In what would come as a massive shot in the arm for Indian boxing, the promising duo of Shiva Thapa and Sumit Sangwan has signed up for Team USA in the World Series of Boxing, making them the first from the country to compete for a foreign outfit in the semi-professional event.
Shiva (56kg) and Sumit (81kg) were both quarterfinalists at the October World Championships in Azerbaijan and their names were among those forwarded to WSB Competition Manager Mariana Caballero by their sports management firm -- Anglian Medal Hunt Company.
"Caballero sent their details to all the 12 franchises and American outfit USA Knockouts got back to us, showing interest in Shiva and Sumit. They will now be competing for them for the next two months. They are expected to be in Miami by January 6 or 7," Anglian Medal Hunt's CEO Maneesh Bahuguna said.
Both Shiva and Sumit have done exceptionally well, winning gold medals in the Asian Olympic qualifiers to be among the youngest to participate in the London Olympics last year.
All of 19 then, Shiva, in fact, was the youngest boxer from India to qualify for the mega-event before he reasserted his growing stature with an Asian Championships gold medal this year.
It would be a massive opportunity for the duo and a re-entry of sorts for India in the tournament after the country lost its WSB franchise last year due to the pullout of Mumbai Fighters owing to financial crunch.
"Nervous, excited, under pressure, it's all rolled into one right now. I am eager to go out there and perform to the best of my ability. It will be tough but would be quite a learning experience," Shiva, a former Youth Olympics silver-medallist, told PTI.
"It will be difficult no doubt but this stint will harden us and make us better boxers. We only stand to gain from it," added Sumit, also 20.
USA Knockouts, a team which debuted this year, is in Group A of WSB, which features semi-professional bouts comprising five rounds of three minutes each.
USA Knockouts is being shepherded by renowned Cuban coach Pedro Roque. Roque was awarded AIBA Best Coach of the Year in 2008 after guising eight boxers from Cuba into the semifinals of the Olympic Games. But the team is currently lying at the bottom of the table after one win and two losses in the three matches played so far.
The Indians would be paid USD 2,500 for every bout they win in the competition, which also doubles up as a qualifying event for the Olympics every four years.
"Just two days back we were planning to go home for the new year celebrations and now we are headed to USA. We have never been there and I know it would be a very different experience because of several factors," said an excited Shiva.
Boxers in the WSB compete bare-chested and are not permitted to wear protective head-guard.
"We are getting used to fight without headguards. We were without protective gear in the World Championships also. It is very risky but we are getting used to it," said Sumit.
"The basic thing is that we are committed to boxing and we know, it is a huge opportunity and we have to make it count. There is pressure and little bit of tension as well, but I am sure our commitment will pull us through and we will do the country proud," added Shiva.
USA Knockouts are next scheduled to be in the ring on January 10 after the ongoing Christmas and New Year break.
Sumit could be seen in action in that bout but Shiva will have to wait for some time as his match against Argentine Condors in 56kg category is not scheduled on January 10.