Upclose with Mizo boxer NT Lalbaikkima who caused a major upset in World Boxing by defeating World Champion Hasanboy Dusmatov at the Kazakhastan President’s Cup last month. NT Lalbaikkima, or Pocket Dynamite as he is properly called, is now preparing to win the Gold Medal for the Indian Boxing contingent during their tour to Indonesia.
By Aiyushman Dutta
Northeast India is slowly yet steadily emerging as the new sports capital of India. After Assamese girl Hima Das’s recent historic feat in the track events at the IAAF World Athletics Championship where she won the Gold Medal in the Women’s 400 Metres Finals, it is now the turn of another talented youngster from Mizoram to plummet the region into international sporting prominence.
NT LalBaikkima is a name you should remember, and remember well at that. LalBaikkima created history in World Boxing last month when he managed to upset reigning Olympic Gold Medalist and World No 1 champion Hassanboy Dusmatov at the Kazakhastan President Cup Quarter Finals. He became the first Indian to beat a reigning Olympic Gold Medalist and the first Mizo boxer to create such a major upset in an international sporting event.
Only 22 years of age, LalBaikkima is already being counted as one of the future stars of Indian Boxing. Owing to his short height and rather miniscule appearance, he has already earned quite a few epitaphs – Mini Tyson and Pocket Dynamo/ Dynamite being a few of them. But as they say appearances can be deceiving for his diminutive height does not prevent the young boxer from landing power-packed punches – punches which have the intensity to upset World Champions!
I recently entered into a conversation with the young boxer to talk about his historic victory over the World Champion and about his life and boxing. Following are excerpts.
Q. First of all, please accept our congratulations for your historic feat. You hail from Siaha district of Mizoram, which is located along India’s border with Myanmar. Tell us about your growing up days and how did you grew interested in boxing?
Ans: I was born in Siaha district of Mizoram in the year 1996 to Nutlai Zomwaia and my mother Zothanpuii. Siaha is a small beautiful Mizo town located near the international border; it is the last district of Mizoram. Although my family were not well off, I had a happy childhood, living together with my parents, family and neighbours, who all were like a big family to me.
As a child, I always wanted to be a footballer. When people asked me about my aim in life, I always used to say that I wanted to become a footballer. I would take special care of my fitness and train myself day in and out. I never smoked or indulged in drinking because I knew that it would interfere with my fitness levels.
There are hardly any boxers in Siaha district and the sport does not have a huge fan following as such. I first got attracted to the sport when LPS channel (a local cable channel) organised the LPS Promotional Fight in 2009. I was around 15 years old and that was the first time I saw a boxing match being aired in our local television. That tournament influenced me a lot because it gave one the chance to become a Mizo Idol. That is how I got interested in boxing and it was during that time I decided to become a boxer. But till then, I was a typical small town Indian village boy who had never seen the city but who lived with hopes and dreams of making it big someday.
Q. What about your family?
Ans: My father and mother used to sell curries and fishes in the local market. But after 2012, my father, Nutlai Zomwaia, developed some kind of internal bleeding problems which forced him to remain at home and take rest. Since then my mother has been taking care of the household and the responsibility of bringing up me and my elder siblings – a brother and a sister – fell on her shoulders.
Q. You were always interested in sports as a child… What has been the support of your family towards your sporting endeavours?
Ans: Yes, I always loved sports and deep down I knew that it was my calling in life. I was not keen in formal education and did my schooling from Little Diamond English School, a school in our district. Since professional boxing had not yet arrived in our district, I was a keen footballer and would play football all day long and bunk classes in school after the first period. It was difficult for my parents when I behaved like that because our family condition was not very good at that moment. All that my mother earned was by selling fish in the market and she had to look after my sick father and three of us children!
Since I was not too much interested in studies, one day they told me to make a choice in life – either complete my education seriously or pursue boxing. I guess I was lucky in that way because my father knew about my interest in sports and my capabilities. So when I decided to pursue boxing and complete my higher secondary education from open schooling, my family stood behind me and supported me more than 200 percent. They have been my pillar of strength and no matter what I am today, whatever stage I have reached today, it is only because of my father and mother. I am lucky to have parents like them in life.
Q. You said that you were a keen footballer before. Did you ever take professional training in football?
Ans: No, I did not take any kind of training in football. But everyone said I was a good footballer because I use to take extra attention of my fitness. Everyone in my district knew me and used to comment about my good football playing abilities.
