Back in 2016, a little known, scrawny Manish Kaushik entered the Services camp having impressed at youth levels. Not many manage to seamlessly make that jump to senior level. Several have fallen on the wayside despite rich medal-winning hauls at junior tournaments.
Services’ long-standing senior coach Narender Rana took a close look at what his new ward has to offer and was left in awe.
“I knew we had a boxer who could win us a medal in the Olympics,” Rana said. “I always knew he had it in him to perform well in big tournaments. What stood out was his speed and flexibility were so good. Each and every time he steps into the ring, he knows how to duck the hits and play on the counter.”
The 23-year-old added another glorious chapter to the talent-rich boxing hub of Bhiwani, confirming a bronze medal at the ongoing World Championships with a resounding win over Brazil’s Wanderson de Oliveira in the quarter-finals.
Kyrgyzstan’s Argen Kadyrbek Uulu, Netherlands’ Enrico Lacruz and Mongolia’s Baatarsukhiin Chinzorig also had no answer to Kaushik. In the process, Kaushik and Amit Panghal, became only the fifth and sixth Indian men to take medals in the World Championships. No one has gone past the semi-finals, though.
Having got his first taste of a big-ticket tournament only in 2018, Kaushik already has a glittering CV to boot. He earned a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games and gold at the India Open. There are a couple of National titles to boast of too.
So what has made Kaushik such a difficult proposition for opponents? It can’t just be his skills alone. Not all marquee names among Indian men have come back with a medal from the Worlds.
Having watched him closely, Rana thinks that it is a combination of his unorthodox technique –a southpaw with his left leg in front of his right – and sticking to his guns. The counter-attacking ploy, Rana stresses, is a hallmark of Kaushik’s game.
“He always plays on the counter and that is something that comes very easily for him. We [at Services] didn’t try to hamper with it either. If you look at all the bouts [at the Worlds], Manish’s opponents were taller than him. But being a technical boxer, he knows how to work them out.”
For someone who has earned a name for outmanouvering opponents tactfully, Kaushik has put his faith in the feedback he gets from his coaches.
“A lot changed after I entered the national camp for my training,” Kaushik told Scroll.in.
“Every session happened in tournament-mode and that helped me develop my intensity for big tournaments like these. There is also a lot of video preparation that goes in; what the opponent is good at, his strengths and weaknesses... the simple stuff.”
Irrespective of what happens to Kaushik’s campaign from here, he is now a part of history. Strangely, there was a possibility of the 23-year-old missing out on the tournament altogether.
After all, he had to face the mighty Shiva Thapa in the trials in the 63kg category to book his spot in Yekaterinburg. The odds were stacked against Kaushik. The two-time Olympian had outclassed him in the final of the India Open earlier in the year on his home turf in Guwahati.
Just like the 2017 Nationals, Kaushik had pulled off yet another upset in a winner-takes-all contest and Thapa finished second best.
Kaushik feels those victories against Thapa were a turning point for him. They told him he could handle clutch situations well.
“Those wins against Shiva Thapa gave me immense confidence,” Kaushik said. “Beating a boxer of that stature and all those achievements to his name made me believe. When I landed in Russia, [bronze] was the bare minimum I expected here.”
There has been no looking back for Kaushik and this was the first big instance of him scaling up a weight category. Previously, he was fighting in the 60kg category. For all the sure-footedness he shows during a bout, Kaushik reveals precious little – something opponents can vouch for about his in-ring skills.
“Look, I like to prepare a lot but, say, when things go wrong in the first round, I take advice and change things around as well. There is no set plan.”
Kaushik would need to do plenty of homework and rely on his instincts too to go one step further. He now faces an almighty challenge in the last-four against Cuban world champion Andy Cruz. But, on current form, Kaushik will believe he has more than a fair chance.