India would be aiming to better their best ever show when Amit Panghal (52kg) and Manish Kaushik (63kg) step inside the ring against tough opponents in pursuit of summit berths in the World Men’s Boxing Championship here, on Friday.
India have never had two semifinalists at the marquee event for amateur boxers and in that respect, the two Haryana boxers have already scripted history.
But if both or either of them manages to make the finals, it would be a gigantic step forward for the sport in the country. The task, however, is easier said than done.
Panghal has in his way Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov, who stunned Armenia’s European gold-medallist and sixth seed Artur Hovhannisyan in the quarterfinals. Kaushik, on the other hand, faces the most accomplished boxer in his weight category — Cuban top seed Andy Gomez Cruz, who out-punched Russia’s eighth-seeded Ilia Popov in the last-eight stage.
Cruz, who was the light welterweight (64kg) gold-medallist in the 2017 edition, is also a two-time Pan American Games gold-winner and not to mention, a terrific mover inside the ring.
“Now begins the tough job. We have already delivered on bettering the medal count and now we aim to better their colour,” Indian Boxing’s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva told PTI.
“I am happy but I won’t be completely happy till the time both of them reach the finals and they surely can, both of them,” added the country’s chief coach C A Kuttappa. They are up against tough challengers but that in no way makes them automatic underdogs. Panghal, the pint-sized dynamo from Rohtak, is the reigning Asian Games and Championships gold-medallist and has back-to-back gold medals at one of Europe’s oldest tournament — the Strandja Memorial.
Kaushik, the shy man hailing from the cradle of Indian boxing Bhiwani, is a Commonwealth Games gold-medallist and is a two-time national medal winner. Both are employed with the Indian Army and both have shown a soldier’s grit in some draining bouts so far.
“He (Bibossinov) has a long reach but I think I have the strategy to beat him,” said Panghal after the quarterfinal triumph. Panghal didn’t go into the details but so far, he has delivered each time he has promised. In fact, it was at the world championships when Panghal first caught everyone’s attention.
In the 2017 edition, he nearly took down the then defending champion Hasanboy Dusmatov in the quarters but lost by the most slender of margins. The Indian got his revenge a year later in the Asian Games final, where a gold catapulted him to star status in Indian boxing.
Kaushik has had a stop-start career so far. He first hit the headlines when he took down 2015 world bronze-winner and three-time Asian medallist Shiva Thapa in the national championship finals.
That victory opened the doors of the senior national camp for him and he has been locked in a neck-and neck battle for a place in the side with Thapa ever since. So, while the CWG slot went to him, Thapa took the Asian Games last year.
“I think I have moved slightly ahead because I don’t just have a world medal like him but also a CWG medal which Shiva bhai doesn’t have. That has taken a lot of pressure off me,” Kaushik told PTI.
“As for tomorrow, I have seen the videos of my opponent. No doubt he is a good boxer but there is nothing in his game that I cannot do better,” he added.
Before this year, India had never won more than one bronze medal in a single edition of the world championship.
The overall medal count for the country before the ongoing edition stood at four bronze medals, claimed by Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015) and Gaurav Bidhuri (2017).