Amit Panghal’s dream run at Yekaterinburg came into an anticlimactic end. He breezed into the final before going down to Uzbekistan’s Shakhobidin Zoirov . The scoreline may read 0-5 in the reigning Olympic champion’s favour but it didn’t present an accurate picture of how close Panghal came to creating history in the men’s world championships.
Nonetheless, Panghal did manage to carve out his own bit of firsts in the competition. For the first time, an Indian man finished with a silver medal after five – which includes teammate Manish Kaushik – bronze medal finishes.
Having scaled up to 52kg, an Olympic weight category, life has been pretty smooth-sailing for Panghal. He has capped off a memorable past year, bagging gold medals in the Asian Games and the Asian Championships and it won’t be incorrect to say that he was mighty close to winning a gold at the Worlds too.
He has managed to do what stalwarts such as Vijender Singh, Vikas Krishan and Shiva Thapa couldn’t do, and India, who have underperformed in Worlds, managed to return with two medals. There was never a set pattern to Panghal’s bouts.
What is Panghal thinking before a bout? “He is very clever. He knows exactly what to do to win,” India coach CA Kuttappa told Scroll.in.
“We have given him the freedom to work things out in the first round. After that, we have a discussion with [High performance director] Santiago [Nieva] about how to go about with the other two. There are times when he improvises and most of the time, it is the right move.”
It felt like Panghal’s waiting game was going to cost him in the semi-finals against Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov. The 23-year-old started slowly and needed good second and third rounds to enter the final. The odds were stacked against him. “He was slow off the blocks in the first round but decided to go for it in the two rounds. That is what sets him apart. His match awareness is spot on and he notices things that even we don’t,” Kuttappa said.
Perhaps, it is that game sense that makes Panghal think on his feet. “We even have healthy arguments at times,” said Kuttappa. “He’d tell me: ‘trust me, I am scoring this way. This will help me win the bout.’”
Panghal has come a long way from being a boxer who would do well in big tournaments but fall short of the final hurdle. But it was not as if he didn’t make his presence felt. He had an Asian Championship bronze medal in his kitty before clinching a silver in the Commonwealth Games final (49kg).
Since then, opponents with tall reputations have not fazed him. He beat another Olympic champion, Hasanboy Dusmatov in a thrilling final in Jakarta to win gold in the Asian Games. Panghal now looks composed, measures his opponents early and is a force to reckon with.
“Look, he never goes unprepared for a bout,” Kuttappa said. “We study the opponent well and he comes to us for inputs. Otherwise, he is the kind of boxer who likes to be left alone in training. That is how well he knows his game. And his mental steel stems from his preparation for a bout.”
Nieva, who has seen his ward’s evolution, is also impressed.
“He is usually very calm before a fight but that has a lot to do with the experience that he has had,” said Nieva.
Nieva added: “I would say he had a very good bout [in the final] despite the loss but there are small things that need to be set right. The idea is to not be predictable and he is among the top three in the world at this point. Hopefully, he can take this form into the Olympics as well.”
Going for glory
Panghal, throughout the Championships, was anything but predictable. His sudden burst of one-two punches and a ferocious, unique hook (almost resembling a left-arm fast bowler’s action) has been a sight to behold.
Kuttappa, who has mentored Panghal since his early days, explains that there is a method to what the latter is trying to do. “Amit’s unique style comes from trying to get the score going. He will play close-in and try to go for punches that land on the opponent’s face. His style was something that emerged from trying to do just that.”
In the boxing circles, the World Championships are believed to be a tougher test than even the Olympics. The Asian powerhouses – Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan – go full tilt. Panghal, to his credit, has managed to hold his own. The focus now shifts to the Olympic qualifiers, for which he is an automatic entry from India after his medal win.
Before the World Championships began, Panghal was India’s only medal hope and he didn’t disappoint. In Tokyo, if he gets there, there is every chance that he might match or even better Vijender Singh’s feat from the 2008 Summer Games.
Kuttappa, who had also mentored Vijender, is confident of Panghal’s prospects: “His talent is such that I expect nothing but an Olympic gold, not just a medal alone. I keep scolding and pushing him a lot but it is because, deep down, I know he can get there.”