The one man standing between Amit Panghal and an Olympic medal
- Panghal has adapted well to the higher weight class and silver at the world championships attest to his growing prowess. But it is clear that Panghal, one of India's best medal hopes, will need to find a way to beat Zoirov in Tokyo for a chance at Olympic gold.
Rio Olympics gold medallist Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov is an opponent Amit Panghal is yet to get the measure of. Two straight losses against Zoirov is not a record Panghal, the world's No. 1 amateur flyweight, would like to carry to the Tokyo Olympics, but that’s where he stands at the moment unless he gets an opportunity to fight him again and reverse the trend.
Panghal lost to him in the World Championships final, winning a historic silver for India. Though he gave a better account of himself in the semi-finals of the Governor's Cup in St Petersburg, Russia, last week, the world No.1 Indian still fell short, losing 5-0. Zoirov, a rung below Panghal at No.2 in the world rankings, spent some time in professional boxing after his Olympics success, bringing more power and speed to his game. He made a comeback to amateur boxing in 2020 to defend his title.
Before Panghal shifted to 52kg to qualify for Tokyo Olympics, he was a class act in light flyweight, winning gold at the Asian Games, where he defeated reigning Olympic Champion Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan, and silver at the Commonwealth Games.
Panghal has adapted well to the higher weight class and silver at the world championships attest to his growing prowess. But it is clear that Panghal, one of India's best medal hopes, will need to find a way to beat Zoirov in Tokyo for a chance at Olympic gold.
“The bout against Zoirov could have gone either way and Amit had a very good third round with clear scoring punches. We need to work on a few things for him to get a dominant and clear verdict at the Rio Olympics,” said India’s high performance director Santiago Nieva.
The first round looked scrappy but Zoirov kept himself busy throwing his punches. Panghal likes to fight from a distance. He is quick to find an opening and enter the pocket to attack. While he did that with Zoirov, most of his punches missed the target.
“Amit was superb with his defence. He was blocking his punches, had good foot movement. What he needed to do more is block and counterpunch more, move and counterpunch, slip and counterpunch,” said Nieva.
“In the second round Amit became little too passive, but the way he dominated in the last round was better than any of the rounds he has played against Zoirov, including at the world championships,” said Nieva.
One Indian boxer who knows what it feels like to beat Zoirov is Deepak Kumar, who stunned the Uzbek at the Strandja Memorial Tournament, building sustained pressure with his controlled aggression and clean strikes.
“He keeps coming at you with his punches, there is no moment of respite. You have to block it and counter. I was advised to keep it close. I kept the punches going one after another and didn’t give any space to him. I was able to execute the plans of the coaches,” said Deepak.
“They are different boxers," Nieva said of Amit and Deepak. "Amit has quick feet. It is difficult for opponents to reach him. He is versatile. There are different ways to deal with Zoirov and sustained pressure is one way but you cannot do it for nine minutes.”
Panghal reads his opponents well and is known for his intelligence in the ring. That’s how he defeated the Olympic gold medallist Dusmatov for the Asian Games gold after two earlier defeats.
Except for the losses to Zoirov, Panghal has been in dominant form. Just before he was defeated by Zoirov last week, Panghal had beaten Russia's Tamir Galanov, a bronze-medallist at the 2017 World Championships and a four-time Russian flyweight champion.
“It was a very competitive tournament and Amit was brilliant against the Russian. All this is part of preparation for the Olympics and come Tokyo, I am sure Panghal will be able to beat Zoirov,” said Nieva.