By Siddharth S
It took Thulasi Helen all of nine seconds to wrap up her semi-final match at the All India Mixed Martial Arts Nationals Championship with a knockout, setting a national record for the fastest knockout in the women’s lightweight category. Thulasi finished with a silver at the championships held on October 1 and 2 in Bengaluru.
Thulasi goes by the moniker Lady Mohammed Ali of India, thanks to her lightning fast footwork and punching style. She first stepped into the boxing ring when she was 14, after watching her sister fight. Within weeks, she was punching up to professional boxers.
By the time Thulasi was 24, she was at the peak of her career. In fact, she had climbed up to a number 3 ranking, and even defeated Olympian Mary Kom. In all, she won 30 medals in boxing, before a dispute with the state boxing association in Tamil Nadu pushed her into a hiatus from the sport.
“I was among the known women boxers in India, but due to certain unhappy events, I was forcefully made to quit,” she says, adding that she doesn’t want to go into the details of that dispute, as she has left it behind her.
Born to a Dalit family, Thulasi says that even prior to her hiatus, building her sporting career was a difficult prospect, and she has done everything from delivering pizzas to driving an auto to survive. “I was discriminated against for being a Dalit woman and never given an opportunity to move forward in my career. Amidst so many problems, sustaining my boxing was a struggle. But I don’t want to look back; only look forward to my pro boxing,” she says.
Hearing Thulasi's story, it's hard not to imagine many elements fitting into a film script. And indeed, Thulasi says that though she is not credited for it, the Tamil film "Irudhi Suttru" is based on her life.
Putting past difficulties behind her also involves moving to Bengaluru for Thulasi, where she is resuming her training and aiming to get back into professional boxing. “Tamil Nadu is always my first home, but I don’t want to train there. The association in TN will never motivate or let me move forward. I have already joined the Royal Kick Boxing Academy based in Bengaluru and will resume my training in a full-fledged way soon,” she says.
And it seems Thulasi may get the support she needs in Bengaluru. Her current coach, Sathya, says, “I still see a lot of potential in Thulasi and the only thing I like in her is that she never gives up. The boxing association in Karnataka has already started watching for her after she had the fastest knockout in the AIMMA Nationals. If she continues to train well, the association will definitely help her participate in international championships.”
(Edited by Rakesh Mehar)