Boxer Neeraj Goyat’s decision to turn professional four years ago was not an easy one to make. One of India’s best rated amateurs at that point, he had to accept that his dream of representing the country in the Olympics was over.
However long after he closed that chapter in his career, Goyat finds himself with a chance to represent India in the Olympics. Goyat is one of three Indians – Dilbag Singh and Gaurav Bidhuri are the two others – who are in Vargas, Venezuela competing in the APB and WSB Olympic Qualifier, the final qualification event for the Rio Olympics, which begins on Monday. The event is the only opportunity for professionals to book their place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games following a ruling passed by International Boxing Association (AIBA) on June 1.
All three boxers will have to finish in the top three (either reach the finals or win a box off of the semifinalists) of their division in order to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Bidhuri qualified on the basis of his three stints in the WSB,where he won four and lost an equal number of bouts. Goyat who competes in welterweight (69kg) and Singh (who fights in the light heavyweight 81kg category) though are the first out and out Indian professional boxers hoping to make the cut.
Before he became a professional prizefighter, Goyat, 24, had hoped to make a mark in the amateurs. He started well enough. He first began boxing as a cadet at the Army Sports Institute, Pune, back in 2006, and won the youth nationals a couple of years later. As a senior, he would win silver medals at the 2011 National Games and the 2012 National championships.
Goyat also got a few chances at the international level but admits he wasn’t able to make them count. “When Jai Bhagwan qualified for the Olympics in the 2011 World Championships, I felt that my amateur career wasn’t going the way I wanted. So I decided to make the shift to becoming a professional,” he says from Vargas.
The decision wasn’t entirely one made on the spur of the moment. “Ever since I first started boxing, I wanted to be a professional at some point. Back at the Army Sports institute, we would share professional boxing videos on Orkut. I saw a lot of professional fights that way and always thought I wanted to do that as well,” he says.
Goyat made the decision to quit the amateur setup at a time when there was little semblance of the professional sport in India. There were no organising bodies and Vijender Singh – who was to become the biggest name to become a professional boxer in India – was still a firmly in the Olympic boxing fold. Goyat admits the early days were hard.
“I fought a couple of mixed martial arts bouts with the Super Fight League at the start of my career. Eventually a boxer from Kolkata, Kamal Mujtaba arranged for me to fight my first professional bout in China,” he says.
Early results were far from favourable. Goyat lost two and drew the other two of his first four fights. Since then he has found his feet. He now is on a seven match winning streak and has an overall record of 7-2-2 (seven wins, two losses and two draws).
Goyat balances his professional bouts along with his job as a ticket checker with the Indian Railways. “I am a ticket collector based out of Agra. But I train in Delhi so i usually take the train from Agra to Delhi and then come here to train. I usually take leave from the Railways in order to participate in professional bouts. Now I have read a circular that says I will have to take a no objection certificate in order to do so. I hope now that AIBA has allowed pro boxers to take part in the Olympics, it will be easier to get the no objection certificate,” he says.
His third win indeed made him the first Indian to claim a title belt – the WBC Asia Boxing council welterweight belt. Goyat is now a seasoned hand in the professional circuit. He was involved in setting up the PBOI (Professional boxing Organisation of India) which now conducts pro bouts in the country and also sends Indians abroad for fights. “We make sure we get a good deal for Indian boxers. They get paid for their and their coach’s flight tickets, boarding and lodging and also about 200dollars for each round their bout is scheduled for,” says Goyat, who as a senior boxer says he is paid 500 dollars for each round.
The PBOI also had a role to play in organising Vikas Krishan’s maiden AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) bout in Delhi last month. Krishan had not qualified for the Olympics at that time and needed to feature in two APB bouts in order to qualify for the Vargas tournament. “Vikas and I have been friends since we were roommates in the Army Sports Institute. He had already take part in an APB bout in Tashkent this year. So when I learned that he needed to fight two APB bouts in order to qualify for the final qualifiers, I used my contacts with APB and arranged his bout,” says Goyat.
Krishan eventually qualified at the penultimate World Olympic qualifers. However he has still travelled to Vargas where he hopes to get good sparring practice. Goyat though hopes Krishan will give him a few tips as well. “Its going to be a bit hard. For the last three years I have been boxing in the professional style. The main aim is to punch with power. Now I will have to box like an amateur again. I will have to move faster and punch quicker. I think I will have to take some advice from Vikas,” he says.
Goyat though is upbeat about his odds. There are only seven boxers in the welterweight division at Vargas which means that Goyat has to only win two fights to confirm a place in Rio. And while the WBC has threatened to strip title holder of belts if they take part in the Vargas tournament, Goyat is unfazed. “Which athlete in the world if he gets a chance will say no to taking part in the Olympics? If I do qualify for Rio, it will be a dream come true for me. If the WBC takes away my belt it wont be the end of the world, I’ll just win it again,” he says.
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