I will go for the gold: Amit Panghal not willing to settle for silver
Panghal dominated the 52kg semi against Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov, though the scoreline—3-2—did not reflect that.Updated: Sep 21, 2019 08:44 IST
Anil Dhankar recalls the days when he used to train Amit Panghal in an open field in village Myna in Rohtak. Panghal, just 13 then, used to accompany his elder brother Ajay.
It has been a long journey for Panghal from there to Ekaterinburg, Russia, where the 23-year-old from Haryana became the first Indian male boxer to enter the finals of the World Boxing Championships.
“In boxing, it’s about the obsession of getting the most from yourself, wanting to dominate the world like a hungry young lion,” Panghal tweeted after winning his semi-final fight on Friday.
Panghal dominated the 52kg semi against Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov, though the scoreline—3-2—did not reflect that.
A silver is now ensured, which will be a first for India. Before this edition, India had four bronze medals from the world meet, including that of Vijender Singh.
Manish Kaushik added one more bronze on Friday after losing his semi-final against Cuban Andy Gomez Cruz 5-0.
“I am very happy that for the first time we have won two medals and it is most successful World Championships for India but for me history is still to be made. Tomorrow I will go for the gold,” Panghal told HT after his victory.
Going by the way Panghal has fought in this tournament, the chances of him becoming the first Indian world champion in boxing are bright. He will be up against Rio Olympics gold medallist Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan, who defeated France’s Billal Bennama in the semi-final.
“My opponent was taller today and I had to step back and fight. I tried to be aggressive and hit more punches and come out or stay very close to him,” Panghal said.
Once he had gauged his opponent well, Panghal landed some clear punches flush on his opponent’s face, often coming in from angles that came as a surprise to the taller Bibossinov.
Panghal played a smart counter-attacking game, stepping back and waiting for Bibossinov to attack. When the punch came in, Panghal slipped under or weaved through, simultaneously taking a big stride—sometimes almost a leaping lunge—forward into Bibossinov’s territory, throwing sharp and accurate punches up towards his opponent’s head.
“I like to attack on the face because it helps in clear scoring,” said Panghal, who simply stepped up the aggression in the second and third rounds.
“The first round was difficult for Amit. His opponent had a longer reach and it was only toward the end of the first round that Amit got going once he found his rhythm,” said India’s high performance director Santiago Nieva.
“He won the second round and in the third round he threw some very good punches.
“He has not played Zoirov before but Amit is smart and we will watch videos tonight and plan our strategy,” Nieva added.
The way Panghal has competed in the higher 52kg after a change of class from 49kg earlier this year has impressed Nieva to the extent that he called the final on Sunday “a potential final clash of the Tokyo Olympics.”
“There was a big question mark on how he will adapt in 52kg after the change in weight category for the Olympics because of his height disadvantage,” Nieva said.
“But in the Asian Championships (where he won gold in April) and now here, he has showed that he is world class.
“We don’t want to return without a gold medal and Amit has shown the skill and ability to give India a gold medal from the World Championships. His confidence has only grown with each tournament,” he added.
The last couple of years Panghal has been relentless in his chase of gold medals. In the 2017 World Championships, he had lost to Olympic champion (49kg) Hasanboy Dusmatov in the quarter-finals. That was a turning point.
Since then, Panghal has beaten the Olympic champion twice. At the 2018 Asian Games, Panghal outfought Hasanboy to win an unexpected gold and then had another go at him at the Asian Championships, before moving up his weight category for a chance to fight at the Olympics.
“Amit has always been gutsy. He has always beaten reputed opponents from his childhood,” said his childhood coach Dhankar.
“When he used to come to train with his brother he was very athletic and he would pass whatever test I gave him. We trained in the open, making some space in the field and I would place one ring. He was very hard working and he still calls before a bout. He has stayed grounded,” Dhankar said.
Kaushik wins bronze
Manish Kaushik went down 0-5 to the 2017 world champion and top seed, Cuba’s Andy Gomez, for his bronze. But the 23-year-old boxer from Bhiwani had already made a big impact at his debut World Championships. En route to the semis, Kaushik had beaten the Asian Games silver medallist.
Kaushik has emerged as one of the top boxers in the country in the last one year, after repeatedly defeating the more established Shiva Thapa in the 63kg category. The medal at the Worlds has earned him an automatic spot in the team for the Olympic qualifiers in February next year.
“I was happy to see that Manish could take on his game,” Nieva said after the semi-final. “The Cuban boxer had a good defence and many times it happened that he landed the last punch with both of them having a go. He (Kaushik) will learn a lot from this tournament. Overall four boxers reaching the quarter-final stage was a big achievement for us but we want to keep moving forward.”