Asian Games gold medallist boxer Dingko Singh dies of cancer

File photo: Dingko Singh celebrates on the podium after winning gold in the bantamweight boxing finals at the 13th Asian Games in Bangkok on December 17, 1998. Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty Images

Former boxer Dingko Singh, who won gold at the Asian Games in 1998, died aged 42 on Thursday after a prolonged battle with liver cancer.

Dingko, who had been fighting the disease since 2017, is survived by his wife Babai Ngangom, a son and a daughter. During his battle with cancer, Dingko's health woes were compounded by a bout of jaundice and COVID-19 last year.

The former bantamweight (54kg) boxer inspired a generation of Indian boxers with his swashbuckling ring craft and flamboyant personality. The Manipuri superstar, who won his maiden national title (sub-junior) as a 10-year-old, was among the first modern stars of Indian boxing with his Asian Games gold and inspired the likes of six-time world champion MC Mary Kom, among others.

"He was a rockstar, a legend, a rage. I remember I used to queue up to watch him fight in Manipur. He inspired me. He was my hero. It is a huge loss. He has gone too soon," Mary Kom told PTI, recalling the iconic boxer who faded from the scene after cancer took its toll on his body.

"Life is so unpredictable," she said.

"We lost a legend," Olympic-bound boxer Vikas Krishan said, summing up what Dingko means to Indian boxing.

"I'm deeply saddened by the demise of Shri Dingko Singh," Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted.

A fearless competitor in the ring, Dingko beat two Olympic medallists -- Sontaya Wongprates of Thailand and Timur Tulyakov of Uzbekistan -- en route to the Asian Games gold medal in Bangkok, which was a remarkable feat for an Indian boxer at that time.

Ironically, he wasn't the original pick for the Games and made the cut after registering his protest.

Vijender Singh, India's first Olympic medallist in boxing, tweeted:

Following his 1998 Asiad gold, Dingko won the Arjuna award in the same year. In 2013, he was honoured with the Padma Shri for his contribution to the sport.

An employee of the Indian Navy, Dingko had taken to coaching at Imphal's Sports Authority of India (SAI) Centre after hanging up his gloves but illnesses came in the way of his progress and he was mostly confined to his home in the later stages of his life.

He was airlifted to Delhi last year after it came to light that the COVID-19 lockdown had prevented him from getting crucial radiation therapy for his cancer.

Upon landing in Delhi, a bout of jaundice prevented him from getting the therapy. He went back to Imphal in an ambulance and contracted COVID-19 on reaching back home. He spent a month in hospital recovering from the infection.

"It was not easy but I told myself, 'ladna hai toh ladna hai (If I have to fight, I'll fight)'. I was not prepared to give up, no one should," he had said in his last interaction with PTI after recovering.