New Delhi: Aiming to become the first set of Indian professional boxers to compete in Olympics, WBC Asian title-holder Neeraj Goyat, Gaurav Bidhuri and Dilbag Singh will begin their campaign in the International Boxing Association's final qualifying tournament for the Rio Games in Vargas, Venezuela.
The event in Venezuela will mark a historic end to the dividing line between pros and amateurs.
Gaurav (49kg), Neeraj (69kg) and Dilbag (81kg) will all be in action tomorrow in the first round of the historic tournament, which was finalised after AIBA's Extraordinary Congress last month voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing pros into the Olympics, scheduled in Rio de Janeiro from 5 August.
The tournament will feature boxers from AIBA's own professional events -- the World Series of Boxing (WSB) and AIBA Pro Boxing (APB) -- besides pro boxers from all over the world.
However, none of the big names in the pro circuit have made themselves available for the tournament citing reasons ranging from fitness, lack of time for preparation and the threat of sanctions by their promoters and licensing bodies like the WBO and the IBA.
As per the official entries released by AIBA, 79 boxers from 40 nations will compete for the 26 quota places on offer in Vargas. All the three Indians in fray will have to either make the final or win the box off which will take place between losing semifinalists to be assured of Rio berths.
While Neeraj and Dilbag have been regulars on the WBC's pro circuit, making them eligible for this tournament, Gaurav has made the cut by virtue of his three stints in the WSB, where he won four and lost an equal number of bouts.
Neeraj will be fighting it out against Greece's Dimitrios Poulikos Tsagkrakos and will be in the semifinals if he wins tomorrow.
"All of us are very confident and we will definitely make the country proud by becoming the first Indian pro boxers to qualify for the Olympic Games. It is a historic opportunity for us and we will surely make it count," Neeraj, who has seven wins in 11 pro fights under his belt, told PTI from Vargas.
Gaurav will be squaring off against Ukraine's Maksym Fatych in his opening bout. The Delhi-lad will also head straight into the semifinals if he wins and find himself up against top seed and local favourite Yoel Segundo Finol Rivas. Rivas is the American Boxing Confederation's Continental Championships gold-medallist.
Dilbag, on the other hand, will face Moldova's Petru Ciobanu. Faced with a bigger draw, Dilbag will have to win two bouts to be in the last-four stage.
So far, three Indian boxers -- Shiva Thapa (56kg), Manoj Kumar (64kg) and Vikas Krishan (75kg) -- have booked their tickets for the Olympics through qualifiers for amateurs.