Indian boxing has evolved. Three gold and four bronze — India's best performance at the Commonwealth Games is a testimony of their superior technique and level of confidence. Never before had they won more than a gold in an edition.
Every cheer that emanated from the packed stands of the Talkatora Indoor Stadium reverberated through every household — plush colonies to ghettoes — in the country.On Wednesday, when three of the 10 boxers stepped on to the top of the podium, it heralded a new era in the history of the sport. If diminutive Suranjoy Singh got a walkover over Benson Njangiru of Kenya, Manoj Kumar (64kg) and Paramjeet Samota (91+) showed technique that can be equated with the best in the world.
The fight of the night, however, was Manoj's. His boxing posture bears an uncanny resemblance to Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh. There is no pretence in his approach. A crouched stance, steps, that at times seem heavy, but are sure and balanced, and punches that land on the face, which come straight from in front of his face and return to the same spot.
Manoj may have traded 100 punches, but he never dropped his guard. He had the patience of a sage and drew his opponent towards him rather than going within range. It's an art that's perfected by most top European boxers. “Without good guard one cannot win,” he said after the fight.
Even on the day of one the biggest fights of his career, Manoj did not get swayed by the delirious fans who were behind him from the bell. He waited, weighed his opponent, Bradley Saunders, who like all English boxers, played with the chin tugged into the chest and high guard.
Though breaking the barrier took a few left jabs, Manoj worked his punches up from the body to the face. No blow works better than a lead to open up an opponent. Manoj did just that.
Once he took a 4-1 lead in the first round, Saunders had to attack, which gave openings to the boxer from Kaithal in Haryana. He grabbed them and the gold with a 12-2 verdict.
“Our entire coaching staff, including foreign coach BI Fernandes, chalked out this defensive and countering strategy,” said national chief coach GS Sandhu. “This shows that we are second to none in the world of boxing, when it comes to strategy and technique.”
If Manoj was clinical, Samota was aggressive against Tariq Abdul Haqq. Though he did not get too many points, but right from the start, Samota had aimed for gold. “Such was his confidence that in the beginning he told me that he would win the gold for me,” said Sandhu.
Though Samota's first love was wrestling and he had even joined an akhara in Bhiwani to excel in the sport, his father, Pardeep Singh, who was also a boxer, shifted him to boxing.