Mukka khana hai, aur mukka maarna hai. Get hit, and hit a few of your own. “Hum Haryana se hai,” Manoj Kumar says for good measure, a self-explanatory pithy philosophy with its all-encompassing punches and punchlines that reach a crescendo every Olympics.
Manoj Kumar’s reductive analysis of an Olympic boxing bout doesn’t need deep, dissecting, thread-baring. He’s just crowded Evaldas Petrauskas of Lithuania with his fast-flapping punches, and advanced to the quarters. The face is bruised because he’s taken more than a fair share. “Simple hai. Maarna hai,” he says. Like they tell the Hulk: Smash. It doesn’t matter if it’s red or blue in the corner, it’s all green rage in Haryana boxers when they get cracking in the ring here.
Like Akhil showed, it needn’t always work. Like Vijender countered – with a few tweaks, it might.
There’s nuance to this whole business of no-holds-barred boxing though. Akhil Kumar with his guard down can go down in history as cavalier – or courageous. Vijender, on the other hand, played it smarter and exploited the simplest of science of a straight punch.
Manoj Kumar is livid his team-mate Shiva Thapa didn’t give himself much of a chance – he didn’t throw enough punches as he ought to have.
“I am not as talented as him, or skilled like Vikas. But why complicate? You should be prepared to get beaten up and then hit back yourself. That’s all boxing is,” he says. “In Haryana, it is,” he repeats.
There’s Uzbeki Fazluddin Gaizazarov next – a streetfighter, and Manoj is prepping for things to hot up, because he knows Haryana’s not unique in its assessment of what’s needed to get the job done.
All eyes though are on the other Indian. And the other Uzbeki. Vikas Krishan vs Bektemir Melikuziev. A monster teenager, a junior Olympic champ, who has poked the dragon in the eye when he beat Vikas at the Asian Championships. It wasn’t just that Bektemir with his hyper-bobbing head and a savage punch unsettled Vikas initially.
Bektemir took the first round, Vikas fought back in the second. He’d been at it till 10-15 seconds left in the third, when the Uzbeki 19-year-old raised his tempo, even as Vikas slackened just a tad. It wasn’t the easiest bouts to call, but judges favoured the younger fighter. Even a cerebral, mild-mannered mind like Vikas’ comes up in life against moments when the ego gets trampled crushed. The Haryana ego was hurt. Hurt, trampled egos make for great, ferocious re-matches. The Haryana tongue is waiting to wag in retaliation.
But before the brutal hostility, the brutal honesty.
You get accustomed to bravado in boxers. They hit with words, hit with punches, but rarely do they retire into extreme modesty. It’s one thing to flaunt scars as proud battle wounds, and quite the opposite to admit that punches are most painful part of the sport.
Vikas enjoyed his time in the 69 kg. Boxing was more scholarly in that category, the skill came into play, it was chess minus the black-and-white squares. “If I had to go back in time, I’d stick to 69 kg. In 75 kg, the punches are too hard. It’s extremely tough because it just boils down to taking and hitting hard punches. I’ve found my way around. But the punches are hard,” he says.
It’s boxing’s toughest category, and teeming with the hard-hitters. Teeming with acceptable blood-thirst. The punches rattled Vikas the first time, but you wouldn’t find a better boxer in India to make peace with the ferocity.
Vikas Krishan had set off for the Olympics, telling one newspaper he would win bronze. One might say that’s modest expectations. But the man was simply being realistic. He talks about the challenge of the new rules, of how judges go about their thing.
“You need two-three clear punches at the start. You also need to be a bit of a show-off. You need to be seen in command of the fight. It’s not as simple as how many punches thrown,” he says. Over-acting isn’t uncommon, he hints with a straight face. Blunt and brutal can combine to make a fine combo.
In this circumstance, Vikas Krishan is up against the grand-daddy of punching – Bektemir Melikuziev. “Mujhe laga bachcha tha, lekin usko punches khaane ka khaaunf nahi hai,” he had assessed. Khaaunf. Fear.
So expect the quarterfinal against one of the most unsparing hitters on the circuit, a 19-year-old prone to carnage to be a rumbling brawl.
“He’s very good, I will not under-estimate him. But I’m looking for help from as many places as possible,” he says, his eyes and ears alert for tip-offs. “Write in your newspaper Vikas is looking for tips. That way I know whole of India is with me and behind me in this fight,” he says.
He’s trained in New Jersey with Willy Moses, former US coach. He’s assembled his team of 3-4 coaches at Patiala post qualifying and prepared for eventualities. And he’s gotten up at odd hours – 2.30 in the night, anticipating getting used to Brazilian time while still in Patiala.
He’s travelled to Venezuela to spar with 8-9 top boxing pros, and knows crucially that the Australian roughed up by his Uzbeki opponent was a loose workout at best for his rival.
He’s reached real-time early – almost 10 days before his bout and having played one match more than his opponent is a little more psyched up in terms of ring-time than the Uzbeki.
But otherwise it’s a brutal scrap expected. He’s lost to a kid – even if he’s a World silver winner. A bachha. He spits that word out, makes a crooked face, and says: “I’ll do anything.” A Haryana boxer is readying to let rip with punch and lip.