India's Mary Kom in action against Nazym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan during women’s 51kg final bout at the ASBC Asian Boxing Championships 2021 in Dubai
India's Mary Kom in action against Nazym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan during women’s 51kg final bout at the ASBC Asian Boxing Championships 2021 in Dubai Image Credit: PTI/BFI

On Sunday night, India’s six-time world champion MC Mary Kom’s worst fears became a reality when she lost to Kazakhstan’s Nazym Kyzaibay in the women’s 51kg final of the Asian Men’s and Women’s Elite Boxing Championships in Dubai.

Not only did pocket-sized Kyzaibay bring down a giant of the sport she broke the hearts of millions of Indian fans who idolise the boxer from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur.

Kom, who is seen as a big medal prospect for the Tokyo Olympics-bound Indian squad, was expected to win the gold in Dubai but she learnt that nothing can be taken for granted in the brutal world of boxing.

The pride of India was so devastated by her split-decision defeat to Kyzaibay, that she broke down in tears in the warm-up area while seeking the comfort of her coaches and technical staff.

Saturday’s loss was the worst thing that could happen to a fighter who was using the Dubai event as a warm-up for a shot at an elusive Olympic gold medal at the July 23-August 8 extravaganza in Japan.

The way I saw it was this setback could be both good, or bad news for Kom as she bids to keep her Olympic hopes alive.

Even the biggest names in boxing have suffered reverses only to pick themselves up and come back stronger. Which is what Kom fans will be hoping to see.

But, at the age of 38, does she still have the hunger and ability to fight off adversity and make history as the oldest gold medal winner at the Olympics? It looks a tough call.

Admitted, Kom is a great boxer as her numerous accomplishments will show, which begs the question — has time caught up with her? Perhaps it has, as on Saturday night she looked a trifle hesitant to assert herself, short of confidence and lacking the speed required to trouble an opponent.

On the contrary Kyzaibay, was bristling with enthusiasm even though she may have been at the wrong end of the exchanges during a back-and-forth first two rounds. But boy did she bring it on in the final round, taking the fight to Kom and totally convincing the judges to vote in her favour.

“Most of the time I try to inspire myself,” Kyzaibay told Gulf News. “Mary Kom has always been my idol. And to one day find yourself in the ring fighting someone who has inspired you, feels strange — almost unreal. But I put everything I knew about her away, stayed focused even when things were not going my way and kept myself fully motivated throughout the fight.

“I fought my fight but she did not. I knew I would win regardless of being the underdog. It may have looked close for some, but I got the decision in the end. I want to say sorry to the many Indians who were disappointed at Mary Kom’s loss, but she was not the fighter I knew and admired for so many years.”

Meanwhile, Aziz Kozhambetov, the former director of the Asian Boxing Confederation who is currently the chief advisor to Kassym-Jomart K. Tokayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, on International Relations, praised hosts the UAE and the Kazakhstan women’s team who won eight of the ten gold medals on offer in the Asian Championships.

“I know how hard it was to organise this event at such short notice after Delhi (India) were unable to host it due to the pandemic,” he said. “But the UAE authorities showed their solidarity by stepping to host the championship in a most professional manner. Hats off the UAE, the boxing world is proud of you.

“I must be honest to say that I was a bit disappointed with the performances of the Indian girls, a lot was expected of them, but the girls from my country capitalised to deliver dominant performances and win a record eight gold medals.

“This is a historic achievement and speaks well for the growth of boxing in our country.”

Altogether 150 boxers including 47 women are competing at the Championships for which the AIBA has allocated $400,000 in prize money.