Silver lining for Indian boxing
The Asian Championships was also a turning point for Indian boxing: 13 medals, seven from men and six from women, showed the country’s growing prowess in the ring.Updated: Sep 20, 2019 08:48 IST
When Amit Panghal returned with a gold medal from the Asian Championships, it was a good enough indicator for Santiago Nieva—the Indian team’s high performance manager—to declare him a medal contender for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The tournament was his first real test after shifting to 52kg from 49, but the confidence with which he beat Asia’s best made Nieva place him in the elite category. Panghal has proved him right. On Thursday he will be looking to seal a berth in the final at the World Championships.
“At the Asian Championships Amit faced the toughest possible draw of all our boxers and beat a world class field. He will be a strong medal contender at the Olympics,” Nieva had said.
The Asian Championships was also a turning point for Indian boxing: 13 medals, seven from men and six from women, showed the country’s growing prowess in the ring. Panghal and Manish Kaushik (63kg) have showed their mettle at the World Championships and have already made history for India—they are both assured at least a bronze, which means this is the first time India will come back from the Worlds with more than a single medal.
Just four so far
If they are able to win their semi-finals and make it to the title clash, there will be more reasons to celebrate. India have won four bronze medals at the world championships so far—Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015) and Gaurav Bidhuri (2017).
Second seed Panghal will be up against Saken Bibossinov of Kazakhstan while Manish will have a tough rival in reigning world champion Andy Gomez Cruz of Cuba. Both will fancy their chances, considering that they have moved up the ladder with comprehensive victories.
When it comes to reading an opponent’s strength, Panghal is well versed.
“The first minute of the bout I study the opponent and devise my strategy, depending on whether my opponent is an attacking boxer or scores on the counter,” Panghal said.
India’s coach CA Kuttappa calls him a “clever” boxer.
“He ensures that he hits the opponent and does not get hit himself. He has been very good with his cross punches,” India’s coach CA Kuttappa said.
In the quarter-final against Carlo Paalam of Philippines, Panghal had been cornered in the first two rounds, but came out blazing in the third to win 4-1.
“We asked him to just attack in the third round and he did it brilliantly,” said Kuttappa.
“His semi-final opponent Bibossinov is a long range boxer and Panghal knows how to handle such opponents. He is very good in stepping back and going in with his combinations when there is an opening,” said Kuttappa.
The task of reaching the final will be tougher for Kaushik who faces the top seed Andy Cruz. But the Bhiwani boxer, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist, has had a sensational run at the worlds, winning all his five bouts with dominant 5-0 verdicts.
Kaushik was challenged only by the fourth seed, Mongolia’s Baatarsukh Chinzorig, in the quarter-final, but he weaved his way through with confidence.
“Baatarsukh is a power puncher and he had defeated many Indian boxers, so I had to be fast and accurate with my punches,” said Kaushik.
Kuttappa said what is striking about Kaushik is his clean game.
“He is not one to waste his punches and all these things impress the judges. He is good with his punches from long and medium range. The style of the Cuban boxer, who mostly plays from one position, suits Manish’s game,” Kuttappa said.
Kaushik, who hails from Devsar in Bhiwani, has grown up idolising the likes of Vijender Singh, Jitender Kumar, and Dinesh Kumar, the 2010 Asian Games silver medallist, who all came from the area that became known as “Little Cuba” for producing an assembly line of top amateurs.
“I belong to a farming family but thanks to the influence of these boxers, I took to the sport. Jitender hails from my village and his exploits in the 2008 Olympics, when he made it to the quarterfinals, was a turning point for me,” Kaushik said.
“I started boxing that year and I am happy I am able to make him proud.”