumar and some nudging by Vijender himself,” the 28-year-old from that famous cradle of Indian boxing, Bhiwani, told PTI in an interview.
Currently deployed in Panchkula, the 28-year-old said he loves his job and devoted himself full-time to understand the nuances of criminal law during his training at Madhuban. But then boxing never quite left him either.
“After Beijing, I competed in the Asian Championships, (2209) got a bronze, then I competed in the World Series of Boxing (the semi-professional league run by AIBA) but after 2011, I could not continue,” Jitender recalled.
Again it was a deep gash, only that this time it was above his eye, cutting short his WSB stint in 2011.
“I kept picking injuries at the wrong time. What could I do? Plus, I had to change my weight category from flyweight to bantamweight which brought me in direct competition with my mentor Akhil,” Jitender said referring to the senior boxer, who shaped his career and is also taking the professional plunge now.
“I was never comfortable with that scenario and when I wasn’t selected for the 2010 Asian Games, I lost interest. I lost hope, there was no avenue I thought. The Haryana Police job saved the day for me so, I decided to give it my all,” added the boxer, who is expected to make his pro debut in December.
“I began to enjoy the job, regular patrolling, busting gangs of robbers, dealing with tough cases, I liked what I was doing. In between Akhil would keep telling me, try for a comeback, I would just brush it aside. I can now say, each and every time I have not listened to him, I have ended up going backwards in life,” Jitender laughed.
“Even Vijender would tell me, ‘let’s train together, it’s always easier to train with someone along’. He would tell me how hard it is. I would say ‘you are saying it’s tough and asking me to come back’. Basically I had lost faith in myself,” he quipped.
But eventually, Akhil and Vijender managed to convince him that boxing remained his true calling in life no matter how much he enjoyed policing.
“I finally understood that boxing remains an integral part of who I am. I am hopeful that Haryana Police will give me permission and I would be back in the ring,” said the effervescent boxer known to be a prankster among his peers.
“A police job disciplines you, one has to follow protocols. Boxing allows a little more of personal freedom. I love both though,” he signed off.