Egrashev Timur found his winning mojo at the most crucial moment to help NE Rhinos beat Punjab Panthers 4-3 and claim the second spot ahead of the semi-finals in the Big Bout League at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium Complex in New Delhi. This win helped the Rhinos (19 points) set up a semi-final battle on Friday with Panthers.

The win helped them edge above Punjab Panthers and Bombay Bullets who both finished with 18 points each. But by virtue of having earned more judges points in their five matches, Panthers finished third ahead of Bombay Bullets. It meant that Bombay Bullets would meet Gujarat Giants (22 points) in the first semi-final on Thursday.

Odisha Warriors (16) and Bengaluru Brawlers (12) are the two teams that would pack their bags after the league stage. Ambeshori Devi Huidra (youth women’s 57kg), Mandeep Jangra (69kg) and captain Nikhat Zareen (women’s 51kg) picked up the three points for Rhinos.

Timur, who lost each of his three 91kg bouts before tonight, delivered with a determined rally against Sagar Chikara.

The 20-year-old Uzbek was aggressive and landed several straight punches on a fast-tiring Sagar Chikara’s face to impose a standing count in the second round and another in the third to force the referee to stop the contest. He was a picture of single-minded purpose as he overcame a sluggish first round.

The Nikhat Zareen-led NE Rhinos became favourites to win the match when it became known that Punjab Panthers captain, legendary MC Mary Kom had been advised rest owing to a bad back. However, a smart decision by Darshana Doot, nominated to lead the team on Tuesday, balanced the contest.

With Argentina’s Francisco Veron boasting of a 3-0 record for the Rhinos in the 75kg class, it was no surprise that his bout with Rakesh Kumar was blocked. Surprisingly, the Panthers picked Rakesh Kumar ahead of the seasoned Manoj Kumar. But it was their good fortune that they were able to keep Francisco Veron away from the ring.

NE Rhinos drew first blood through Ambeshori Devi Huidram who beat back a second round surge by Sapna Sharma to earn a 4-1 verdict in the youth women’s 57kg battle. However, Punjab Warriors pulled one back through Uzbek Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Abdulmalik Khalakov’s impressive victory over southpaw Mohammed Etash Khan in the 57kg bout.

Former World Championship finalist Sonia Lather, returning to serve Punjab Panthers after winning the South Asian Games gold, beat recently crowned women’s National Champion in the 64kg class, with a smart approach. She leaned back to avoid Pwilao Basumatary’s powerful straights and used a combination of hooks to score and secure a unanimous verdict.

If that win confirmed a semi-final place for the Panthers, Mandeep Jangra’s come-from-behind 4-1 win over a gallant Yashpal in the 69kg ensured a berth in the last four stage for the Rhinos. Yashpal claimed the first round with his energy but Mandeep Jangra used his unconventional style to great effect to be able to extend his run of victories to five from as many bouts.

Panther’s PL Prasad made the most of southpaw Laldwin Mawia’s hesitation to win the 52kg bout. Laldin Mawia, who won his opening bout against Ashish Insah (Brawlers) and lost to Amit Panghal (Giants), had been declared a winner in his clash with Jasurbek Lapitov when the Odisha Warriors boxer had floored him with a blow below the belt.

With Nikhat Zareen romping to a unanimous verdict against Darshana Dhoot, NE Rhinos were left with the task of winning the point from the 91kg bout. For someone who had lost all his bouts, Ergashev Timur looked like he would end up with another loss when Sagar Chikara held the upper-hand in the opening round but the young Uzbek stepped up the pace and turned the tables.