Tokyo Olympics-bound Amit Panghal (52kg) kept his title defence on track with an impressive win in the semi-finals on Friday at the Asian Boxing Championships in Dubai as three Indian men entered the finals of their categories.

Shiva Thapa (64kg) defeated top seed and defending champion Bakhodur Usmonov of Tajikistan 4-0 in the semi final. It was a superb performance by the Indian who forced a standing count on his opponent during the bout and reaped the rewards for coming out strongly in the final round.

Later in the night, second seed Sanjeet (91kg) defeated third Tursunov Sanjar of Uzbekistan 5-0.

Vikas Krishan Yadav (69kg), also headed for Tokyo Games, finished with bronze medal as a injury made his life difficult. He endured a split decision loss to top seed and defending champion Baturov Bobo-Usmon of Uzbekistan. The bout lasted less than one round as Vikas’ eye injury, sustained in the previous bout, aggravated. He was looked at a couple of times but the bleeding was bad enough to force the referee to stop the contest.

Also ending with a bronze was tournament debutant and national champion Varinder Singh (60kg) after a high-intensity clash against Iran’s Daniyal Shahbakhsh. The Indian lost 2-3 after fighting his heart out.

Thapa had assured himself a fifth successive medal at the event, the first Indian man to win so many. The only other pugilist with five Asian championship medals is Kazakh legend Vassiliy Levit, an Olympic silver-medallist and two-time world bronze-winner.

The 27-year-old had already become the most successful Indian male boxer in the history of the tournament by advancing to the semi-finals of the ongoing edition in Dubai. His first was a gold in 2013, followed by a bronze in 2015, a silver in 2017 and another bronze in 2019.

It was slow domination for Thapa in the semi-final against the favourite, who took a good measure of his rival in the opening round before unleashing some power-packed left hooks. The Indian’s dominance reached its peak in the third round when Usmonov faced a standing eight count and Thapa taunted him with some well placed body blows.

Thapa will square off against second seed and 2018 Asian Games Silver medallist Baatarsukh Chinzorig of Mongolia in the final on Monday. Chinzorig is the Asian Games silver-medallist.

Panghal (52kg) defeated Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov 5-0. Panghal, the top seed at the event and world No 1 in his category, had defeated the same opponent in the semi-final of the 2019 World Championships. He started well but his opponent had the better second round. But Panghal came back strongly in round three to seal his progress by a unanimous decision.

Panghal was in top form as he took control with his sharp counter-attacks against the defensively weaker Bibossinov. The Indian played the waiting game to perfection as world No 3 Bibossinov’s plan to go at Panghal with early aggression fell flat as the bout progressed. Panghal became the aggressor in the final round as Bibossinov ran out of steam.

Panghal will face the reigning Olympic and World Champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan in the final. It will be a repeat of the 2019 world championship final in which the Indian had lost.

Sanjeet, taking to the ring past midnight Indian time, lived up to the billing with a disciplined semi-final performance against third seed and previous edition’s silver-medallist Sanjar Tursunov. With his opponent getting points deductions in an ill-tempered bout, Sanjeet registered an unanimous win.

In the women’s section, India had ensured a medal in each of the 10 categories. Among them, six-time world champion MC Mary Kom (51kg), Lalbuatsaihi (64kg), Pooja Rani (75kg) and Anupama (+81kg) entered the finals after winning their respective bouts on Thursday. Pooja got a walkover after her opponent pulled out.

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Sakshi Choudhary (54kg) had originally won her semi-final too but lost her final spot after her rival, top-seeded Kazakh Dina Zholaman, successfully challenged the narrow victory that the two-time youth world champion had clinched. Six Indian women boxers, including Sakshi, Tokyo-bound Simranjit Kaur and Lovlina Borgohain, finished with bronze medals.

Amit Panghal, Shiva Thapa (64kg) and Sanjeet (91kg) will be in action on Monday.

Indian boxers have already assured an unprecedented 15 medals at the tournament. The Indian contingent has already achieved their highest medal haul, surpassing the previous best of 13 (2 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze) from the 2019 edition in Bangkok.

The International Boxing Association, AIBA, has allocated $400,000 prize money for the on-going Championships. The gold medallists of men’s and women’s categories will be awarded with $10,000 while both the silver and bronze medal winners will take home $5,000 and $2,500 respectively. Final matches of women’s and men’s categories will take place on Sunday and Monday respectively.

(With PTI inputs)