Shankar of Sportskeeda caught up with Akhil Kumar Mishra, former Olympian and Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist in a candid tell-all, where he talks about his achievements in the sport of boxing, representing the country, the state of boxing in the country, the contingent of boxers that represented India at Rio 2016 and much more.
Here are excerpts from the interview, that have been translated into English for your reading pleasure.
Q. Please take us through your victory over then world no.1, Sergey Vodopyanov, and how much it meant to you that it happened on Independence day.
The biggest thing is that he was the current world champion and very few people know he was unbeaten till then. I defeated him for the first time, he never lost at the junior level or the senior level. He won the 2007 World Championship and qualified for the event.
As the bout was on 15th August, by the grace of God and the confidence I had helped me through and I defeated him.It was because of the bout that people started recognising me and I made my name.
Q. What have you been doing since we last saw you at the Asian Games in 2014?
The injuries started popping up after 2014, when I participated in my last international competition. I never used to play Football, but once, if I remember the date correctly, on 20th November, I was playing football to maintain weight and I ruptured the ACL of my right leg in the process.
I got to know about it after a month. This is my last phase of recovery now, after which I'll start paying attention to training and fitness.
Q. What is the difference between the Akhil Kumar who won 2006 CWG gold medal and the Akhil Kumar of today?The Akhil Kumar of 2006 had a fire in him;l I felt as if can do anything. There wasn't any sort of laziness and I always felt active. Now, I mostly think about recovery, but at that time, there was no attention on recovery.
Then I was not in the limelight as well. That happened after the 2008 Olympics only. I had won the Arjuna Award and then the Gold medal in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but it was the 2008 Olympics and the medal in World Cup after that, which shot me to the fore.
However, after that, injuries clouded my career. Thankfully, God gave me strength to keep going and I did.
Q. After watching Shiva Thapa's bout against the Cuban, Robeisy Ramirez, where do you think he went wrong? Was it a tactical error, a mental issue(since he has lost to him before), or was Ramirez just a better boxer on the day?
Thapa is a good boxer but he had lost to Ramirez twice previously, and if you lose twice to a boxer, it becomes a mental thing. Ramirez was a London 2012 gold medal winner, and he was better than Thapa that day.
You can't say Thapa didn't put effort, though his performance was not according to the expectations either.
Other than me, none of the Indian boxers have been able to defeat a Russian or a Cuban at Olympics. I sent out a message after defeating the Russian, had Shiva also done the same, a message would have gone out to people that we Indians can beat anyone.
He still has a lot of time left to progress through the ranks. That night, the Cuban boxer's accuracy and ring craft was better than Thapa and so he lost.
Q. What are your thoughts on Vijender Singh turning pro, and are you looking to do so as well?
It was totally his personal decision,and good for him that he took that step. If I become a pro, it will completely be my decision. The fact is we are the ones that take the punches; no one takes them for us.
Offers are coming but there is still some time before I complete my recovery, I will decide after that and will inform everyone accordingly.
Q.Please talk to us about Mandeep Jangra, who is already an Arjuna Awardee at the young age of 23. It is well known that he is your protege. Talk to us about how you have guided him thus far, and where do you see him going in future?
Not only Mandeep but Jitender Kumar, the Beijing Olympics quarterfinalist and Dilbag Singh, the CWG champion too. I select a few boxers who I think are ready to listen to me and are open to following my guidance; people who I can trust that they'll do good.
Everyone has their methods on how to share the experience with other boxers, so, I cannot do that with everyone. Therefore, I try to pick a few only. I met Mandeep in ASI Pune in 2005 during the CWG camp, and that was when I told him that I'll look after him.
His financial status was not good then, but slowly and steadily I helped him and he followed me. Mittal Trust and Manisha Malhotra helped me a lot, and on my recommendation, they took him in the trust.
We also help the university champions who have not got jobs. My motto is 'To the boxer, for the boxer, by the boxer'.
Q. Despite India not having a stable federation in India, we still produce Olympians that can compete at the highest amateur level. What do you feel should be done to get the best of them?
A lot of things need changing, I think the whole staff needs to be changed. The system has been going on for too long, a new route has to be followed. Let's see what happens. The fact is that the senior boxers are not getting affected much but the youth is getting badly affected.
They are not getting jobs as well.
Q. How do you want your legacy in boxing to be remembered?The fact that I played for India is more than enough for me. Even if people write bad about me, I feel good that they at least remember me. Though I didn't win a medal at the Olympics, people remember Akhil's style and how he fought in the ring.
If I was an Olympic champion or even a medalist, things would have been different, but as of now, I'm happy.
Q. Any message for our readers or something you want to tell them.
I just want to tell everyone that Akhil Kumar Mishra is my full name. Also, I want to say that trust yourself and believe in your thinking and value education as much because reading and studying help you in building your moral values. Eat healthy, stay healthy.Published 19 Aug 2016, 23:00 IST