Uzbeks show their class

A. JOSEPH ANTONY

Bahodirjon Sooltonov of Uzbekistan lands a right on Diwakar Prasad of India. The Uzbek won this 51-54 kg event. -- Pic. K. R. DEEPAK-

The Afro-Asian Games boxing championships yet again turned the spotlight on the former Soviet republics and the superiority of the Socialist system in spawning world-class sportsmen. Pugilists from Uzbekistan and Kazakhistan towered way above the rest of the field, that included the Philippines and Korea, the last two named quite adept in the art themselves.

The Uzbeks epitomised the finer points of the sport, dating back to the Roman empire.

Bahit Sarsekbaev of Uzbekistan lands one on Vijender of India in the 60-64 kgs division. Bahit won the gold. -- Pic. K. R. DEEPAK-

They relied more on rationale than rage to propel them forward. Everything that a good boxer required was evident in their repertoire — speed, footwork and even fairness. Typical of this approach was Sergey Mihayilov.

The strapping puncher packed the power to fell a rhino, but never overplayed that card. Instead, he changed tactics to suit his opponents. His attack was strictly `inside,' in that his blows never transgressed the outlines of the trunk (up to the navel) and face. The right upper cut, rarely sighted in these parts, highlighted the sheer variety in his assaults.

Akhil Kumar of India proudly shows the gold he won in the 48-51 kg event. — Pic. K. R. DEEPAK-

If at all his defences were breached, for every hit he received, the Uzbek would return the favour in double measure. Strangely, this stylish straight-shooter was shown the door after his semi-final showdown against Nigeria's Emmanuel Weingkro. The latter went on to topple India's V. Johnson to clinch one of the three golds Africa eventually won.

Another fighter who stood out for the sheer finesse of his trade was Mihayilov's compatriot, Utkirbek Haydarov. What caught the eye instantly was this compact boxer's extra-ordinary reflexes. The Uzbek feinted and ducked, dodged and swayed, even with his back resting on the ropes, leaving his final opponent, Ahmed Ali fisting thin air.

The Pakistani pugilist's long arms failed time and again to contact, but he never gave up, despite being pitted against one of the biggest names in the competition. Haydarov, a Busan Asiad gold medallist and former senior world championship winner, displayed all the wares wanted of a title-holder of that class. When the two-some began to tire in the fourth and concluding round, Ahmed was desperate to land a few punches. Haydarov weaved his way out of Ahmed's `armoury,' often sidestepping at the very last second, to send the latter staggering. The 21-11 victory wasn't enough testimony to Haydarov's skill.

Jitender Kumar of India is being chaired after he won the 75-81 kg category gold. -- Pic. K. R. DEEPAK-

The Indians, aware of their limitations against technically superior opponents, resorted to all-out attacks in the first two rounds and containing the damages in the last two. That tactic paid off particularly for Jitender Kumar. From the word go, he pummelled Beibut Shumenov, establishing a 13-5 lead in the opening round itself.

When the second round began, the thought of bridging the gap must have weighed heavy on the Kazakh's mind. There was however little hope of reducing the margin, leave alone equalising, for the Indian carried over the first round tactic into the next, moving up 23-7. By the third, Jitender was calling the shots so much that the referee halted the contest, when the difference touched the 20-point mark. The Indian boxer had outscored his opponent 30-10.

The Filipinos and the Koreans added their own colour to the competition, the former fleet-footed and the latter being driven mostly by technique. All in all, the event provided invaluable exposure to Indian pugilists and a treat for the fans of the sport.