After winning his quarterfinal bout at the 36th National Games on Monday, Maharashtra boxer Nikhil Dubey rushed back to dial his long-time Mumbai-based coach Dhananjay Tiwari. Excited to watch him in the semifinal bout, Tiwari prepared himself for a bike ride from Mumbai to Gandhinagar, but fate had something else written for the coach.
Tiwary succumbed to a fatal road accident by the time Nikhil won the 75kg semifinal against Services boxer Sumit Kundu.
“He met with an accident on the way. It was his dream that somehow I win my bout today and fight for the gold medal. His name was Dhananjay Tiwary,” an emotional Nikhil said after his bout.
“I spoke to him yesterday. I told him I have a bout with Sumit (Kundu). He told me he would be coming. He said he knew I had the ability to beat him and win the gold. He said he would come for the bout. He was coming for the bout.”
“It was a big shock for me (his death). At one point, I was thinking about how could I fight. But that’s what he wanted and he hoped for from me so I had to fight. It’s very important to win gold over here,” Nikhil said.
After the National Games, Nikhil will head straight to Mumbai to attend the funeral of his late coach.
“He used to love driving. He had an Enfield and he routinely travelled long distances on it. He’d travelled to Goa many times in the past. He was in the third lane and suddenly a tractor crossed from the first lane to the third lane,” he said while elaborating the details of the fateful incident.
For the past eight years, Nikhil has not only been mentored by Dhananjay at his club but also been supportive of his finances as his family’s condition wasn’t very strong. “He was my senior when I started. He supported me a lot not just in the ring but also in my life because my family’s condition wasn’t very strong. He has been with me for 8 years. I train in Mumbai’s West Malad alongside sir. Dhananjay boxing club. He would have been 32 years old,” Nikhil said while recalling his association with his coach.
Nikhil’s first tryst with the sport began in school when his teacher Nilesh Sharma handed him a pair of gloves and encouraged him to join the SAI academy, where his association with Dhananjay started.
“When I was in school, we had a sports day, where they would introduce us to other sports. One day they put gloves on us and suggested we try boxing. Our sports teacher Nilesh Sharma told us to go to SAI if we wanted to learn more,” he said.
“My first memory of Dhananjay sir was when I was on the ground for the first time, He had come from training. He asked if I would be able to be a boxer. I said sure I will. He said what will you achieve as a boxer. I said I’ll beat anyone in front of me.
“He said,”Are you sure? I said I would. Even if I have to. I would have been around 12 years then,” he said recalling his first meeting with his coach.
It isn’t the first instance that the 22-year-old has battled with destiny. He lost his father Premnath Dubey in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and is now being supported by his brothers (Shaklesh Dubey, Abhishek and Deepak Dubey).
“My father died in the first wave of the Covid. At that time, everything was all over the place. My brothers work in the insurance field and they have been a big support,” he said.
Nikhil, who underwent an ACL surgery in 2020, was out of the game for a good couple of years. On his return to the ring, he lost to Sumit in the semifinals of the national championships and wanted to avenge the loss on Tuesday.
“I had an ACL surgery in 2019 so I was taking rest for 2 years. I only returned to the ring in 2021 where I played the senior nationals. I lost in the semifinals to Sumit Kundu. This time bhaiyya told me that you deserve the gold,” he said.