Andrew Singh Kooner: Scrapper Into Boxer
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Andrew Singh Kooner's voice comes on the line and your first reaction is, yikes, this kid should never box again.
He sounds like he just inhaled a helium balloon. Like he's walking on his heels. Like he's punch drunk. Pick an expression. Turns out, he's just had an infected tooth pulled and the freezing had yet to wear off.
"I'll be okay," the Windsor (Ontario, Canada) boxer mumbles. "They told me it would be just fine in three-four hours."
That's good, because last Saturday night, at the Brampton Powerade Centre, Kooner was to face tough Mexican Jose Silveira for the NABA bantamweight title, the biggest fight of his pro boxing career.
Not just that, it's the first time he got to fight as a pro in his home province, in front of family and friends.
Andrew Singh is 10-2, but has never fought in Ontario, for the basic reason that most of Ontario's top fighters rarely battle here, as the Ontario athletic commission has nearly regulated the sport to death.
Yet despite his problems making himself understood over the phone, Andrew is walking on air.
He looks at a win over Silveria (10-2) as a stepping stone towards a world title bout.
"Now's the time for me. I'm not getting any younger," said Andrew, who turned 31 last week.
Born in Kettering, England, Andrew immigrated to Canada with his parents as a three-year-old. When he was 13, he joined the local Windsor Boxing Club, not because he grew up a fight fan. He was one of the very few Sikh kids in his school and was being singled out on a regular basis.
"I was being tormented a lot," he said, "and my parents felt boxing was a good way to channel my anger and frustration. Boxing ended up being a blessing."
By the time he was a teenager, the little scrapper was a fixture on the national team and soon began winning medals at major international tournaments.
"Definitely one of the hardest trainers out there," said former team captain Mike Strange. "He trained his *** off."
Andrew's amateur career was marked by success and frustration. Ask any veteran of Canada's boxing teams from that era and they'll tell you that Andrew was one of the most talented fighters ever to wear the Maple Leaf. Unfortunately, success in international amateur boxing is often dependent on the random draw. And Andrew rarely ended up on the good end of a draw.
Strange recalls the 2000 Sydney Olympics qualifying tournament in Tijuana, Mexico when Andrew, barely out of his teens, defeated Argentinian star Omar Narveaz, who is now the world flyweight champion.
"He beat him, and beat him easy," said Strange. "I told him that if you fight like this, you'll win the gold medal at the Olympics for sure."
Andrew did fight well Down Under, beating Algerian brawler Nacer Keddam in the first round on points, 18-11. But then he drew a police officer from Thailand named Wijan Ponlid.
The Sikh-Canadian battled his Thai opponent hard, losing a 11-7 points decision. Ponlid, a crafty southpaw, ended up winning the gold medal and returned home to a hero's welcome, including a 49-elephant parade.
Of all of his fights in Sydney, Ponlid had the most trouble with Andrew.
Strange remembers Andrew as one of the quiet guys on a rambunctious national squad that included, at various times, Brampton's Troy Ross, who will be fighting for the vacant IBF world cruiserweight title on June 5 in Germany, and current IBF super bantamweight champion Steve Molitor.
"There was just a great camaraderie on those teams," said Andrew Kooner. "Those are the things that you will always cherish."
After the Athens Games, where he was 1-1, Kooner turned pro and while he's on the precipice of world contention, there have been some hiccups, including a controversial loss to Asamoah Wilson last June in England.
Wilson was given the win after the two clashed heads and Kooner was cut over his left eye.
But Kooner bounced back with a unanimous decision win over American Norman Allen in December and now faces Silveira - with, for the first time as a pro, a solid home crowd advantage
"This is my time to prove to everyone that I'm a world-class fighter," Kooner said.