During the World Championships last month, Manish Kaushik showed why he is regarded as one of India’s most talented boxers. He cruised to the semi-finals of the tournament before losing to world champion Andy Cruz of Cuba. But in the process he managed to bag a bronze medal at his maiden Worlds event.
Sitting 4,000 kilometres away from the action was Shiva Thapa. The two-time Olympian was following every bout from his small hostel room in the National Institute of Sports in Patiala. He saw how Kaushik, who defeated him in the trials to win a spot on the team for World Championships, matched his feat of winning a bronze medal at the 2015 edition of the tournament.
“Manish is clearly a very good boxer because he is winning and that is never easy,” Thapa told Scroll.in. “You have to stand out to win. He is technically good because he knows how to keep the distance and punch.”
Thapa’s assessment is spot on. Kaushik has to be one of the most technically sound boxers in India and he has proved it on the international stage as well. His wins by unanimous decisions at the World Championships were also a testament to his class. It took Cruz, the best in the lightweight category, to stop his run in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
But Thapa also knows what it takes to stop someone like Kaushik.
“If you know how to sort out a counter defensive puncher, Kaushik is in trouble,” said Thapa.
While watching Cruz, who he considers a perfect fit in the weight category, dismantle Kaushik, Thapa realised that every boxer has a “blueprint”.
With that in mind, Thapa landed in Himachali town of Baddi for the fourth senior National Championships. It didn’t upset his rhythm at all as he beat Akash of Services in the 63 kg final on Thursday.
The only time Thapa finished with a silver medal in Nationals was in 2017 in Visakhapatnam where he lost to Kaushik. Thapa’s blueprint is also out there for everyone and Kaushik has studied it and mastered it too, winning in this year’s India Open and the recent selection trials as well.
Since then, Thapa has tried to tweak his technique. He knew he had to change.
“I’ve trained more in shifting angles and hitting body punches,” Thapa said. “I’m still making mistakes as I am keeping my head down and moving in a straight line when I am punching.
Thapa added: “But if I want to throw body punches, I have to throw it at an angle. You have to change posture. That’s true in the ring, many times you want to shift your posture but you see an opening and you punch from whatever position you are in.”
Thapa believes another reason for his close bouts with Kaushik is the regular practice sessions that the two boxers have at the NIS centre.
“We train together every day at the camp and we usually spar against each other too,” he said. “We know our flaws. On some days, I know how he is feeling and on others, he knows how I am feeling. So it is a bit of a homely feeling when we box.”
By jumping weights, first, from 56 kg (Olympic category) to 60 kg (non-Olympic category) and then to 63 kg (Olympic category), Thapa has taken the risk of exposing himself to more powerful boxers. Adjusting to the new weight category was also his biggest motive to participate in the Nationals where he can try getting used to much stronger boxers.
“When they hit, I feel the punches are strong but they feel it too,” he said. “The 60 kg category was also fine but I knew that is not in the Olympics so I moved to 63 kg.”
Thapa added: “In the last couple of fights I’m going with a lot more punches to the body. These sorts of punches drain the body and finish the stamina and energy. There are big boxers but my strategy is to feint and then go for the body. The preparation is for the Olympics because it’s not enough to just go to the Olympics. It’s important to do something over there.”
His third Olympic journey may prove to be the most difficult one for Thapa. With Kaushik winning the bronze medal, he gets a direct entry to the Olympic qualifiers next year. Thapa is hoping that Kaushik does not make the cut there so he can keep his dreams alive.
“Since the first qualification is not in my hands, I am planning for the second qualifier,” he said. “If there is any other event, I will box and get some experience in the new weight category. I’m going to keep working and have patience. No one has qualified yet so I am still keeping the hopes high.”