I remember... boxing in the 1960s

Atomweight who packed a punch

Former Singapore boxing champion Krishnan Gopalan, a silver medallist at the 1959 Seap Games, may have retired but he is still keen to don his gloves again if he finds a match in his age group. The sprightly 74-year-old started boxing when he was jus
Former Singapore boxing champion Krishnan Gopalan, a silver medallist at the 1959 Seap Games, may have retired but he is still keen to don his gloves again if he finds a match in his age group. The sprightly 74-year-old started boxing when he was just 12.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

In 1953, at the age of 12, Krishnan Gopalan made his debut as a boxer, knocking out his rival from the Pulau Ubin Boys' Club.

He was in the atomweight category for those under 28.6 kg, eventually winning the division.

And as he grew, he progressed up the boxing weight divisions, such as gnat, midge and mosquito.

"I remember winning a title in every division that I fought," Mr Krishnan, now 74, told The Sunday Times.

This week in 1965, an all-star boxing event featuring Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) champion Winston van Cuylenburg was held at the Siglap Community Centre.

Mr Krishnan said that in the 1950s and 1960s, boxing was as popular as football.

"We had professional boxers from all over the world fighting in Singapore.

"It was a fantastic sport, with a lot of support and publicity."

He recalled a crowd of nearly 10,000 when he fought Briton Derek Martin at the Happy World Stadium in 1960.

"Everybody was taking up boxing," said Mr Krishnan, adding that boys' clubs as well as schools such as St Joseph's Institution and St Andrew's offered the sport.

Local fighters improved their game against boxers from the British armed forces stationed here.

The all-star matches in 1965 were started in part to help local boxers get ready for the South-east Asia Peninsular (Seap) Games in Kuala Lumpur later that year.

Singapore packed more of a punch in the region back then. In his book Golden Moments Of The Sea Games, 1959-1991, former journalist Percy Seneviratne wrote of the Class of '59 boxers: "The boxing team Singapore sent to the inaugural Games was a grouping of talents outside the reach of any era in the island."

At the Bangkok Seap Games in 1959, Ow Mun Hong won a gold medal, while V. Kesavan, Damyon Dunsford and Mr Krishnan won silvers.

Three others won bronzes.

A few upset opponents later became internationally ranked professional l boxers.

Mr Krishnan said it helped to have the support of family, and that his father used to drive him to training sessions.

Parents these days do not want their children involved in the sport, which they consider violent.

The introduction of martial arts such as karate and taekwon-do also affected boxing's popularity, he added.

Singapore's last SEA Games gold medal in boxing was won by Mohammad Mukhlis Amat in 1985. At this year's SEA Games, Singapore took two silvers and four bronzes.

Mr Krishnan, a retired businessman and a grandfather of one, hung up his gloves in 1969 but said he does not mind donning them again if he finds a match in his age group.

"Some of the boxers, no matter how much they got hammered, still get back into the ring. They just can't give up. There's always one more fight in them."

Ho Ai Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'Atomweight who packed a punch'. Print Edition | Subscribe