Q. When did you begin to think of taking up professional boxing?
Ans: Like I said, the LPS Promotional Fight was a big influencing factor in my life. That tournament opened my eyes to the world of boxing. However, I had not gone out of my village till that time. In 2009, a boxing tournament, Pykka tournament, was started in our home district. I participated in the same and won the Gold Medal. That was a huge motivating factor for me and I began to take keen interest in boxing.
Q. Did you have any coaches or formal training at that time?
Ans: No. In the beginning i.e. in 2009 and 2010, I trained on my own. There were hardly any boxers in the area and I would just go to the ring and watch the senior boxers play. I would watch them move around and would ask them for tips on how to punch. I used to practice 1-2, 1-2 all by myself, in the bathroom, at home, wherever I went.
Q, When did you take up professional training in Boxing?
Ans: I had never ventured out my home town till 2010. The first time I went to Aizawl was for the High School Sports Competition where I had participated in the marathon race event. After I returned home to Aizawl, my father told me to take up boxing seriously. So in January, 2011, I went to the city to learn boxing formally. That was a big challenge for me because I was very young at that time and we did not have any relatives in the city. I still remember my father crying because I had to leave.
In any case, I reached Aizawl and took lodgings in a hotel. I went to the Sports Authority of India playground in Aizawl and approached the boxing coach, Mr Vulthavunga and asked him if he would train me. He agreed, and I started training as an external student. Those were challenging days because I would do nothing else except train. My hotel was a bit far from the SAI complex and sometimes I did not have enough money to pay for my taxi fare; I would walk all the way up and down. But I kept on with my practice and maybe my hard work paid off because in 2011, I was selected to play in the Junior National Championships in Pune. Luckily, I won the Bronze Medal in that tournament.
Q. After Pune, which competitions did you take part in?
Ans: Winning the Bronze Medal in Pune was a big source of inspiration and I did not look back after that. The following year, in 2012, I participated in the Inter-Sports Authority of India (SAI) tournament at Haryana where I won the Gold Medal. In 2013, I won the Gold at Manipur. In 2014, I won the Gold Medal at the Northeast Games held in Arunachal Pradesh. In 2015, I won the Bronze Medal at the Senior National Games held at Nagpur. In 2017, I won the Gold Medal at the LB Chettri Invitational Championship held at Shillong. Then in 2017, I won the Silver Medal and Best Challengers Trophy at the Senior Nationals Championships held in Vizakhapatnam. And in 2018, I won the Bronze Medal at the India Open International Boxing Championships at Delhi. After that, I was selected for the Indian team training camp for the Kazakhastan’s President Cup where I defeated the World No. 1 and Olympic Gold Medalist Hassanboy Dusmatov.
Q, Your recent performance in the Kazakhastan’s President Cup Quarter Finals where you defeated World No 1 and Olympic Gold Medalist Hassanboy Dusmatov had made you a very popular name. Please share your experiences of the fight? Were you nervous while facing the Olympics Gold Medalist?
Ans: Well, that was a very important game of my career. I hope you watched my performance in the semi-finals match too which I played after that! Coming back to your question, I was not nervous at all. I was confident of putting on a good show. I knew Dusmatov was the World Champion but I was equally confident about my high fitness levels. I studied all his previous games thoroughly before the competition and it was my plan to tire him out totally before the match ended. I used speed along with counter punches ad well-judged guard to side-line the champion boxer.
Q. Besides Mr. Vulthavunga, do you have any other coach?
Ans: My performances in the 2015 senior nationals got the attention of the Navy coaches, upon whose recommendation I shifted to Navy Nagar in Colaba, Mumbai. In Navy Nagar, I came in contact with the Navy head coach and 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Suranjoy Singh, who has since then become my coach. In fact, he is my favourite Indian boxer. Right now, I have been called for the Indian team trials which are being held at Patiala.
Q, What plans do you have for the future?
Ans: Earlier this year, I had lost out on a ticket to the Gold Coast when I lost to Amit Panghal in the India Open semi-finals that took place in New Delhi in February. However, my victory over Dusmatov has increased my chances of acquiring a berth in the Indian boxing team for the Asian Games that takes place in Indonesia in August and September this year.
My victory over Dusmatov has also greatly increased my self-confidence. My next goal is to find a spot for myself in the Indian Olympics team and win a Gold Medal for the country in the Olympic Games.
Copyright text: Aiyushman Dutta
Photos courtesy: NT Lalbaikimma