He may have become the first Indian male boxer to win a silver medal at the World Championships, but for the flyweight pugilist Amit Panghal, life isn’t a whole lot different from the average office-goer. Although, he’s not complaining like most of us. “I only get Sundays off,” says Panghal in a tone which betrays disappointment. He almost sounds proud of his hectic schedule. But how?
After all, Panghal was one of the more notorious boxers in the national camp for being perpetually late. His coaches had given up on getting him disciplined, but never on his talent for they felt that he was destined for great things in the boxing ring. It only took his first big win for Panghal to get serious about getting better.
“I saw how those around me were putting in a lot of effort to help me improve at my game,” says Panghal, more elation than pride showing in his person now. “That first medal, a bronze at the Asian Championships in 2017 was the start of what became an infatuation with getting better and winning more prizes for my country.”
That he has done, and to good effect for Panghal’s rise through the ranks has seen him wade through obscurity to becoming the country’s foremost medal hope in boxing for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. All of that in a short span of three years.
While 2018 saw Panghal win the gold medal at the Asian Games and silver at the Commonwealth Games, 2019 reads more like the breakthrough year for the 23-year-old, who hails from Mayna village, in the Rohtak district of Haryana.
This year alone, Panghal has won gold at the Asian Championships, also winning the top prize at Europe’s oldest amateur boxing tournament, the Strandzha Cup for the second consecutive year, to go with his historic silver at the World Championships.
His stellar showing nonetheless, a few chinks in his armour have shown themselves, for now, he features regularly in international competitions.
His opponents have chalked out his tactics, adjusting their style accordingly. They are helped, in no small measure, by Panghal’s height. At 5’2”, the Indian is the proverbial David in a pack of Goliaths in the 52kg category.
This year, the world boxing body AIBA dropped the 49kg weight class for the Olympics which meant that Panghal and others who used to fight in the light flyweight category were forced to move up a class, to flyweight (52kg). While Panghal readjusted his tactics diligently, seasoned opponents, who've been fighting in the weight class for long, still prove to be a handful.
That was evidenced in his defeat in the finals of the World Boxing Championships this year, held in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Pint-sized Panghal took on the reigning Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan and was trumped for the length of the three rounds by his opponent’s attacking instincts, losing 5-0.
The Indian boxer recalls that final bout while sharing his takeaways, after having scouted the competition in his new weight class at the Worlds'. “The best boxers in the 52kg are from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The power they have in their punches is unmatched.”
Perhaps that also owes to the rough terrain and unforgiving weather conditions prevalent in these Central Asian nations. Panghal attests to the same. “The weather is really cold there which means that their diets are shaped accordingly with mostly Non Vegetarian food. It helps their power.”
“Boxing is their national sport too,” he says. “Also, all the boxers there are simultaneously competing in the professional boxing circuit and loading up on experience, regularly contesting bouts which last for 10-12 rounds so fighting an amateur bout which lasts for just three rounds becomes easier.”
Quiz him on whether he’s ever thought about taking the route of professional boxing and Panghal butts in, saying ‘No’ in an instant before articulating his reasons. “My sole motivation right now is to win gold at the Olympics. Everything else can wait,” he says, evincing the discipline he’s inculcated.
So what is Panghal, who is employed with the Indian Army as a Naib Subedar, doing to negate the advantage of height and reach that his contemporaries have over him? “I spar with taller guys now very regularly, what else?” he says matter-of-factly. “That and work on increasing the power in my punches. My coaches tell me that my overhead punches are good. It would be great if I could land them with more power.”
Panghal’s historic feat at the World Championships aside, the tournament also bore testimony to the rising stature of India’s male boxers. The Indian contingent finished with two medals overall as Manish Kaushik returned with a bronze medal in the 63kg category. Kavinder Singh Bisht (57kg) and Sanjeet (91kg) missed out on a medal narrowly, bowing out in the quarterfinals.
As someone who has witnessed the amelioration in the skills set of Indian boxers’ from close quarters, Amit Panghal’s assessment holds weight. Ask him about the same and his optimism regarding the future of the country’s pugilists is likely to brush off on anyone within earshot. “I don’t think there’s anything more that the federation can do for us. They’re doing everything within their power,” says Panghal, almost gushing in his praise for the Boxing Federation of India (BFI).
“The youngest of boxers are being sent on exposure tours. We have the best coaches and training facilities. Strength and conditioning are also being looked into adequately. I think the boxing league which is in the works will be another step in the right direction as we will get to fight against foreign boxers and also train with them while being on the same team,” Panghal signs off.
Updated Date: Nov 11, 2019 00:36:24 IST