Editor’s note: This article was originally published before Amit Pangal’s semi-final bout. On Friday, he created history by becoming the first Indian male boxer to reach the final at the World Championships.
Boxer’s Amit Panghal phenomenal rise continues and on Wednesday, he became only the fifth Indian male boxer to reach the semi-final at the World Championships and thus confirm a medal for himself and his country. Manish Kaushik, later in the day, became the sixth. But India’s big-ticket performer for the last two years has been Panghal, whose rapid rise has been the success story of the boxing circuit in the country.
Before the start of World Championships, Panghal was the favourite to win a medal in the Championships. After all, the Indian men’s contingent has never come back with more than one medal in the history of the competition. For the first time, irrespective of the outcome of the semi-finals, India will have two medal representatives.
Panghal defeated Carlo Paalam of Philippines to reserve his place on the podium in Yekaterinburg. The pint-sized dynamo from Rohtak and Paalam were entangled in a see-saw bout in the Asian Games last year. That chapter in Jakarta was a turning point in Panghal’s career. Defying odds, he beat reigning Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov in a thrilling final to clinch the Asiad gold. Earlier this year, the 23-year-old added another feather to his cap with a gold at the Asian Championships.
What has worked for Panghal in his short career is his ability to reinvent himself before the start of a big event. Opponents find it hard to read him. That, of course, compliments his speed and smarts. All of 5’3, Panghal has had little trouble breaking down much taller boxers. In Russia, it has been an eye-catching left-arm roundhouse that has been his key weapon. His ever-improving stature is now on the brink of attaining cult status if he can become the first Indian boxer to breach the semi-final barrier.
Panghal spoke to Scroll.in ahead of his semi-final bout. Here are excerpts from his interview:
We have seen a few new tricks in the World Championships so far. How important is it to mix things up for you and how anxious were you with a place in the semi-finals on the line?
I used to play counter and wouldn’t attack much earlier. But in the preparations in the run-up to the world championships, I have worked on counters and attacks in tandem, and that too, in a fast-paced manner. I have also added variations to my counter-attacks [the booming left-arm punch with arm coming from behind] to surprise opponents.
As for my quarter-final bout, it was part of the strategy to first test the opponent in the first round where I did not use the attacking mode right at the beginning. The efforts were to increase the number of counterattacks and attacking punches in the second and maximize it in the third round. Then, a boxer has a better opportunity to impress judges and earn more points.
The Asian Games bout with Palam was very close. How difficult was this bout compared to that?
I have played against him and therefore had a fair idea of his playing style. I had discussed with the coaches the tactics and how to tackle him. We had made strategies and I executed the plan well. In my first meeting [with Paalam] I had played a defensive game and it did not yield great results. So this time, I took an attacking approach and it helped. The results are in front of you.
While we had trained in Kazakhstan and England as part of the exposure trips, I had added more variations to my attacks and punches.
Does it help to have two big medals – Asian Games and Asian Championships – going into a tournament like this? How did those wins help your confidence coming into a tournament like this?
We trained very hard for this tournament. And we have already had maximum number (4) boxers in the quarters and were also among the top four countries in the world to have so many boxers in the quarters. Now, Manish and I have assured medals and that is a historic achievement. My goal is to change the colour of the medal and I will give more than 100 per cent to win a gold here.
Many of the boxers you face have a major height advantage. How have you tackled that so far?
My right-hand punches have been very good against the taller boxers, especially when there is a change in pace and variations to the counter-attacks. In my weight, most of the opponents are taller so it has worked well at my end.
How do you decide when to go for a cautious approach and when to go all-out attack. There has been no set pattern in your bouts so far?
I would say my quarter-final bout was one of the most difficult ones I’ve had so far. I had to up the tempo in attack and defence. The counter-attacking punches and the pace of it had to be increased many fold so that the opponent could be put under pressure. I had discussed it with my coaches and the approach, strategy and speed were all part of the strategy discussed with the coaches that I executed there.
Is there additional pressure of expectations? You were tipped as a favourite to win a medal even before the Championships.
We are experienced boxers and have prepared well. There is no pressure as such. The coaches have worked on the individuals and the opponents – have given us guidance and discussed their weakness and flaws. They have been a constant motivating factor.