Gujarat Giants, spurred by skipper Amit Panghal and heavyweight Scott Forrest, staged remarkable rallies from 0-2 and 2-3 to stop Punjab Panthers with a 4-3 conquest in the high-voltage final of the Big Bout League at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium Complex in Noida on Saturday.
Darshana Doot (women’s 51kg) and Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Abdulmalik Khalakov (57kg) scored well-crafted victories to put Panthers 2-0 ahead, but the smart-thinking Ashish Kulheria (69kg) and the redoubtable southpaw Amit Panghal (52kg) hauled the Giants back on track in the pulsating final.
The spirited and efficient Sonia Lather’s split-decision win against legendary Sarita Devi in the women’s 60kg bout took the Panthers one victory away from the crown. But the Giants Forrest dished out a gutsy show to take the contest into the final bout of the tie.
It was left for Ashish Kumar to beat Yashpal in the climactic 75kg battle for Gujarat Giants to take home the winners’ trophy. And he did that in style, making use of his superior bodyweight and ring-craft.
A string of three losses did not deter Darshana Doot when she stepped into the ring on Saturday night. She had been roped in when Punjab Panthers skipper Mary Kom was out with a back problem. From the first moment, she showcased her eagerness to sign off with a win against Rajesh Narwal. She executed her plans well to secure a 4-1 verdict.
The confident Khalakov, who had lost to Chirag in the league stage, came with a specific plan. He lost no time in landing punches, taking Chirag by surprise to make a strong impression on the judges in the opening round. The Indian clawed back with counter-attacking tactics in the second round, forcing Khalakov to back-pedal in defence.
However, the young Uzbek evaded Chirag’s hooks, and using a combination of jabs and upper cuts, completed a win via unanimous verdict. The manner in which Khalakov controlled the pace of the bout was admirable.
Asian Championship medallist Ashish Kulheria’s win against veteran Manoj Kumar did not come as a surprise since the Panthers’ star was fighting his second strenuous bout inside 24 hours. Ashish Kulheria moved deftly through the bout in which Manoj Kumar could not find the rhythm or the space that he was looking for to make an impression on the judges.
Panghal walked in as favourite to beat PL Prasad a second time in the Big Bout and he crafted a unanimous victory. Prasad’s challenge was greater since he had to work harder in the ring to make an impression on the judges against a boxer who used his technique with great efficiency.
Lather beat Sarita Devi in an intense battle that was as much with the mind as with the gloved fists. In what was the best contest of the night, Lather did well to gain the upper hand in the first round. She stayed in front, though the vastly experienced Sarita Devi fought till the end.
With his team facing a do-or-die situation, Forrest made light of a cut on his temple early in his fight against southpaw Naveen Kumar to eke out a very important win. He was light on his feet and landed heavy punches through the slightest of gaps and ran out a comfortable winner in the end.
The Boxing Federation of India-approved league, offering a prize purse of Rs 3 crore, brought together 87 pugilists from six teams in a celebration of the sport. As many as 11 youth women 57kg boxers also got to feature in the league stage, rubbing shoulders with Olympic and continental medallists. The quality of contests drew a sizeable viewership on television.
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