Text by Abish Shakya
Photos by Arwind Chettri
Manohar ‘Max’ Basnet is a man who fights for the national flag, and believes he has what it takes to win medals for Nepal. Sadly, he has never been given a chance to make an international appearance and was banned for 3 years by Nepal Boxing Association (NBA) for raising his voice against corruption. He has recently made a return to winning ways by securing a gold medal in the 1st Inter-Club Valleywide Men’s Open Boxing Tournament. Truly a fighter inside and outside the ring, Max has won 4 national championship’s, and was declared the ‘Best Player’ at the 25th Men’s National Boxing Championship.
Max wanted to become a social worker and save the planet from suffering. However, because of his athletic traits and a heavy buildup body, he was persuaded to join boxing by his close friend Prabhudas Thapa Magar, who had family ties with elite boxers of Nepal. Influenced by Ram Chandra Thapa Magar and coached by Prakash Thapa Magar, both of whom are 8th SAF Gold medalist, Max started boxing at 17 years of age. He was a national volleyball player before getting into pugilism which he took side-by-side with pro-wrestler for some time.
Max got into the sport wanting to become the best player in this field and to fight for his country. He was doing well until he was mortified after being knocked out under 2 and a half minutes in 2009 by Deepak Maharjan. Knowing that he could do better, he looked for international clubs at an affordable price to develop his skills and contacted Bhavani Club of Haryana, India, who called him up to join the institution. He mortgaged his motorbike for funds, and with the INRs 32,000 he had, he travelled to Haryana all alone without any prior knowledge of the place or the potential nightmares he might have to face.
On reaching Haryana, he was informed that the coach who called him up was in Mumbai and had to take a hard 52-hour train ride to get there. After reaching the gym, he wasn’t accepted for the training right away and trained on his own until he could dispel the doubts held by Bhanji Mahida, the owner of South Paw Boxing, Mumbai, by showing his sheer determination in training. After earning the respect of his coach and fellow fighters, he wanted to compete in a competition and had to represent Darjeeling to get into the competition.
He was in such dire state of poverty that he had to save money by restricting himself from calling home. He remembers his days when he had to spend days with hunger, and having only INRS 20 in his pocket which he still has with him as a memory of his struggle. The easier option would have been to ask his parents for a small sum of money, but he was determined to sort out his problems on his own.
Under the stiffest conditions, Max was able to win gold in the Mumbai Championship in 2009. Things were still not too easy for him as an impoverished lifestyle still followed. Later on, while competing in the Maharashtra State Championship in 2010, he recalls having just 2 samosas before fighting in the finals, yet winning gold by defeating highly rated boxer Piyush Yadav, for which he received praises and received great fame. He went on to triumph in the Mumbai Inter-club Championship in 2011 and also got featured in Colors TV’s Ring Ka King (TNA), the Indian Wrestling Show in 2012.
Despite having a brilliant reputation as a boxer, a fine coaching from Raj Khatri and professional boxer friends such as Vijender Singh and Shiva Thapa, Max didn’t feel at home in a foreign land. He could have had a lavish lifestyle in India but he couldn’t bear singing the Indian National Anthem, thus, he returned home in 2013 with better skills and significant amount of experience, holding a dream to achieve more in his country and to uplift the standard of boxing in Nepal.
Boxing is a game for the lionhearted, and is one of the most prestigious sports in the world, but it isn’t as reputed in Nepal. Perhaps, it is the under-facilitated treacherous conditions, the marauding stereotype against boxers and the corrupt status of the authorities because of which this sport has not progressed. Regarding this, Max says, “It is not the lack of determination of boxers because of which Nepalese have not been able to improve in this sport, but it is because of the deceitful authorities who are wrapped up in oneself.” Max recalls winning the national championship, and being rewarded with only Rs 2000 and a pair of trainer clothes. When crores are spent on organizing a competition, the rewards for the hard-working athletes have been inequitable and disrespectful. The daily allowance of a pugilist to train at Dasrath Rangashala is Rs 200 which amounts to about Rs 6500 a month, making it impossible for anyone to become a full time committed boxer. A diet of a burger, soup and a glass of milk is nowhere near the diet a professional boxer requires competing in an international competition.
“We have to get our own equipment and mend them ourselves. When weget injured, we cover the medical bills ourselves. When we present the bill to the authorities, the only charges that are paid for are on a nepotistic basis. When boxers do not receive any support and are deceived by the authorities themselves, it is quite impossible to progress this way,” claims Max.
Max disclosed the fact that the NBA was involved in corruption as they asserted fake expenses when an 18-days training camp was set in Thailand in Bonanza for the 17th Asian Games held in Incheon, South Korea. In fighting for the right reasons, the authorities imposed a ban and desolated him from boxing for 3 prime years of his life. Furthermore, NBA has deprived Max of competing at the international level despite being a national champion while, less qualified boxers, who weren’t even national champions, were chosen for the job. He also claims that the coaches are also assigned on a favoritism basis, and are undeserving and under-qualified. The political scenario of boxing and the authorities promoting people in their circle are the reasons for the decadence of this field. Max claims, “They don’t care what people can do for the country. They only think what we can do for them, and find ways to earn money.”Under such grievous circumstances, the progress of boxers in Nepal have been minimal.
“Anyone who is currently boxing in Nepal is because they love the game,”
Nepal has been losing sportspersons to other countries. For instance, boxer Shiva Thapa, who is representing for India for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Being a sportsperson in Nepal isn’t attractive enough because of which people good in sports would rather opt for a safer regular paying job. Forget luxury, it is impossible to become a full-time boxer in Nepal and though Max has suffered much in his life, he wants to change the future of boxers Nepal.
“Where you came from doesn’t matter. Where you’re going does,” says Max, who is determined to uplift the condition of boxing in Nepal. If one is determined to learn boxing, there are various boxing clubs inside the valley. Max himself is the chairman of the recently formed Jawlakhel Boxing Club, and has been giving boxing and self-defense classes at various schools. Though Max believes that the NBA has betrayed its fellow boxers and the hope of boxing is fading, he is dead set to revamp the conditions of boxing.
“If you want to become a real champion, you need a concrete mind and a ‘never give up; attitude. With this two things in place, you will be successful your entire life,” says Max, who believes that there is still a future in boxing in Nepal. Though his career was at a halt, he still sees himself in this field for 5 more years and wants to commit full time to the development of boxing in Nepal after that.