By Nitin Sharma
At the National Camp at NIS, Patiala, boxers Shiva Thapa and Sumit Sangwan would often talk about the World Series of Boxing , a semi-professional league started by the AIBA in 2010, with their team-mates Akhil Kumar and Mandeep Jangra — boxers who were part of the Mumbai Tigers franchise in the WSB in the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Chances for Indian boxers to take part in the WSB took a hit when the Mumbai franchise pulled out after the end of 2011.
Almost two years later, Thapa, the reigning Asian champion, and Sangwan, a quarterfinalist at the World Championships, have been offered contracts for the Team USA Knockouts to play in the 56 kg and 81 kg categories respectively, for the rest of the season.
With the Indian Boxing Federation being banned by the AIBA, it was their management firm, Angelican Medal Hunt Company, which forwarded their names to WSB manager Mariana Caballero. The boxers received the contracts last week.
Thapa, who became the Asian Champion earlier this year and also reached the quarter-finals in the World Championship held in October in Kazakhstan, was eagerly waiting for this chance.
"It's a opportunity which we have been thinking about for the last two years. Not having a home team in WSB did hurt our chances but we are happy that a chance has come our way. The USA Knockouts team has still five matches to go in the season," Thapa said. "We have started weight training accordingly, since WSB sees five rounds of boxing. The sparring and boxing rounds have been doubled."
The USA knockouts are currently placed in Group A along with Algeria, Argentina, Germany, Italy and Ukraine, and have three boxers, Steven Fulton, Castelon Martinez and Edwin Sandowal, all of USA, in the 56 kg category and two boxers, Osmar Bravo of Nicargua and Geremias Torres of USA, in the 81 kg category.
Sangwan, who lost to world number one Adilbek Niyazymbetov of Kazakhstan at the world championship, believes that spending time with renowned Cuban coach Pedro Roque, who was AIBA coach of the year in 2008, will benefit his game ahead of next year's CWG and Asian Games, apart from strengthening their chances for Rio.
"I have been training with heavyweight boxers Praveen Kumar and others at the national camp in preparation for the WSB. The contract has come at a short notice and we will need some time to adjust to weather conditions in USA, " the 20-year-old Sangwan said. "Roque has been a phenomenal coach for Cuba and eight of his trainees reached the semifinals at the Beijing Olympics. Both me and Thapa will be playing in our usual weight categories and that will work in our favour."
National coach GS Sandhu believes that the stint with the USA team will be beneficial.
"This opportunity will provide both Shiva and Sumit to play against some of the world's best. They have to lay emphasis on endurance and they also need to be protective of injuries. Since its a five-round format, they have to be economical in their movements. Playing in USA will boost their confidence," Sandhu explained.
The boxers are expected to join the team in the USA for the match against Argentina Condors on January 10.