‘Satish bhai sahib ne badhai diya, bahut achha laga… Unko dekh dekh ke bade huye hain boxing main… I grew up in boxing watching him box.’ This was the response of upcoming boxer Sagar Ahlawat after he beat his idol during the trials to pick up the team for the Commonwealth Games, to be held in Birmingham from July 28 to August 8.
The most astonishing facet of this 20-year-old boxer is that he is yet to figure in any international boxing event.
Sagar, who started to train seriously to make a career in boxing only in 2017, has nothing but respect for the Tokyo Olympics quarterfinalist Satish Kumar as he was Sagar’s reference point when it came to the super heavyweight category in India.
“Bhai sahib legend hain (Satish bhai is a legend). He has been the national champion since 2012 and became the first super heavyweight boxer to participate at the Olympics,” Sagar said of his idol.
“I was a bit nervous before the trial fight as he is my idol. Luckily, the bout went well in my favour. He congratulated me on the win,” he added.
Sagar comfortably beat Satish Kumar in the +92 kg category and then went on to down the reigning national champion Narender to punch his ticket for the Birmingham Games. He won both the boots 5-0 in an unanimous verdict.
Sagar, who hails from Dhandlan village in Jhajjar, is happy that the biggest achievement in his career so far was witnessed by his friends and family, including his father Rajesh Ahlawat, at Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala. “He felt proud that I won. He did not say much but I know how he felt,” Sagar said about the brief interaction he had after winning with his father, a farmer.
“No one from my family is remotely connected to sports. We come from a farming family and now I will represent India. I am happy to think I will wear the India jersey. My family is very proud,” the youngster said.
Fight of the century
Sagar reminisced about how, seven years ago, he chanced upon a full page newspaper article about the bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao, which was billed as the ‘Fight of the Century’. The iconic fight was held in 2015 after years of negotiations. “I was never a bright student and I was looking for a way out. Then I saw this full page article about the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight. I got inspired by reading about them. Dono ne bada mukaam banaya, kitne saal haare hi nahi (Their careers have been iconic, they didn’t lose for so many years,” the big southpaw said, recalling his first tryst with boxing.
Sagar would then go on to join training at Jhajjar’s Jawahar Bagh stadium under coach Hitesh Deshwal. However, he would rarely get to train even twice a day. Previously, he would cover the 20km distance from home to the stadium on a bike, but his training would be irregular at best. Sometimes, he would be asked to give a helping hand at his father’s farm.
Cut to now, and Sagar has found his place at NIS Patiala. “I can never say I was lacking in anything when I was training in Jhajjar. My father saw to it that I got everything in terms of diet and equipment. However, I was not able to train regularly. There were very few sparring partners as well,” he said.
These hurdles started to disappear when medals started to find their way to the Ahlawat household in Dhandlan. His first big day on the podium was when he won the All-India University gold in 2019. It was followed by two back-to-back gold medals in the Khelo India University Games. However, his big ticket move happened at the Nationals in 2021, when he finished second behind Narender. He lost that bout 1-4 in a split verdict.
He was then inducted into the national camp in Patiala, and things are slowly moving in the right direction.
“It was satisfying to beat Narender in trials. I have been training well. Coaches are good here and we have sparring partners available. But yes, beating Narender felt very good,” he said.
“Now the focus is to give a good performance in Birmingham,” he added.
A medal on international debut? That would be the icing on the cake.