Indian boxers ought to take more punches than they land. That is the prescription a former Italian international boxer has to ensure a healthy growth for country's amateur boxing. Fabrizio Petroni knows his onions.

H. S Manjunath

Indian boxers ought to take more punches than they land. That is the prescription a former Italian international boxer has to ensure a healthy growth for country's amateur boxing. Fabrizio Petroni knows his onions. He has been Italian champion thrice. His brother, Fabio was a world champ. His two-year-old Indian born son, rather aptly named another Fabio, already has Konkani on his tounge and boxing on his mind. Petroni also knows the limitations of an Indian amateur boxer.

Over the last three years he has been grooming a fledgling Goan boxing talent and from what he has seen of his wards and the boxers across the country they have been fighting, he is in no doubt where the trouble lies.

Amateur boxing is on the decline in Eurpoe and America. The lure of professional boxing is so great that an exceptional talent is almost always grabbed in quick time by the ever hungry promoters of the Don King llk. Asia has been somewhat different. So also Cuba.

Petroni is firm on one thing: "Talentwise Indian boxers are as good as any."

Then why is it that this rich promise never quite shows in terms of achievements? Is it to do with technique or stamina. Here is what Petroni says:

"No. It is nothing to do with either the way Indians box or their endurance. It is just that accomplished boxers take more body blows. Surprisingly Indians don't because invariably referees tend to call off bouts here after one solid knock. It doesn't happen in other countries. There you land more punches because the refs allow you to. So you learn to take more punches. The boxers become more seasoned. Naturally Indian boxers feel the `heat' when they go out since they are so used to this `one punch stop.' You ought to allow more punches. The more intense the thrust and parry, the tougher it gets for a boxer and that toughness breeds quality."

Petroni was baring his thoughts on the sidelines of the Federation Cup boxing Championship held near a famous Goan beach, Calangute, not far away from the capital Panjim. An internationally approved ring was put in place on an open field not far from the shore line. Hot clime was a worrying factor. Its impact, however, was considerably lessened because the organisers did well to card the bouts in the evening.

The choice of venue is in a way symbolic as far as Goan boxing is concerned. It is at a village called Saligao, a few miles away from Calangute, that Goa's boxing is said to have taken birth. Interestingly the dynamic organising secretary of the championship, Lenny D'Gama, a former boxer with the Services and now a respected referee who is on the verge of gaining International status, hails from Saligao.

Literally and metaphorically, Lenny was everywhere, attending to every minute organisational detail and then getting into the ring in whites as a ref. Lenny himself put down the organisational success of the championship to the support that was extended by several local bodies including the Sports Authority of Goa.

The Goans love their football. Boxing didn't quite get the audience that was expected. The bustling tourist traffic to Calangute stopped by to make the numbers around the ring. There were quite a few foreigners who spent considerable time by the ringside — perhaps hardcore boxing buffs.

With little more thought and planning, the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation could have ensured better quality fare. Somehow there was this impression that the Fed Cup was more of a rush job and given the circumstances, the Goan Amateur Boxing Association made a gallant effort to make the event as enjoyable and successful as was possible.

There was a comical mix up as for as the women's event was concerned. Finally it was reduced to a farcical sight of two exhibition bouts involving three Goan boxers and one from Haryana. The root of the trouble was a communication tangle leading to a situation where the host association enlisted four teams and the IABF drew up a list of its own. The ensuing confusion could not be sorted out in time. In the end none of the teams showed up. The federation felt sorry but it could not save the embarrassment for the local association.

When the Asian Gold medallist Dingko Singh arrived in Goa there was a hush of excitement because his presence meant added star value. For the Asian champion the place where the pugilists were put up, Don Bosco High School, is rather special. It was here in 1996 that Dingko picked up his first National Medal as a junior. But on the morning of the championship, the script took a sorrowful twist. A wrist injury that he has been carrying flared up when he got down to padding. The injury had kept him out of the Nationals. It most certainly would keep him out of the Fed Cup. A rather disappointed Dingko didn't even bother to weigh in. Dingko felt shattered. The blow was more painful to the organisers who were banking on his charisma to attract public attention. For boxers clustered with Dingko the news of his pullout meant collective sigh of relief.

