Late bloomer Sagar takes gold, eyes senior nationals berth
Manipur boxer H Sagar Meitei

Shillong: For Manipur’s H Sagar Meitei, boxing was never the first choice, he took up the sport after a career in karate at his family’s insistence.

Born to a family of farmers in remote Langmeidong village of Thoubal district, some 40 km from the state’s capital Imphal, Sagar clinched the gold medal in men’s 75kg weight category after registering a 3-2 split decision verdict win over Mizoram’s Malsawmkima at the Indoor Hall in Mawlai Mawroh, here on Tuesday. 

“This is a recognition of the hard work I have put in before reaching Shillong. It’s just the start, there are many goals to achieve,” said a delighted Sagar after bagging the top prize in the 75kg category.

While he feels the gold will keep him in good stead ahead of the trials for the senior national championships in December, at the same time, he is fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead even if he crosses the initial hurdle. After all, he will be up against some of the best in the business from the boxing powerhouses of Haryana, Punjab and the rest of the country.

“There are several good boxers in my category, it won’t be a cakewalk by any chance. But for that, I first need to get past the local boxers during the trials, before I can afford to think of the rest. I like to take things one at a time, before going forward,” Sagar told EastMojo while cheering for the rest of the contingent from the gallery.

Having switched disciplines in 2014, Sagar knows to deal the hard way despite not being the most technically sound of boxers in the category.

Sagar started his career in karate in 2008 and for the next six years, his performances were decent enough but thanks to the prospect of the sport in the country, his family suggested that he take up another discipline. 

During that time, Manipur was undergoing a series of mixed emotions. On one hand, the state was still rejoicing the high of MC Mary Kom’s 2012 Olympic bronze while on the other, it was yet to come to terms with the heart-breaking scenes from the Asian Games in Incheon, where L Sarita Devi broke down into tears on the podium and refused to accept the bronze medal, after alleging bias from the judges towards a South Korean boxer.

While most boxers from the state are influenced by the two star women pugilists, Sagar took up the sport as an alternate career option, but soon found himself enjoying every bit of it. In 2017, his love for the sport earned him a call-up to the SAI boxing centre at the Khuman Lampak sports complex in the capital city.

In the same year, he went on to win a bronze at the Junior boxing nationals in Guwahati, before bettering it with a silver at the inter-SAI competition the next year. 

“The stint at the SAI centre helped me grow as a boxer, we had all the facilities there, and thankfully for athletes like us coming from poor economic backgrounds, we could get the required diet and facilities,” he said.

However, once his stint at the training centre was done, he went back home and started training all by himself. The boxer doesn’t have the luxury of getting into a private academy as he has to depend on his family’s meagre income from their fish and poultry farming business. 

One of his three siblings is a helper (jugali) with a local mason, and he helps Sagar during his sparring sessions every morning. At the 2nd North East Olympic Games, Sagar came fully prepared with his self-taught techniques and hopes to carry that forward.

“I start my mornings with jogging, shadow boxing and a sparring session with my brother before he’s off to his work, he’s a daily wage labourer, working with a local mason. We are mostly dependent on poultry farming, but whatever the income is, it is spent on our family’s needs. So I prefer to train all by myself,” said Sagar, who’s pursuing graduation at the Kakching Khunou College.

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