Boxer Amit Panghal's tactical switch augurs well for Tokyo Olympics
- The 52kg boxer did not win his final at the Asian boxing championships, but running close his Uzbek opponent, the reigning Olympic champion, has raised his confidence.
This was one fight Amit Panghal was desperate to nail before the Tokyo Olympics. He almost did, pushing the 2016 Rio Olympics champion Shakhobidin Zoirov to the verge with a fiercely attacking approach in the 52kg at the Asian Championships boxing final in Dubai on Monday.
Panghal lost a bout he and the India coaches thought should have gone his way. But India’s best Olympic medal hope in boxing will head to Japan confident he almost upstaged his big rival for the first time in three meetings. Panghal had lost to Zoirov in the world championships final in 2019 and in a recent meeting in Russia.
Panghal felt it was the best he had fought against the Uzbek.
“I think I did enough to win the bout. There is always scope for improvement and I will be more prepared next time,” he said.
“This competition has given me motivation. I played my best against Zoirov, and even the other boxers I faced were tough and I was able to beat them.”
Panghal beat two quality opponents in Kharkhuu Enkhmandakh of Mongolia and Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov, who he also beat in the world championships semi-finals, in earlier rounds.
Indian boxers gave a good account of the form.
Five other Tokyo-bound boxers returned with medals from what could be their last competition before the Olympics in July-August. Pooja Rani (75kg) headed the show by the women with a brilliant performance, winning her second successive gold in the continental meet. With a silver, Mary Kom (51kg) showed there is a lot left in her tank at 38. Simranjeet Kaur (60kg) and Lovlina Borgohain (69kg) among women and Vikas Krishan (69kg) among men won bronze medals.
India will field its strongest boxing squad in the Olympics. Nine boxers—five men and four women—have qualified for Tokyo and appear to be on the right track for the Games.
Despite travel restrictions due to the pandemic, Indian boxers had prepared well. Panghal has competed in five tournaments since December and looks sharp and motivated.
“I have been consistent in big tournaments because I have trained well and competed in tournaments from time to time. That helps you gauge your preparation. I still need to work a bit on my endurance,” says Panghal, who has won medals in the last three Asian championships.
In the last two years—having shifted to 52kg from 48kg for Olympic qualification—Panghal has been quick to find his feet among the best. He exhibited his authority at the world championships until Zoirov halted him in the final.
Panghal had lost 0-5, but in two years the feisty Indian has bridged the gap. How close the bout was can be gauged from the scoring—one judge gave it 30-27 to Panghal while the other four judges had it 29-28 for the Uzbek.
Panghal was on the go from opening bell. He moved in quickly and opened with a flurry of punches. The Uzbek is always on the attack and never gives any breathing space to his opponents. His speed makes him difficult to counter. Panghal was ready for fast exchanges. He combined his right punches with the left hook. Towards the closing stages Panghal clearly had the better of Zoirov.
“That was the strategy. I (usually) remain behind in the first round and gradually step up; I am at my best by the third round. I was on attack from the start and could see it was working. The idea was to be aggressive throughout. I was using the right punches because it was hitting him, so I kept up pressure with the punches that were on target,” he said.
Zoirov told the official website: “It was a fantastic contest, I enjoyed it so much. Amit was much better than last time, therefore I had to keep my full concentration till the last second. I knew it was not our last meeting, and with Amit I expect that he will be even stronger next time. I made it, and it was an important win for me.”
Like Panghal, London Olympics bronze medallist MC Mary Kom too faced a fast attacking opponent in the final—twice world champion Nazym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan. India’s six-time world champion lost 2-3 but showed that at 38 she can still take on the younger lot.
The women's team went to the tournament without much training in last one month as the national camp had to be called off after some Covid cases. "We could hardly train. There was no sparring. Given the situation, Mary has performed extremely well,” her coach Chote Lal Yadav said.
In the semi-final, Kom was dominant, defeating Lutsaikhan Altantsetseg of Mongolia 4-1 with a brutal uppercut from close standing out among her attacking moves.
“We have been working on a lot of things with Mary,” Chote Lal said. “The upper cut is an addition and she used it so well. She counters very well and we are working on how to make it more effective. Even at her age she is so hard working and disciplined. There is surely some surprise move in store for her opponents at the Olympics.”
Boxers from China, Chinese Taipei and South Korea did not participate.