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Money No, Country Yes

26 September, 2021
Incredible Hulk or Iron Mike Tyson.  Tharindu flexing his muscles like a bodybuilder
Incredible Hulk or Iron Mike Tyson. Tharindu flexing his muscles like a bodybuilder

Sri Lanka’s ‘Iron Mike Tarzan’ turns a unique and new breed of sporting character who wants nothing from his country other than do something for it despite being in possession of a bag load to brag about:

Former Kingswood College, Kandy boxing star and six-time national champion Tharindu Madushanke created history when he made his professional debut for Sri Lanka in an international meet held in Dubai.

The gutsy Sri Lankan boxer who looks more like a bodybuilder but has the fighting instincts of former world heavyweight champion ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson featured in a nine-fight card in the ‘Countdown to the Middle East Crown’ series.

Called up by two Sri Lankans involved in organizing the series, former Marian boxers Bandula Rathnapala and Dunstan Rozairo, Tharindu put Sri Lanka on the world map as a professional boxer with an impressive performance.

A fitness fanatic who trained in the jungle near his grandmother’s home in Ambatenne on the Matale road when the country was in lockdown, Tharindu had just four days of boxing training in a Dubai gym before his fight. No one expected him to do well with his long-time coach in Sri Lanka Rukman Wekadapola urging him to fight for survival fearing for his safety.

The invitation to Dubai came when Rathnapala contacted Nelka Shiromala who was felicitated for becoming the first female referee from Sri Lanka to officiate in the Olympics in Tokyo. After several discussions with Tharindu and his coach Wekadapola, despite his boxing credentials having represented Sri Lanka at the World Championships and a triangular in the Philippines, what tilted the scales was his jungle training video like a commando or like Sylvester Stallone in ‘Rambo’ which made the organisers to nickname him as ‘Tarzan’.

“Initially they wanted him to fight in the December tournament. He had not got into the ring for over a year. He had just a week to get ready. He was confident because this was his dream. I was wary because he was new to professional boxing. He was up against an African with six fights under his belt and was over 91kg,” said Wekadapola.

Tharindu was determined to grab the opportunity. “I will fight even Mike Tyson. I don’t have a problem. Don’t worry,” he told his coach before going to Dubai.

Wekadapola advised him not to go for a win but fight without getting injured, to protect himself and to go four rounds without being hurt. But Tharindu had other ideas.

“Sir, I have boxed over 100 (amateur) fights. I didn’t fear at all. I was very confident and relaxed. All my training and experience came to me. If I had relaxed in the last round I could have won. I was leading but because I attacked, I lost,” Tharindu confided in Wekadapola.

The 29-year-old who had dreams of becoming a professional boxer from a young age and whose training methods have been unconventional intentionally building muscle mass and power to fight against taller opponents, gave a memorable performance in the four-round contest losing 39/37 to an experienced pro from Cameroon Mamandou Bissiriou. Tharindu who conceded height and weight advantage, surprised the African fighter by winning the first and third rounds but the turning point came in the final round when he was virtually wrestled to the ground.

“His punches were really hard. But I managed to fight back. If I had two weeks of training, I could have won,” said Tharindu whose creditable performance has opened the pathway for Sri Lankans to feature in the ‘Countdown to the Middle-East Crown’ series.

Galapita Hangidigedara Tharindu Roshan Madushanke who hails from Dombagamma, Pujapitiya in Kandy is the eldest in a family. His life changed when he came on a scholarship from his village school Marathugoda Central College to Kingswood where Wekadapola hand picked him as a potential future boxing star. “I had never seen a boxing glove till I was 11 years old,” said Tharindu who swept all before him winning his first national title as a schoolboy in 2011.

The defining moment in his career came when he knocked out experienced Army boxer Divaratne in the Nationals while representing Slimline having lost narrowly to him in the Clifford Cup as a schoolboy previously.

“This was my most memorable win as an amateur because he had been unbeaten for three years. What I did in Dubai is even more unforgettable,” said Tharindu who is not only a unique talent but bubbling with different ideas to the extent of even challenging his coach’s training methods.

“He studied medicine and was selected to the university but after joining MAS he had to join another faculty. He was different from the rest because of his educational qualifications. He always argued that since boxers need strength, he bulked himself up with nutrients. He was a sort of rebel,” said Wekadapola.

“He was a vegetarian those days. His body weight was 69kg but fought in the 75kg category. He wanted to make an impact by fighting good boxers. He is a unique character and could be notoriously aggressive in the ring,” Wekadapola said recalling how Tharindu challenged the crowd after winning against the Army boxer, celebrating by screaming in delight and doing push-ups in the ring.

A Bachelor in Business Administration specializing in marketing, Tharinu is not all brawn.

“Boxing is a tough sport. I had a passion for it. But I used my IQ. I also did dancing in school, so I had rhythm in me. Unfortunately, in my weight class I am a bit shorter than other guys. Most of them were tall. I have to fight like a bull. I keep using my IQ. I wanted to be good so I developed my muscles,” said Tharindu who is 178cm, the same height as Tyson. “It’s not all about height. It’s about thinking patterns. It’s just a sport. Height does not matter.”

But he was not content being just an amateur boxer having won at national level in five different weight classes from under 64kg, -69, -75, -81 and -91kg.

“From a small age I was thinking of professional boxing. That’s my dream. Unfortunately, there is very little opportunity in Sri Lanka. After getting my degree, I worked in a construction firm. But working 9 to 5 is not my passion. I get very bored of that lifestyle,” said Tharindu, grabbing the opportunity when called up for the Dubai event.

After his debut in Dubai, he got an invitation to fight in India as well. “I got my pro licence already with coach Bandula (Rathpala) and Dunstan (Rozairo) promoting me. They gave me the opportunity to fight in Dubai again in December. One promoter Roshan wanted me to fight in India events,” said Tharindu who will resign from his job in Sri Lanka to train in Dubai. He plans to move to Canada in January with his fiancé Narmada Weerakkody, a lecturer at Sabaragamuwa University who has got a PhD scholarship, and then join Rathnapala’s boxing gym in New Jersey.

However, Tharindu has not forgotten his roots. “I will be fighting under the Sri Lanka flag as a professional boxer. I also have ambitions of representing Sri Lanka at the Commonwealth Games next year and winning a medal,” he said.

It is not the lure of riches that motivates him to box as a professional. “I was dreaming of it when I was young. I wanted to be a sportsman and a good person to society. I want to do something for this land. My hobby is to fight in the ring. I never get afraid. I am enjoying the sport,” he said.

Asked whether other Sri Lankan boxers can turn professional, he said: “They can but they have to make sacrifices. I had to take leave from my job for three weeks. If someone is able to do that, they can train with us. Also, they need to have a good amateur record,” said Tharindu who has a record of 88 wins in 104 bouts, 39 by knockout.

He said the difference between amateur and professional boxing was like T20 and Test cricket.

“In amateur boxing we are going to get marks. In pro boxing, you want to injure your opponent. Hit really hard otherwise you will not win. It is similar to gladiators fighting,” he said.

Aware that he has to perform as a professional, he is planning to quit his job in Sri Lanka as Assistant Admin Manager in Gayasad Constructions to commit himself full time.

“This is just the beginning. I want to do more in the future. Otherwise, I am nothing. They (sponsors) will say go back to your country. Now is the time I have to perform very well. Now I want to build my career. My ambition is to become world cruiser weight (91kg) champion,” said Tharindu.