Born to a poor family on new year’s day, 1979 in a remote village of Manipur, Dingko Singh had to fight his way for everything since childhood. For the people of Manipur, the birth of this legendary boxer heralded a new hope that they were yet unaware of at the time.
Today, Manipur is the hub of Indian sporting talent. The foundations for it are in the achievements of this man who has not only inspired Mary Kom, but countless other Manipur boys and girls to pick up gloves, and to fight in the ring for glory to the state and to the country.
Sports Rediscovered takes a look at the three decades of Dingko Singh’s boxing legacy.
Chapter 1 – Fighting for self-appeasement
The first chapter of Dingko Singh’s story began in an orphanage. Unable to raise the boy, his parents were forced to leave him there.
The First Decade
For the first decade of his life, Dingko’s fights were the impulsive kind that boys get in. These fights are not for rewards. These fights are not usually fought for any rewards. Boys will be boys. These fights earn you respect of the pack.
The deciding factor of his life was that even though he was living in a day and night curfew zone, Dingko did not let the adversities take him on an adverse path.
Chapter 2 – Found by the fight
The history of Dingko runs parallel with the history of sports in Manipur. The turning point in the history of the troubled state came with the introduction of Special Area Games (SAG) scheme by the Sports Authority of India. The coaches at SAG were the first to scout Dingko’s talent and life found a purpose for him.
Under the expert guidance of Major O.P. Bhatia, Dingko’s first achievement came at the Sub Junior National Boxing Championship in 1989 at Ambala. He turned 10 that year and the decade of survival had come to a close. The decade of glory had begun.
The second decade
Dingko continued training under the SAI and won more competitions in the junior category. Eight years later in 1997, national champion Dingko Singh made his international debut. He needed no second chance as he won his debut tournament- the King’s Cup in Bangkok. He was also adjudged the best boxer at the meet.
Chapter 3 – Asia’s best
The achievement that he will be remembered forever came the next year. Dingko Singh moved up from the 51kg category to 54kg just a few months before the Bangkok Asian Games. However, he was dropped from the squad at the last minute for undeclared reasons.
Later, Dingko was selected again on a ‘no cost to the government’ basis. The roller coaster ride of uncertainty came to a happy end an it filled Dingko with the grit determination to prove himself at the summit. Dingko went on to beat World No. 3 Wong Prages Sontaya of Thailand in the semi-final. With everyone’s attention now on this new kid from India, Dingko went on to beat World No. 5 Timur Tulyakov of Uzbekistan in emphatic style in the finals. He forced Timur to retire after the fourth round to win a gold at the Asian Games for India after 16 long years.
Chapter 4 – From Zenith to Nadir
After that point, Dingko Singh’s career went into oblivion. It began right after his win at the Asian Games. Some say that the level of fame Dingko had achieved was a catalyst in his fall. The main reason was an unfortunate injury picked up in a services tournament. His opponent gave him a walkover but the Manipuri crowd had come to watch a fight.
So a fight was staged. A boxer was found. A jab was thrown but Dingko Singh knew immediately when his right hand landed on his opponent’s face that something went wrong. A hairline crack forced him into the sidelines with just a year to go for the Sydney Olympics.
The third decade
The third decade of Dingko’s life was racked with injury. The transition time between his rise and fall was unbelievably short. Even with the injury, that dream of winning the gold at Olympics kept Dingko in the boxing ring. He was advised against it by coaches and family but Dingko wouldn’t listen. He was only 20 at the time and could have given his wrist some rest but he wouldn’t.
Dingko managed to secure qualification for the Sydney Olympics by reaching the finals of the Asian Zone Qualifying Boxing Tournament in Bangkok but he was pulled out of the final of the tournament by his coach for fears of aggravating the injury. At the Olympics, he lost in the very first round.
He returned with some promise, winning the National Boxing Championships in New Delhi in 2002. Sadly for the fans, the journey of Dingko the boxer was about to end as he lost in the very first round of the Manchester Commonwealth Games.
The fans were still hoping to see more of Dingko but as fate had it, even after the injury had healed completely, it cost Dingko his touch. Psychologically, Dingko’s hand was still hurt and he refrained from hitting it as hard as he did just a few years ago with the fear of hurting himself again.
Chapter 5 – The glass is half-full
Dingko often refered to his win at the Asian Games as “only half of the job”. The second half was the Olympic gold that has not yet come. Dingko Singh might have not fulfilled his dreams completely, but he left the glass half-full and not half-empty. The generations of boxers that he has inspired in Manipur and elsewhere across India are well on their way now to finish the job Dingko left incomplete.