A 37-year-old amateur boxer is seeking to become the first Sikh Punjabi man in west London to get a professional licence, despite only starting a year ago.
Sukhminder Singh Kooner (pictured left) was previously denied a licence because of his age and lack of experience, but decided to fight back by going down the amateur boxing route and has gone on to win three fights in five weeks.
Mr Kooner fought Muay Thai for 22 years and was at the end of his career when he got into boxing by a complete accident.
His best friend, and now coach, Robert Lloyd Taylor (pictured right) was a highly decorated professional boxer who has now retired and runs New Kings Boxing Gym in South Harrow.
Mr Kooner said he had only gone down to give his support and check out the new gym.
Whilst there he volunteered to spar with a prospective fighter who an earned a fearsome reputation, when nobody else stepped up to fight him.
“Everyone looked shocked and of course for those four rounds I took an absolute pasting,” said Mr Kooner.
“I went home feeling sorry for myself and thinking, ‘oh man I’m too old and my fighting days are over’.”
“Then after a shower and food, something clicked, and I thought ‘I’m going to go back every week until I catch him!’ And I did exactly that.”
After becoming his main sparring partner, and helping him get ready for fights, Mr Taylor finally pushed Mr Kooner to consider trying to go professional.
“I said I can’t, I’m too old, it doesn’t make sense, and Rob said it doesn’t but neither does what you’re doing in here!”
He is now competing against boxers who are 10 to 15 years younger than him and admits that what he’s achieved at his age is ‘absolutely ridiculous’.
“I’m aware I’m now destined for other things. Settling down, family, kids, continuing coaching and so my fighting window is very small.
“But I want people to hopeful and feel inspired that nothing is impossible – riding a horse, playing violin – we just have to dedicate our time to our craft.”
Mr Kooner’s exciting style of aggressive fighting has earned him the nickname ‘Punjabi Pitbull’.
“People couldn’t believe that someone who had never boxed or had any boxing experience would be able to handle dangerous fighters.”
Mr Kooner hopes his story inspires other people to work to attain their goals and dreams, no matter their background or stage of life.
Alongside his full-time job as the owner of a gas engineering company, he also teaches Thai boxing to children as a way to give back to his community.
Thai boxing was instrumental in building his confidence as a young child, growing up on a rough estate in a single-parent family, and having to cope with excessive bullying.
“I always felt if I could prevent a child feeling the way I did growing up, then I’m living with purpose,” he said.
Mr Kooner believes boxing can be used as a way to channel energy and focus away from dangerous or negative habits and instead learn to change your mindset and better yourself.
He said: “I think the pace of life and worries have stimulated our minds so much that we seek happiness and peace in silly destructive things. Yet it’s all within us.
“A lot of my students have turned their lives around, from gangs, drugs and gotten into education and pursued good careers.”
Mr Kooner emphasizes that the sport isn’t reserved for boys, and that he has lots of female students too.
He said: “I’m very big on empowering women from a young age, breeding lionesses and not just following society trends.
“If we want to raise young boys as warriors, we need even stronger women to raise and create them.”
He says the licence board has been very impressed with his progress so far and he is set to reapply in the coming months, feeling much more hopeful and proud of what he’s accomplished.
Speaking on his progress, Mr Kooner said: “You can come from the gutter and make a better life for yourself, family and society.”
All images and videos courtesy of Sukhminder Kooner.