Trained in mango orchards, Malihabad’s female boxers hit a purple patch - Hindustan Times
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Trained in mango orchards, Malihabad’s female boxers hit a purple patch

BySreya Deb
Apr 30, 2023 10:51 PM IST

Taking note of this success story, NGOs and corporate houses joined hands to set up a state-of-the-art boxing ring in the town.

LUCKNOW The quaint town of Malihabad, which was once only known for its mango production, has now emerged as a heavyweight in the boxing landscape. In the last five years, the town has produced several state and national-level female boxers who have packed the winning punch in high-stake games. Taking note of this success story, NGOs and corporate houses joined hands to set up a state-of-the-art boxing ring in the town. The facility was inaugurated on Saturday.

Mohammad Saif Ali, the boxing coach in Malihabad who trains female boxers free of cost. (HT Photo)
Mohammad Saif Ali, the boxing coach in Malihabad who trains female boxers free of cost. (HT Photo)

However, like every success story, this one too is not without its share of hardships. A few years ago, when coach Mohammad Saif Ali, a former boxer, decided to train girls in the town, he couldn’t find any takers for his vision. People were reluctant to send their girls for boxing training. It took him a long time to find his first female student but there has been no turning back ever since.

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“I started training under Saif sir in 2019. Due to the lack of a boxing ring in the town back then, Saif sir used to train me in mango orchards and open fields,” said Shivani, the 18-year-old boxer who won her first silver medal at the state level after only 15 days of training. Currently, she is working on gaining muscle mass to qualify in the weight category for national-level matches.

Inspired by female medal winners, several other girls, mostly from modest backgrounds, started training for boxing in Malihabad. At present, 87 girls from in and around Malihabad are training for boxing. While most of them opt for weekly classes, 20 girls train daily. Eye on upcoming competitions like the Khelo India tournament, these 20 girls train for three hours every morning.

Like Shivani, Kanti and Kareena have also brought laurels to Malihabad. While Kanti is a two-time gold medal winner, Kareena has won the silver medal twice. Similarly, Anamika has played and won at the national level while Kamna, Parminder, and Asmita have participated in the Khelo India Open championship.

Now, with the presence of a boxing ring in Malihabad, the josh (spirit) of these girls is higher than ever. “Although the training centre is 12 kilometres away from my home, I never miss any lessons. Earlier, we trained in open fields but now we have a ring, which is very exciting. My dream is to represent my country in the Olympics,” said Kamna, who has already proved her mettle by winning four district-level tournaments.

Meet the coach behind bout-ready pugilists

Behind the incredible success of female boxers in Malihabad are the indefatigable efforts of coach Mohammad Saif Ali. While the 55-year-old Malihabad resident had a short boxing career himself, he is making sure that his female students exceed him and make the town proud at an international level.

“Our town is part of the mango belt. I also own a mango business here. However, thievery and robbery are not uncommon in the town. So, I felt that girls should be able to protect themselves in a potentially unsafe situation. In 2019, I was able to recruit one young girl into my boxing training. Since then, things have only moved onwards and upwards,” said Saif.

Ali has arranged for NGOs to pay for the girls’ educations and tied up with organisations to help with their medical and financial needs, so the children can prioritise their studies and training. “A majority of my students are from farming families and their parents are labourers. They cannot afford to pay me for classes but the talent within these girls is undeniable and deserves to be nurtured. My greatest wish is to see my students competing in the Olympics,” he added.

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