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India's Devi looks to banish tears in pro debut

Laishram Sarita Devi (AFP)


She caused a storm when she refused to accept a medal at the Asian Games. Now Laishram Sarita Devi is aiming to be the continent's undisputed champion as India's first professional woman boxer.

Devi was slated when she tearfully rejected her bronze medal at the 2014 games in Incheon and accused judges of pandering to locals by declaring South Korea's Park Ji-Na the winner on points in their semi-final.

But she also garnered sympathy back in India's northeastern region of Manipur which is both her home state and the venue of her first professional bout on Sunday night against the Hungarian Zsofia Bedo.

"I have been boxing for the last 16 years winning medals, bringing laurels to the country in amateur boxing, but as a boxer, it has always been on my mind to try in professional boxing," Devi said in an interview with The New Indian Express ahead of the lightweight bout.

"My immediate target is to win the Asian title, then fight for the world title."

The 31-year-old decided to turn pro after more than a decade as an amateur, a period in which she won gold at the 2006 World Championships and silver in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

In preparation for the bout against Bedo, Devi has been working with the American trainer Joe Clough who has previously teamed up with the likes of former heavyweight world champion Evander Holyfield.

Speaking in a pre-fight press conference, Devi said she was confident of silencing her opponent after the Hungarian threatened to leave her in tears once more.

"Zsofia has experience but she too has suffered defeats in the ring. Joe has made me sweat so hard that if there will be blood in the ring, I am confident who is going to bleed," she added.

"There have been days when I have sparred against two opponents. I promise, I will not let my city, my state and my country down."

Bedo, who has won 19 of her 59 pro fights, was equally bullish about her prospects.

"When you search (on the internet) for boxer Sarita, you find pictures of a lady in tears. I am going to add more such images to the internet - trust me," Bedo told reporters, according to the Press Trust of India.

"Professional boxing is a different world altogether. Here it's going to be a fight to finish - 12 minutes and four rounds are going to be a lifetime for that lady and I don't see her lasting that long."