Panghal makes a point in defeat
Facing Uzbek Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov, Panghal showed he was up for the challenge, but there was no crowning glory.Updated: Sep 22, 2019 11:36 IST
Even before he entered the ring on Saturday at Ekaterinburg, Russia, Amit Panghal had laid a marker—he had become the first Indian male boxer to reach the title round of the world championships.
Facing Uzbek Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov, Panghal showed he was up for the challenge, but there was no crowning glory. He lost 0-5, but will still return home with a silver medal from the world championships, the first Indian male boxer to achieve the feat.
“I had hoped to win a gold medal, but was not able to do it,” Panghal said. “There were some shortcomings, which I will have to work on and return stronger. I am hopeful I will be able to tackle him (Zoirov) in the future. I love to win medals for the country and I will continue to do that,” he added. The performance in Russia has raised the stature of the 23-year-old at world level. It will boost his confidence for the Olympic qualification tournaments next year.
India’s Swedish high performance director Santiago Nieva believes Panghal’s sensational show makes him a favourite for the Tokyo Olympics gold in the 52kg division. “What this tournament has showed is that Amit will be a contender for the Olympic gold. Winning a silver medal at the biggest stage will give him great self-belief. We have been working towards the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and we will continue to move forward,” Santiago told Hindustan Times.
The taller Zoirov started with a flurry of punches in the first round, which put Panghal on the back foot and did not allow him to use his strategy of counter-attack. Panghal fought back in the second and third rounds, but it was not enough. After the second round, Nieva exhorted Panghal to stay calm and engage his opponent more often as the Indian was much faster.
“It was a very difficult bout, and a close one. Amit was not able to land enough punches. He normally finds his distance and rhythm by the first round but today he stayed a little too far away. The punches were not going his way,” said Nieva.
“Zoirov is an Olympic champion, so we knew it would be a challenge. He was fast and Amit was not able to catch him clean. He played well in the third round. Amit can certainly beat Zoirov and we will work on that,” Nieva added.
Panghal’s game has worked fine in the world championships, but Nieva admitted he will have to add more weapons and not become predictable.
“He is good at utilising his strengths. But suddenly if he has to change or make any adjustment he needs to be ready for that and we keep on telling him that. He needs to develop other modes of attack so that he is not predictable,” he said.
“In the last two-three bouts he was getting taller boxers and against some boxers we asked him to use body punches so that he can create more openings,” said Nieva.
Panghal has quickly risen to the top and established himself at the world level. Last year, he won gold at the Asian Games and a silver at the Commonwealth Games in light flyweight (49kg).
However, he has quickly adapted to the higher weight category (52kg) while aiming for the Tokyo Olympics. A gold medal at the Asian Championships and now silver at the worlds will be ideal preparation for higher glory.
“We are proud of you. This gold is no smaller achievement than the gold medal,” the 22008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist, Vijender Singh, tweeted.
Vijender, Vikas Krishan, Shiva Thapa and Gaurav Bhiduri have all won bronze medals at the world championships. But for the first time, India will be returning with two medals—Manish Kaushik won a bronze medal. Besides, Kavinder Singh Bisht (57kg) and Sanjeet Kumar (91kg) made it to the quarter-finals.
Panghal said the showing will take Indian boxing to another level. Indian boxing had seen a surge following the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Vijender won the country’s first medal in the Games. However, the performances of Indian boxers in the 2012 London Olympics and at Rio in 2016 were not up to the mark. However, the boxing scene in the country is looking up again.
India had produced an impressive show in the Asian championships, which was held in Bangkok in April. The country’s boxers (men and women) won 13 medals. Panghal won the lone gold among men, who also claimed three silver and bronze medals each.
“We are already beating the world’s best and it is a good sign for Indian boxing. In the coming days we are confident of winning more medals for the country,” Panghal added.