Before the likes of Mary Kom, Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan, India had and has produced world renowned Venkatesan Devarajan.
Venkatesan Devarajan the story so far…
Venkatesan Devarajan born on 22nd July 1973, came into light, after just at the age of 19 he represented India at both national and international level tournaments, and has been a fighter on and off the boxing ring ever since.
A humble boy from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Venkatesan Devarajan became a popular face in the amateur boxing arena, when at a young age of 19, he managed to qualify for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, but eventually lost to future number one, Joel Casamayor.
Two years later, the Indian pugilist bounced back to win a bronze at the Boxing World Championships in 1994. By doing so he became only the second Indian (at that time) after Pu Zoramthanga, from Mizoram to achieve this feat. Still only 20 years old, an innocent Deva (which he is fondly referred to) said on arrival in Delhi, “I was eager to perform. There was no point in saying that I too took part in the World Championship, the Olympics and the World Cup without having done anything worth remembering.”
He floats like a butterfly in the boxing ring. This is a fact, but does he sting like a bee? All those who have watched Venkatesan Devarajan in national and international level encounters will unanimously say ‘No’. Hard punching has never been Deva’s cup of tea who wants it anyway as the computer scoring has revolutionized the amateur boxing on such a scale that knockout punchers are no longer needed to win bouts these days.
The unassuming lanky boy from a middle-class family has seen phenomenal success in Indian amateur boxing history. From a club level fighter he has risen to the level of qualifying for the Olympics and winning the world cup Bronze medal at Bangkok at 1994. It is not that he has been the first boxer from Tamil Nadu to bring glory to the country. The state has been in the vanguard of producing outstanding men with ring craft from the British days.
For Deva, boxing became a family sport, thanks to his father and his brothers. Deva enjoyed great success in boxing ring over two decades ago, though his brothers also achieved fame in the sport, but Deva surpassed them in every possible way.
Venkatesan Devarajan a fighter on and off the boxing ring!
The first time people noticed a boxer by the name of Deva was in 1994 when he created history becoming the first Indian to win a World Cup medal on foreign soil.
From then till now Deva has valiantly fought for his rights until recently with his employers, Southern Railway, after being “denied a due promotion.” However, his prolonged battle with the Indian Railways didn’t have a happy ending is another matter.
Boxing as a sports runs in the Devarajan family. Inspired by his father Venkatesan’s unflinching support, Deva scaled heights few Indian boxers had before Vijender Singh or Mary Kom. His brothers, Harikrishnan and Baskaran, are successful boxers.
When Deva won a bronze medal in the featherweight category at the 1994 World Cup in Bangkok, what struck many was his baby-face. It was radically different from the face of a boxer. It had a innocence like a child.
Venkatesan Devarajan was only 20 years old then, but he had maturity beyond his age. Upon his arrival in New Delhi from Bangkok after winning the World Championship medal, Deva spoke like a real champion.
“I was eager to perform. There was no point in saying that I too took part in the World Championship, the Olympics and the World Cup without having done anything worth remembering,” he had said.
Performance of Venkatesan Devarajan over the years
At the peak of his career, the Chennai boxer, who was adjudged the best of Indian Railways in 1995, had beaten top stars from almost all the big boxing nations. One of his scalps, Mongolian Lkhagva Dugarbaaatar, who went on to become a professional champion in 1999.
Only an unfortunate first-round pairing with a Cuban champion spoiled his Olympic hopes in Barcelona 1992. Deva had chances to qualify for the next Olympics but his heart was after professional boxing at that time. Sports administrators keep a distance from the stars of their disciplines in this country, but the late IABF president Aspy Adajania made his liking for Deva pretty much public.
Adajania always held the then young boxer in high esteem. He even had Deva as his personal guest in Mumbai after the Chenna star’s Bangkok success.
Venkatesan Devarajan Contribution to the sport
Few years back when a local newspaper published an article that the Tamil Nadu government had been delaying cash incentives for state sports achievers, the Olympian was the first one to help.
He poured his heart out against the inordinate delay. “A help in need is a help indeed,” he had said at that time. From his personal experience with sports federations, Deva knew the importance of timely help. This very reason prompted him to stick his neck out and seek immediate government action.
When the TN government moved to rectify their stance the former Olympian was overjoyed. He felt so happy as if he was receiving the funds, as Deva still hasn’t forgotten the odds he had overcome to become a world-class pugilist.
Venkatesan Devarajan the mentor
The plight of young boxers continues to strike a chord with him. Be it a rainy day or scorching heat Venkatesan Devarajan is always out there at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai every evening to train youngsters who would otherwise be struggling to learn the lessons of boxing.
What’s more soothing is that the big-hearted Arjuna awardee doesn’t charge a penny from his coaching. He knows very well that boxing is a combat working-class sport and more importantly, he is not out there to make money. His love and affection for boxing is deep. He gives his all for its promotion.
From talking up his trainee G. Senthilnathan to rejoicing happily at Vijender Singh’s 2008 Olympics success and the 2009 World Championship, Deva’s passion for the punching game shines through. The tech-savvy Chennai boxing coach was among the Arjuna award selectors for the year 2009.
How Venkatesan Devarajan became a champion?
Even if one ignores the professional part of the Tamil Nadu state boxing which has more shady side out of it, there has been a strong tradition from this piece of land Olympian Munusamy Venu, Amalraj, Xavier and many more on the Asian level have taken this country to greater glory from the 70s. However, most of them went through the services.
However, Deva’s road to the success has been different. He did not have to be the services boxer to achieve laurels in a short span of five years. Even in the early days of his boxing career he had class and got the crowd attention with his beautiful foot work.
But his punching was eratile and he was mostly hurling wild ones. As Deva was physically weak because of his pencil thin body, it was the Railways coach Devan who had to put him through weight training to strengthen his arms for punches.
Prior to joining the railways, he gave Tamil Nadu its first gold medal in the national championship in 40 years. Since then he won gold medal at National championships almost every year.
His career took got a boost from 1991 onwards. He was the only boxer to win the gold medal at the Asian qualifying round for the Barcelona Olympic. Venkatesan devarajan was one of the five Indian boxers who qualified for the 1992 Olympic Games. He was so good during his training stint in Cuba and at the Asian level competitions that the then IABF President late Aspy adajania expected that if at all there was a medal for India in the Olympics in boxing it could be from devarajan. He aired this view to media also.
Unfortunately, for Venkatesan Devarajan he ran into a Cuban in the very first round and lost round points. But two years later he had a commanding success in the world cup, where he faced tougher opponents.
Coach Devan attributes this success to the Cuban Blas Fernandez who did wonders for Devarajan in his three years coaching stint. What ever may be the Cubans qualities he has made Deva a very sharp puncher, cutting down all his erratic swing and game play.
Need for people like Venkatesan Devarajan
When he won the world cup bronze medal in featherweight, Adajania the IABF president, was so elated, that he took the lad to Mumbai as his personal guest for a couple days. Venkatesan Devarajan even today gets emotional remembering those days for it had been an unforgettable experience for him.
Venkatesan Devarajan has certainly through his struggle showed the world that Indian boxers can definitely International medals. This itself is a great achievement for this Chennai boxer who has had his fathers strong backing from the beginning.
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