In terms of competitive ardour, this Federation Cup fell a notch or two short of some of the previous ones.

It is a well established fact that Army units pursue Amateur boxing with a daring and discipline other State units find hard to match. It was no surprise that Indian Navy produced four gold medal winners of the five boxers it fielded. Suranjoy Singh, Bipin Pyngorpe, Rossema Colony and Sugesh got on top of the heap. Only Ajit Pal was out of the medals. For the vastly experienced Navy boxers, it was indeed a romp though Colony was given an initial fright in the semi-finals by a young Goan teenager Suraj Badakar, who showed scant regard for the reputation of his rival and ended up a gallant loser.

Suranjoy's ring craft was a notable feature. Here is a boxer who has a good reach and tactfully uses it. He throws his punches straight. That is where he scored over others. Among the lower weight category he was easily the best on view. Bipin is the sort of a guy who wants the first touch of the glove to be the decisive one. He has a right uppercut which when it meets the target could be quite lethal as Haryana's Yadvendra found out to his chagrin in the final.

The Railway Sports Control Board ran Indian Navy close in the race for team honours. Santosh Thakur, Rajesh Nokia, Sanjay Jordar finished on top on the final day to boost the Railway tally.

But the one who caught the eye on the final day was Rajesh Kumar of CISF. Rajesh is breaking into a bigger stage and he couldn't have bargained for a better launch. His victory over Chennai SAF Games winner Bhushan Saini in an exciting bout was put down as the best of the championship. Rajesh deservedly got the Best Boxer award among higher weight category.

In a way, this Federation Cup drew an insight into what Goan boxing is capable of and heading for. As Lenny put it Petroni is the best thing to have happened for Goa which is a relative fresher. In the three years of his association with Goan boxing, the amiable Italian coach has given it a new impetus which is bound to take profitable roots in the near future.

Goa surprised the game's analytical minds no end when it finished a creditable third ahead of strong teams like Andhra Pradesh and Haryana. Pravin Shirodkar and Santosh Birmole struck gold and both are heading towards greater glory. Shamsundar Anchan lost out to final round fatige after boxing on level terms with Sanjay Jordar to settle for a silver. The tall frame gives Pravin a better reach. He throws his punches straight and has a body deceit that is so crucial. Petroni says, "Pravin has a clean style and will improve a lot if he gets frequent exposure at the national and international level. Santosh has a more aggressive approach, one who is not affraid to throw his punches and take them too. A chancy type who on his day can tackle the best in the business." Goan hopes are pinned firmly on the trio of Pravin, Santosh and Suraj.

Within moments of Pravin's triumph, the Sports Authority of Goa let the good news out that he would be sent to the National Institute of Sports for a training stint. The Goan hospitality drew all round praise as the Eighth Edition of the Federation Cup slipped into history books. But somewhere on the Calangute shoreline, the emergence of Goan boxing as a team of the future was quite visible.

The results (all finals):

Light Flyweight: Santosh Thakur (RSPB) bt Khemanand (CISF) on points.

Flyweight: Suranjoy Singh (IN) bt Sundi Raju (AP) on Points.

Bantamweight: Rossema Colony (IN) bt Siddarth (Mah) on points

Featherweight: Bipin Pyngorpe (IN) bt Yadvendra (Har) RSC - III.

Lightweight: Pravin Shirodkar (Goa) bt Wadekar (Mah) on points.

Light welterweight: Santosh Birmole (Goa) bt Premchand (RSPB) on points

Welterweight: Rajesh Kumar (CISF) bt Bhushan Saini (RSPB) on points.

Middleweight: Ravinder (Har) bt Bhuv Shivaraju (MP) on points.

Lightheavy: Rakesh Nokia (RSPB) bt Ravi Gill (AP) on points.

Heavy: Sanjay Jordar (RSPB) bt Shamsundar Anchan (Goa) on points

Superheavy: V.Sugesh (IN) bt Venu Gopal (RSPB) on points.