‘The crowds really got behind us’

It's a loss that, oddly enough, still brings a smile to Dharmendra Yadav's face — even two decades after the bout. As a 17-year-old then, the Delhi boxer had lost his World Cup bronze medal bout 17-4 to compatriot Zoram Thanga in Mumbai in 1990. In his run to the semi-finals, he had beaten world champion Jan Quast from Germany in the light fly-weight category (48kgs), but then lost the last-four bout to Cuba's Rogelio Marcelo.

With Thanga also losing in the semis, the two compatriots faced off for the bronze medal, a contest that saw huge crowds and a fantastic atmosphere. "It was a fight that brought out the best in both of us. I had defeated the world champion Quast in the second round and Thanga was also riding high on his superb performance in the earlier rounds. The crowd was cheering for both of us, and we realised then how important it was to have people backing you so vocally. I lost, but I was happy the medal went to an Indian," says Yadav, now a coach at NIS, Patiala.

Thirty-nine countries had participated in the World Cup then and the event was broadcast live on TV networks worldwide, a fact that Yadav feels is important to spread the game. "There was excitement that boxers such as Quast, Rogelio and Eric Griffins were taking part in the event. We got official kits, a rarity in those times, and wherever we went, the crowds followed us. I was young at the time and could not understand the euphoria," Yadav recalls.

Thanga died in 2005 due to hypertension, a condition that Yadav says came about due to the apathy shown by authorities.

"Nobody knew about boxing those days and after the World Cup, Indian boxing went back into oblivion.

"I became the first Indian boxer to turn professional, in 1995, and moved to England for financial support. Later, Devrajan joined me and we did well in England. If I had been at my peak today, I would not have turned professional," says Yadav, who was once ranked fourth in his category in the British professional circuit and sixth on the Pan-American circuit.

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