Indian boxers now packing a punch!

The World Championships provided the best platform for boxers to do a reality check and assess their prospective opponents in the coming Olympic qualifying events.

Amit Panghal (silver) and Manish Kaushik (bronze) pose with the medals they won at the recent World Boxing Championships in Ekaterinburg.   -  PTI

Only two medals, but it was India’s best-ever showing at the men’s World Boxing Championships in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

The performance gains more weight when one considers that four, 50 percent to be precise, Indian boxers made it to the last eight. It could have been better had the International Boxing Association (AIBA) not dropped two weights, 49kg and 60kg — in which the country has some good boxers, to match the standards of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

But for the World Championships’ chequered background, the story would have been different. The premier AIBA event has lost the status of being a major Olympic qualifier after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended the apex boxing body and stripped it of the right to organise the sport at the 2020 Olympics over issues related to finance, ethics (including refereeing), governance and the election of the controversial Uzbek businessman Gafur Rahimov as president.

Nevertheless, the World Championships provided the best platform for boxers to do a reality check and assess their prospective opponents in the coming Olympic qualifying events.

For India, which had collected only four bronze medals — Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015) and Gaurav Bidhuri (2017) — in the history of the event, Amit Panghal (52kg) broke new ground by being the first Indian to secure a silver medal. And Manish Kaushik, who jumped from 60kg to 63kg, emerged from his relatively lower profile to land a bronze medal.

“Amit was exceptional. He is one boxer who has shown consistency in all major tournaments,” said high-performance director Santiago Nieva.

“Amit is up there and with some improvement he can definitely be a contender for a gold medal (in the Olympics).”

Amit Panghal lands a punch on his Filipino opponent Carlo Paalam in the quarterfinal of the 52kg category at the World Boxing Championships in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Panghal went on to bag a silver.   -  PTI

 

Amit, an Asian Games and Asian Championships gold medal winner, knows that he needs to overcome his slow starts and add more power to his punches to be the best in the world.

While agreeing that Amit should gain more strength and must improve tactically, head coach C. A. Kuttappa feels the ace boxer need not change his game too much. “He is always in control of things. He thinks ‘I can beat anyone.’ We don’t want to change his attitude.”

Manish, a 23-year-old armyman, also deserved the adulation he received.

“Manish showed a better level than before. In a newer weight category, the way he out-boxed bigger and stronger opponents was a surprise. He showcased his effective and mature boxing,” said Nieva.

Kuttappa was also impressed with Manish. “He is the one who always seeks to score through clean punches, never tries to knock out the opponent. And he was the one who was least hit by opponents’ blows,” said Kuttappa.

Manish will also have to work on his strengths to fully fit into the new weight class.

“When we speak about increasing strength, it is specific strength. It is not about lifting weights (mindlessly),” explained Kuttappa.

The story is not restricted to these two, though.

Kavinder Singh Bisht (57kg) and Sanjeet Kumar (91kg) also gave good performances to come close to medals. There are also four other weights where the Indians can do well by raising their game.

“Good results are the outcome of a long process and years of hard work. It is not done in a couple of camps. International exposure was important and we got good support. Competing in almost all top competitions was a great advantage. For example, four different teams were competing abroad in July,” said Nieva.

Kuttappa said two aspects of training have changed and these have produced positive results. “After Santiago joined us, we took part in more competitions. Also, our tactical game and strength training changed. For example, in the ring our boxers deal with clinch positions in a better way. We have shifted from training with machines to lifting free weights, it helps the whole body to gain strength.”

Manish Kaushik was ruthless against Kyrgyzstan’s Argen Ullu Kadyrbek at the boxing worlds. Ultimately, Manish bagged a bronze.   -  PTI

 

Kuttappa, who has worked with two generations of top Indian boxers, said the competition among the national campers has increased manifold.

“Earlier, only the No. 1 boxers used to go everywhere. Now everyone gets exposure, which is making everybody better. That’s why there is stiff competition in every weight.”

A Commonwealth Games silver medallist, Manish, who was primarily known as Shiva Thapa’s arch-rival before he got the worlds medal, chipped in. “Since we have such good competition within ourselves, it lifts everyone’s game. When we go out on tours, we give our best and become successful.”

The healthy competition and the encouraging performance in Ekaterinburg will surely elevate the mood in the camp ahead of the Asian Olympic qualifier in Wuhan, China, in February and perhaps for the Olympics in the later part of 2020.

“The realistic chance is that we can repeat this performance or may even better this in the Olympics. We must strive to improve. We have to find a balance between exposure trips and rest so that we don’t burnout our boxers. We did that well in the past. We need to continue in the same way, making small improvements here and there,” said Nieva.

World Cup medal winner and Boxing Federation of India (BFI) selection committee member V. Devarajan makes an apt observation: “Now the system is good and the boxers are getting far better facilities than before. Our boxers are doing well and have built a reputation for themselves. That’s serving Indian boxing well. I am sure they will come good in the Tokyo Olympics.”

With expectations growing after the Indian boxers’ fine showing in the World championships, they will be a closely-watched lot in the coming months.