Giving up Olympic hopes four years ago, boxer Neeraj Goyat reignites his dreams again

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Boxer Neeraj Goyat’s decision to turn professional four years ago was not an easy one to make. One of India’s best rated amateurs at that point, he had to accept that his dream of representing the country in the Olympics was over. However long after he closed that chapter in his career, Goyat finds himself with a chance to represent India in the Olympics. Goyat is one of three Indians – Dilbag Singh and Gaurav Bidhuri are the two others – who are in Vargas, Venezuela competing in the APB and WSB Olympic Qualifier, the final qualification event for the Rio Olympics, which begins on Monday. The event is the only opportunity for professionals to book their place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games following a ruling passed by International Boxing Association (AIBA) on June 1. All three boxers will have to finish in the top three (either reach the finals or win a box off of the semifinalists) of their division in order to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Bidhuri qualified on the basis of his three stints in the WSB,where he won four and lost an equal number of bouts. Goyat who competes in welterweight (69kg) and Singh (who fights in the light heavyweight 81kg category) though are the first out and out Indian professional boxers hoping to make the cut. Before he became a professional prizefighter, Goyat, 24, had hoped to make a mark in the amateurs. He started well enough. He first began boxing as a cadet at the Army Sports Institute, Pune, back in 2006, and won the youth nationals a couple of years later. As a senior, he would win silver medals at the 2011 National Games and the 2012 National championships. Goyat also got a few chances at the international level but admits he wasn’t able to make them count. “When Jai Bhagwan qualified for the Olympics in the 2011 World Championships, I felt that my amateur career wasn’t going the way I wanted. So I decided to make the shift to becoming a professional,” he says from Vargas. The decision wasn’t entirely one made on the spur of the moment. “Ever since I first started boxing, I wanted to be a professional at some point. Back at the Army Sports institute, we would share professional boxing videos on Orkut. I saw a lot of professional fights that way and always thought I wanted to do that as well,” he says. Goyat made the decision to quit the amateur setup at a time when there was little semblance of the professional sport in India. There were no organising bodies and Vijender Singh – who was to become the biggest name to become a professional boxer in India – was still a firmly in the Olympic boxing fold. Goyat admits the early days were hard. “I fought a couple of mixed martial arts bouts with the Super Fight League at the start of my career. Eventually a boxer from Kolkata, Kamal Mujtaba arranged for me to fight my first professional bout in China,” he says.

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