Olympian boxer Mehtab Singh, who inspired India's mini Cuba, dies at 72

Mehtab Singh was the first boxer from Bhiwani, Haryana to take part in an Olympics. He inspired many like Vijender Singh to take up the sport.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Indian boxer Mehtab Singh, who represented India at the 1972 Munich Olympics, died at the age of 72 in Manesar, Haryana on Tuesday.

Hailing from the Bhiwani district of Haryana, Mehtab Singh was the first Olympic boxer from the region. He was also the undisputed national light heavyweight champion from 1971 to 1976 and won a silver medal at the 1974 Asian Games.

Alongside the legendary Hawa Singh, Mehtab is regarded as one of the pioneers who helped Bhiwani become the 'mini Cuba' of Indian boxing.

Mehtab Singh's Olympic venture inspired multiple generations from Bhiwani to take up boxing, turning the region into a cradle for top Indian boxers.

The likes of Vikas Krishan, Jitender Kumar and most-importantly Beijing 2008 bronze medallist Vijender Singh have all come up from Bhiwani.

After hanging up his gloves, Mehtab Singh continued to serve Indian boxing as a grassroots level coach and a national selector for several years. He was also conferred with the Arjuna Award in 1973.

“Mehtab sir was the first Olympian in boxing from Bhiwani as well as from Haryana. He was a great source of inspiration for us when we joined boxing. We always wanted to box like him,” Vijender told the Hindustan Times.

“It’s a big loss for the entire sporting fraternity. He was one of the boxing stars of the country and will always be remembered for his simplicity,” said Arjuna Awardee boxer Raj Kumar Sangwan.

Mehtab Singh also served in the Indian Army before retiring as an honorary captain in 1994.

The Olympian's last rites were completed at his native village of Isharwal on Wednesday. He is survived by three sons.