If you were hooked to boxer Mary Kom’s feats in the ring during the 2012 Olympics, here’s someone else you should get to know better: Sarjubala Devi.
Fighting now to defend her national championship title, 19-year-old Devi’s journey has striking parallels to Kom’s. Kom won most of her five world titles in the 48kg division, and Devi has been unstoppable in the same category ever since she stepped up to the senior ranks last year. Like Kom, Devi is diminutive, comes from Manipur, has fought her way out of poverty, and is explosive in the ring.
At the 13th Senior Women’s National Boxing Championships, ending Thursday in Guwahati, Assam, Devi is, yet again, breezing past her opponents.
In the first round, she showered her more experienced opponent with such a flurry of incisive punches that she won the bout by a massive margin of 29 points to 7.
If it was speed and fury in the first match, for her second match, against Madhya Pradesh boxer Preeti Soni, Devi brought out the big punches. Soni was at the receiving end of multiple power-packed left hooks from Devi, before the referee stopped the contest in the third round with the score reading 21-1.
The coach-in-charge of the Indian women’s boxing team, Anoop Kumar, sees a potential world champion in Devi.
“She’s an incredible fighter,” Kumar says. “She’s got lots of drive, lots of talent, and I’ve really never seen anyone work harder. She’s already won the Youth World Championship in 2011, and I think she’s just a step away from doing the same at the senior world championship.”
Devi is soft-spoken, but she doesn’t lack in confidence.
“It’s just the first two rounds—it will get tougher and tougher now,” she says. “But I’m confident I can win the championship again. I’ll do it.”
She’s a better boxer than when she won the national championship in 2011, she says, because she’s spent a year since then at the national camp in Patiala, Punjab, for India’s women boxers.
“Every day Mary Kom came and taught me new things,” Devi says. “I trained with her, watched how much work she can do. I always wanted to work as much as she did. I want to be like her.”
Devi, whose parents are farmers, began boxing in 2005 in school, inspired by stories of Kom’s success. Two years later, she joined a Sports Authority of India training centre in her city, Imphal, and started winning just about every age group competition there is, including national championships.
In February, Devi was signed up by the Olympic Gold Quest, a not-for-profit organization that helps India’s most talented athletes with funds and expertise.
She’s not shy about the fact that she’s now being called the “next Mary Kom”.
“Maybe I’ll get there,” she says. “But there’s no one like Mary Kom.”