The AIBA World Boxing Championships is the biggest boxing spectacle on the planet, after the summer Olympics. Reputations are built or destroyed at this big-ticket event. It was forty-five years back that the AIBA World Boxing Championships had first kickstarted at Havana, Cuba – a country that went on to enjoy a dominating presence on the world boxing stage for decades. And for thirty years until 2009, it was always a case of Indian pugilists taking part in the World Boxing Championships and crashing out without a whimper.
If Vijender Singh breached the ‘medal drought’ at the AIBA World Boxing Championships in Rome, snaffling a bronze in the middleweight category in 2009, the likes of Vikas Krishnan, Shiva Thapa and Gaurav Bhiduri built on the good work of Vijender and crowned themselves with a podium finish (winning bronze medals) in welterweight, and bantamweight categories in the 2011, 2015 and 2017 editions.
With four bronze medals in the 20 editions of men’s World Championships, there was ‘guarded optimism’ when the eight-member Indian men’s boxing squad departed for the 2019 World Boxing Championships held at Yekaterinburg, Russia. And all the ‘guarded optimism’ was turned into a truly memorable world championship outing by virtue of two medals from two Armymen – a flyweight silver by Amit Panghal and a lightweight bronze from Manish Kaushik.
To be honest, Indian boxing fans have set high expectations from Amit who is nicknamed ‘Chota Tyson’ for the manner in which he goes about his business in the ring. Simply because the diminutive Rohtak boy has made ‘consistency’ his middle name ever since he burst on the senior boxing scene winning the 2017 Senior Nationals on his debut, following up with a quarterfinal finish at the 2017 World Championship on his debut in the marquee event.
The 2018 Asiad gold enhanced his reputation and he continued to build on that, winning the gold at the 2019 Asian Championship and subsequently bagging the gold at the 2019 India Open. At the 2019 World Championship, Amit hardly looked in trouble against all his opponents from Chinese Taipei, Turkey, Philippines and Kazakhstan and even in the final against Uzbekistan’s Zoirov he appeared solid before going on to finish second-best. This ensured Indian men’s boxing contingent will return from the World Championship with its best-ever medal haul of 1 silver and 1 bronze.
Manish Kaushik boxed in a newly-created weight category of 63-kg from his usual 60-kg category at the 2019 World Championship, and the strapping pugilist was highly impressive putting it across opponents from Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Mongolia and Brazil before coming up short against the 2017 World Championship gold medallist Andy Cruz in the semifinals, thus settling for a bronze – the country’s fifth bronze medal in the big-ticket event. The 23-year-old Army boxer has quietly come up the ladder having won silver medals at the 2019 India Open and 2018 Commonwealth Games.
So what can be attributed to the phenomenal showing of the Amit-Manish combo in the World Championships?
“The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) would like to thank the Indian government, especially the Sports Ministry for being generous in funding our boxers. Our boxing funding is probably ten times more than any other boxing nation and our boxers have taken part in more than ten international training or competition stints across the globe this year and it has helped hugely,” gushes Boxing Federation of India secretary general Jay Kowli.
It is well documented how Indian boxing was in doldrums when it was without a federation for a long time between 2012 and 2016. “I have no hesitation in saying that if the federation had not faced derecognition during the 2012-2016 period India would have a boxing force by now on par with nations like Cuba, Russia, Kazakhstan and USA,” Kowli reasoned.
As far as the 2019 World Boxing Championship is concerned, Amit Panghal and Manish Kaushik have walked away with medals, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that the likes of Sanjeet, Kavinder and Ashish Kumar exuded enough promise in the ring to suggest that they can be future medal prospects in major events. One thing is for sure – competition for places in each weight class will crank up, which is definitely a good augury for the future.
There is nothing to complain about ‘problem of plenty’ (the likes of Olympians Manoj Kumar and Shiva Thapa don’t even know whether they will make the Tokyo Olympics cut given the intense competition in each weight category) and Indian boxing will embrace this scenario gleefully.
Indian men’s boxing team chief coach CA Kuttappa gave his perspective about the outstanding display of our boxers at the World Championship. “The kind of exposure these boys have got over the last twelve months has been a big factor in their success. There is no substitute for international ring experience.”
Kuttappa also singled out why Amit Panghal is a tough nut to crack. “Amit moves so well in the ring and it is not easy for any boxer to effectively land punches at him. He has a strong guard and uses his intelligence at all times and that makes him a very good boxer.”
2008 Beijing Olympic bronze medallist and the country’s first Olympic boxing medallist heaped praise on the duo of Amit and Manish for their superb run in the World Championship. “It’s great to see Amit and Manish make it to the podium – winning two medals is a big boost for Indian boxing, but there is a long way to go. It’s all because of the hard work and discipline of Amit and Manish that they were able to be among the medals.”