Deepak Kumar: All about the Indian Boxer who upset Olympic Champion at Strandja Memorial

Deepak Kumar's rise to the top did not come easy as he overcame financial struggle and injury setbacks
By Samrat Chakraborty

Indian boxer Deepak Kumar Bhoria registered a massive upset to record the biggest win of his career as he beat reigning Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov in the men’s 52kg semi-final bout at the 72nd Strandja Memorial Tournament in Sofia on Friday.

The Asian Championship silver medallist was on top of his game from the word go as he maintained composure to clinch a 4-1 win against the favourite Zoirov.

The 23-year-old, however, failed to upstage two-time European championships gold-medallist Daniel Asenov in the final to settle for a silver medal and made the country proud of his achievement.

But his rise to the top did not come easy as he overcame financial struggle and injury setbacks to make it count at the big stage.

Let us have a look at his journey

Early struggles

Deepak was born in a joint family with a humble background. His father was a home guard and his mother was a homemaker. Deepak's main focus growing up was to support his family with a regular income.

At that point, boxing was not his area of focus, given the struggles the daily life posed for him and his family. But it all changed at the age of 15 when he started to take the discipline seriously.

Coach Rajesh Sheoran's special role in his career

Deepak enrolled himself at the Universal Boxing Academy in Hisar at the age of 11. But it took him at least four years to consider boxing as a serious career prospect. He trained under coach Rajesh Sheoran at the Rajgarh Road-based academy.

His coach saw his potential from the time he came in but was disappointed to see a young Deepak return home regularly with pain in his knees, back and other parts.

Deepak had relied on regular food without consuming any sort of dietary supplement during his formative years of training. And Sheoran noticed that it left him tired and in pain after a heavy-day of training. Deepak was not in a position to arrange a costly diet for himself and coach Sheoran was in a predicament whether to let him go or arrange for his diet. He chose the latter for one of the most talented students in the academy and went on to further also waived off his fees.

That decision would prove to be the right decision.

Joining Army Sports Institute

Deepak came to the fore and displayed his raw talent at the Inter-Services Championships in 2016. He was then spotted by national coach Jai Singh Patil, who was impressed with his performance, and helped him join the Army Sports Institute (ASI) in Pune.

After training at the institute, he beat fellow compatriot Amit Pangal at the inter-services contest in 2017, and won the senior national title in 2018.

He currently serves the Army as a Naib Subedar and was congratulated by the Army Chief, General MM Naravane, after his performance at Strandja Memorial tournament.

Courage and resolve

Deepak Kumar has always shown courage and resolve to overcome odds. One of his first challenges after taking up boxing seriously was a career-threatening fracture in his right-hand. During the rehabilitation phase, Deepak worked on strengthening his left hand which has enhanced his all-round abilities.

In the 2017 nationals, he suffered a morale-sapping knockout which meant he could not be in the reckoning for a place in the 2018 Commonwealth Games squad as boxers who suffer knockouts need to rest for three-to-six months.

He bounced back from that disappointment and won the nationals next year!

He also moved up from the 49kg category (no longer a part of the Olympic programme) to the 52kg class. But with Amit Panghal going strong, he might not be able to represent India at Tokyo 2020 in that category.

But that has not stopped him from grabbing the limelight at the Strandja Memorial.

Consistent and technically gifted

Before stunning the Olympic champion at the Strandja Memorial, Deepak displayed some fine performances at the Asian Championships, Thailand Open, Makran Cup and the World Military Games.

Indian boxing high-performance manager Santiago Nieva believes his win over Zoirov is not a mere co-incidence as Deepak is technically gifted and understands his game.

“It’s not a coincidence that he has beaten an Olympic champion. Deepak is at his level,” Indian boxing high-performance manager Santiago Nieva was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.

“Deepak is technically gifted. You watch him and see him enjoy his bout, very intelligent and has good control of the bout. He has moved up from 49kg to 52kg. He earlier lacked a bit of strength, but has worked on it,” he added.