Boxing, his love at first sight
Treading down memory lane
By Russell C. Chitty
Accompanying a champion boxer -- at school and at national level -- on a nostalgic journey down the corridors of memory lane was quite a revelation. I met Mohamed Jaroof at his well appointed home in Ratmalana as he was taking a well-earned rest after a long stint abroad.

At 59 years he looked slightly heavier than the Bantam weight of his boxing days, but during a mini session of shadow boxing he appeared not to have lost much of his touch, still fleet of foot and able to deliver a left jab, right cross, left hook and a right upper cut in quick succession.

Jaroof was born and bred at Kompannaveediya, the home ground of many national level sportsmen and sportswomen. He attended St. Michael's School in Kollupitiya and it was here, at the age of 12 that its then principal S.K. Gunawardena introduced him to boxing as a method of instilling some discipline on a naughty schoolboy. His love story with boxing has never waned since then.

Jaroof was initiated into the intricacies of the craft and science of boxing by another product of Kompannaveediya Anton John. Coach and guru Mr. John was himself a crafty boxer and known among his pupils and friends as the 'brown bomber'. "None of us could get through his defences when we sparred with him. But if we were careless enough to drop our defences then out came his right or left to the jaw or body", Jaroof said.

As has been the fate of many a sportsman who had given his time and energy for sports, Anton John too died unsung, unheard and unhonoured. Jaroof represented his school at the Stubbs Shield, Junior Championship, Indo Ceylon Tournaments and Upcountry-Low country meets and won numerous plaudits. Together with Michael Bulner, Jaroof had the distinction of being the only other schoolboy to have won a national title and while at school also held the record of winning all his bouts barring one.

"I was the Stubbs Shield Champion for seven years. In 1963 as a schoolboy of 17 years, I won the National and Clifford 'Best Boxer trophy defeating Asian Games Boxer S.P. Jayasuriya, Commonwealth Games Boxer G.A.S. Gunasinghe, Navy's best boxer Lloyd Hope, Gordon Pereira and A. R., Willy. "Boxing was an important part of my life. I love it. It's an exciting sport, and it has helped build discipline in me personally", he said.

With his record at school both in studies and sports it was not long before the army recruited him in 1966. While in the army he came under the watchful eyes of Dr. Larry Foenander and Colonel S. Kandiah and under their expertise he sharpened and honed his skill in the ring craft and went from strength to strength, winning the Inter Services National, the Clifford Cup and the Layton Cup and won selection at the Olympic trials held in 1964 but unfortunately was not sent to the games due to the lack of funds.

Jaroof fought in the Asian championship boxing meet held in Sri Lanka and in a fight that went down to the wire lost the bout to double gold medallist and winner of the best boxer trophy, Chan of Korea,.

Jaroof bestrode the boxing arena in the company of some of Sri Lanka's boxing greats at the time; the Bulner brothers -- Malcolm, Michael, Christopher and Noel; Vancuylenberg brothers -- Earnest, Hans, Jeffry and Winston; Sumith Liyanage; H.K. Karunaratne; H.M. Marzook; R. Thangavelu; S.S. Raju; L.V. Douglas; Nimal Leuke; Dharmasiri Weerakoon; Chabo de Kauwe; H.K. Dharmadasa and W.R.M. Vincent, to name just a few and with none other than the inimitable Eddie Gray directing the destiny of the Amateur Boxing Association as its secretary then president and a referee of many an important bout.

Incidentally during a recent visit to Melbourne Australia, Jaroof accompanied by Michael Bulner and Chabo de Kauwe met Eddie Gray and some of his boxing compatriots who are domiciled there.

"Eddie was in fine fettle and reminisced of the good old days when boxing was at its zenith in Sri Lanka. I never dreamt that Eddie would be dead in a few days time", Jaroof said. Among the many photographs that decorate Jaroof's sitting room there were two he said he treasured most.

One was of former Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake presenting him the Sir Henry William Manning trophy for the best boxer at a national meet in 1966 and the other was of him receiving the silver medal from the then president of Pakistan, General Yahiya Khan.

Jaroof was never one to duck a fight be it in the ring or outside it and swears by boxing which stood him in good stead as a form of self defence and which gave him self-confidence to go through the vicissitudes of life. In Sri Lanka and in Dubai there were more than a few occasions when the skills he learnt in the ring helped him - even when easily outnumbered - to defend himself or his friends.

It was in Dubai that fate dealt him a mighty punch that caught him on his solar plexus when his only son 19 years old at the time and a nephew were among nine Sri Lankans trapped in a flash flood and dragged down to a watery grave. "Though I still grieve for my son, Allah's beneficent grace has helped cushion the blow somewhat", Jaroof said with tears in his eyes. Reluctantly though having come back to the present, Jaroof said he had no intention of resting on his laurels but hoped to give back to boxing what he received from it. While admiring all the good work done for the sport by ABA's president Dion Gomes and its official Donald Munasinghe, Jaroof said he would be only too glad to offer his services as a coach to any club that might be interested in engaging him.


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