Rohit Mahajan in London
MC Mary Kom, trailblazing India and Manipur boxer, can almost do magic. She stops punches on her face and barely flinches, she delivers them with lightning speed and great accuracy. But she’s no magician, she isn’t a master of alchemy – she needed to be nothing but that as she attempted to change her bronze into gold or silver on Wednesday.
It wasn’t to be, and Mary had to be satisfied with the bronze medal she’d ensured for herself by reaching the semifinals.
To beat Great Britain’s Nicola Adams in the semifinals, Mary needed to be a few inches taller, she needed to be much quicker on her feet and with her fists. She needed to be someone else – someone other than a 46kg, 5ft 2in fighter who moved up from 46-48kg to 51kg category to be able to compete in the London Olympic Games.
Mary won her first two rounds without much bother but, confronted with a superior 51kg boxer today, it was amply evident that she was out of her class today. Nicola, three inches taller than Mary, was quicker on her feet and her punches were heavier. Nicola also has a baffling ability to change from orthodox to southpaw stance during a fight – Mary was thoroughly confounded by this British package.
Mary, in red, was the early aggressor, but Nicola was the first to score. Just 45 seconds into the first round, as the two boxers got into a clinch, the home boxer was able to pull away and quickly land a left jab, followed by a strong right-left combo on Mary’s face. That put Nicola 3-1 in the first round.
That one exchange set the tone for the rest of the round, rest of the bout. The two-point advantage proved impossible to overturn – as hard as she tried, Mary found it practically impossible to reach Nicola. The British boxer was very quick on her feet, and Mary had to dive into her, becoming extremely vulnerable herself, as she desperately tried to score points. Almost every time, Nicola was able to take a step back and launch a successful counter on the Indian.
Mary was down 2-5 after the second round – her initial attacks were met by greater aggression from Nicola, who landed another strong combination, and later an uppercut that must have burnt Mary’s face.
Nicola’s attacks came from a height and distance that Mary was unable to close; Mary was increasingly ragged and untidy in her boxing. Nicola was scoring with simple, straight punches while Mary’s hooks were becoming wild and more ineffective. It was 8-4 for Nicola after the third round, and the writing was on the wall for Mary.
Mary did land a good right-left combination in the final round, but Nicola was able to counter, and also keep away from harm’s way. Later, Nicola said that she’d been ready for her legendary Indian opponent. “I had studied her bouts, and I knew what I had to do,” she said. “We had a strategy in place, and it worked perfectly for us.”
Mary has an amazing past: Difficult beginnings, tough initial steps in her chosen sport – boxing, of all things. She’s a five-time world champion. But also in her past is her existence as a small boxer, the lightest boxer that can be. On Wednesday, her past caught up with Mary – she was unable to be better than third in her adopted weight category. She said sorry for this, but she has to be nothing but proud of what she’d done.