There are boxers who train with the latest equipment and under the best mentors/trainers money can afford and then there are boxers, like Nutlai Lalbiakkima, who have to make do with what they have. Born to humble parents who put food on the table by selling fish, Lalbiakkima shocked the world when he beat Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov. Many in the boxing world had never heard of his name before that match, but he did the unthinkable to ensure he stayed in public memory for a long time to come. What is even more surprising than his win, is the road that led up to the win.
Lalbiakkima comes from a humble family that consists of his mother, father, younger brother and younger sister. When he was younger, he had hopes of becoming a footballer but dreams of becoming a boxer started to take shape when he became a fan of LPS Pro Fight, a popular TV show in Mizoram. The show aired in 2009 when he was only 13 years old. Thereafter he started training and was selected by the Mizoram Regional Sports Authority Centre in 2011. His initial training was unlike other boxers, as he couldn’t afford proper equipment, he had to use stones in place of dumbbells. It is this fighting spirit that has got the boxing fraternity talking about this young boxer who is climbing the ladder of success as a result of sheer hard work and tenacity. In an exclusive interview, we find out more about him and his plans.
Tell us a little about yourself
I am the eldest in the family. My parents, who are in Mizoram now, sell fish for a living. I studied from Class I to X in Little Diamond English School in my village, and after the tenth standard, I went to Aizawl for training. I continued my studies, 10+2, through open schooling.
I became interested in boxing after watching LPS Pro Fight. I wanted the champion belt. Also, I knew people from my hometown who excelled in sports found a job more easily. So, I decided to take part in the championship. I believed that if I could win it, then I will be able to get a job. That was how I began boxing.
When did you officially start boxing?
I officially started my boxing career in 2011. Till 2010, I did not undergo any kind of formal training. I used to train myself without much help. In 2010, I participated in a 3000m marathon race in my high school sport’s day and won that race. It was then that I decided to take up sports as my full-time profession. In 2011, I went to Aizawl to start my training. My father asked me to choose between becoming a full-time sportsperson and pursuing further studies. So, I decided to opt for sports and took up boxing as my career.
How did you train in your village back home?
I used to lift heavy stones with my hand and run around my village. In boxing, strength in your hands is very important. So, I thought that it would be a good idea to carry heavy stones for practice. My parents have always inspired me to practice hard, by any means possible. So, in the evenings and mornings, people in my village would often see me running with stones. Truth be told, to ensure that my hands are strong, I still do this exercise.
I rarely used to go to the gym. My brother helped me out when I would train at home. There were places in my village where some people trained to hone their kick-boxing skills but I made a point to train at home. It continued like this till 2010.
In 2011, I moved to the city where I got my hands on the right equipment and underwent proper boxing training. I went to the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Aizawl where I met Vulhavunga, Mizoram’s boxing coach. He agreed to train me. In the beginning, I stayed in a hotel to attend the coaching sessions. All the expenses were paid for by my parents. Then, in June of that same year, I played my first national match in Pune where I was able to win a bronze medal in the Inter State Boxing Championship. After that, my name was part of the India Camp and I was sent to Panipat in Haryana for further training.
How did you feel beating the World No 1?
I felt really great when I defeated the World No 1 in the President’s Cup. I give full credit to my parents. After winning in Kazakhstan, my coach motivated me to continue my training. Till now, I have not qualified for World Championship, or Asian Games or Olympics, but I know that I will get to participate in them in the near future.
I feel happy about my achievements so far. But at the same time, I am also hungry for more. After defeating Dusmatov, my ranking jumped to the second position. The fact that I was able to beat the Olympic champion helped boost my confidence. He is a very clever fighter and has definitely played a lot more championships than me. Even though he had quite a few advantages, I could beat him, and this makes me think that I can surely try for an Olympic medal. I have huge respect for the India boxing t-shirt and it has always motivated me to go for more.
When did your journey with the Indian Navy start? How has the Navy been instrumental in your success?
In 2015, I played in the senior national category and won a bronze medal. At that competition, representatives from the Indian Navy had also come to participate. The boxing coach of the Navy team saw my match and asked me to join them. He was impressed by my performance and said that I could play for the Indian Navy if I joined. I was definitely happy to have been given an offer as my favourite boxer Suranjoy Sir (Suranjoy Singh was the gold medalist winner of 2010 Commonwealth Games), is also from the Indian Navy.
I joined the Indian Navy in August 2015. I must say that the support has been very good. They give 110% support to sports and sportspersons. I am indeed very lucky to be a part of the Indian Navy. I am able to give enough time to boxing. I practice in the morning from 6:30 am to 8:30 am and also in the evening from 5 pm to 7 or 8 pm. The diet is also very good. In addition to that, all the required protein I need, I get here. I am happy to be training under the Indian Navy.
Are you planning for the Olympics?
I am focusing completely on Olympics 2020. I have fixed the schedule for regular training. Though there will be a lot of hurdles and extreme hard work will be required, I will give it my all and I do not intend to let anything affect me negatively. I have support from my parents and my coach, and I hope to make them proud.