Flyweight boxing champ Deepak Bhoria aims to soar beyond Amit Panghal
- His dominant win in the division at the national boxing championships makes him a top challenger to Panghal’s status as a world level competitor.
Deepak Bhoria was a class apart at the just-ended senior national boxing championships in Bellary. With deft footwork, quick reflexes and sharp counters, he won all his bouts convincingly for the 51kg (flyweight) title and earn the right to represent India at the world championships in Belgrade next month. The result was on expected lines for Bhoria - an Asian championships silver medallist - in the absence of India’s top boxer in the class, Amit Panghal.
Bhoria's big test will begin at the world championships. He will compete in a category in which Panghal won silver in 2019 - the best performance by an Indian at the men’s worlds. Panghal, who suffered a shock first round exit at the Tokyo Olympics, took the rest of the season off and skipped the national meet, which was the qualifying event for the worlds.
The Haryana boxer wasn’t just a natural talent, but had overcome a key early challenge, having walked into the Universal Boxing Academy run by coach Rajesh Sheoran in Hisar with his father. He was around 15 and had just started taking his boxing seriously, and the training load was increasing. But Sheoran noticed his most talented pupil return every day with pain in the knees, back and other parts of the body. He was simply not being able to bear the regimen.
Sheoran knew Bhoria’s background. Coming from a joint family with only his father - a home guard constable - the earning member, boxing was not a focus area. Bhoria had to draw his energy from a frugal diet of dhal and rice - no protein, milk or supplement. He was on the verge of quitting the sport, to lend a helping hand to his family.
Sheoran could let the youngster go or arrange for his diet. Bhoria was too good a boxer to let go. He asked some of his friends and well-wishers to extend whatever help they could to provide him a proper diet. Sheoran had already waived his fee. Thus began his rise.
Panghal’s shadow though will loom large when Bhoria targets participation in every international competition. Panghal too will be on his toes because, after a long time, he will have a quality challenger at home in his weight category.
“You have to win one-sided (dominate) at home if your aim is the world championships. I went into the nationals with this mindset,” said Bhoria, who was adjudged the best boxer of the nationals, from his home in Hisar. “The big challenge will be the world championships; I know I have to win a medal there because we have silver (by Panghal) in the category. Unless I come back with a medal, I will stand no chance of being noticed in my weight category in India.”
Known for his court-craft, Bhoria has shown he can match the world’s best from whatever opportunity he has got as India’s second choice, behind Panghal, in the last two years. In February, Bhoria caused a flutter by beating world and Rio Olympics champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan at the Strandja Memorial tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria. Panghal has failed to get past Zoirov in three attempts.
Bhoria has a bigger dream. His target is the 2024 Paris Olympics. With the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games scheduled for next year, sparks are set to fly at home against Panghal.
“It’s good in a way that you have to beat the best in your country to represent India in international tournaments. We have been sparring together in camps but facing in a competition will be different,” he said.
The only time Bhoria and Panghal met was at the 2017 inter-services tournament, when he beat Panghal in the light-fly category (49kg). Much has changed since then. Panghal won gold at the 2018 Asian Games and silver at CWG in light-fly (49kg). In 2019, Panghal moved to flyweight and produced quality performances despite a height disadvantage, winning gold at the Asian Championships, silver at the worlds and bagging a Tokyo Olympics berth.
Bhoria though stuck to light-fly and worked on his strength. The world championships will show if he can emerge a challenger to Panghal.
“I’ve worked on my footwork. The win against Zoirov gave me a lot of confidence that I can compete and win at the top level.”