Good things come in small packages. But all good things must come to an end.
Amit Panghal’s almost fable-like, giant-killing run came to an end against reigning 52kg Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan in the World Championship final on Saturday. There are reasons to hearten India’s only male World silver-medallist, not least of which is the fact that he has seemingly vanquished Hasanboy Dusmatov, the other Uzbeki reigning Olympic champion (albeit in 49kg) and long the boogeyman for Indian boxers. That Uzbekistan had to call upon Zoirov, who had already moved on to the greener pastures of pro-boxing, is a moral victory for Panghal and a testament to the competition in the 52kg category.
There are talks of the bout being too close to be judged unanimously for the Uzbek. Two judges giving the close second round to Zoirov could be questioned, if we are splitting hairs. How is one judge scoring it for Zoirov any different from five independently adjudging him to be the winner?
There are lessons to be learnt from Panghal’s run to the final.
Firstly, Panghal would always start as an underdog. At 5’3”, he is small for the division. But it’s to his credit that Panghal is constantly devising plan to even the odds against taller opponents. If the Asian Championships was about cutting in for quick combos and lunging out, the Worlds campaign displayed his shrewdness in controlling the distance and sharpened tools such as the overhand left and step jabs.
Barring an abnormally late growth spurt, Panghal can’t change his size. He can however work on the style. Studying your opponent and making plans on the fly is commendable. But every Sherlock has his Moriarty. In leaving it till too late, there’s always the risk of a tight second or third round going against you.
“My plan was that I would play counter in the first round, but I lost that one,” Panghal said after the bout. “In the second and third round I thought I was attacking well and landing clear shots.”
While his corner prompted him to move ahead, Panghal stayed back fishing for counters. The ploy didn’t work on the day, against a boxer willing to take his time too. In the second, when he attacked with combinations, he looked the better boxer. High performance director Santiago Nieva, at his most animated, tried to fire Panghal up in the second break. “You have to go close, put pressure. Don’t go crazy to the head from the distance. Body, head, head, body. Amit you’re so much stronger. He has no chance, you’re faster. If you exchange with him, he has no chance,” Nieva bellowed.
Panghal reciprocated, initiating feisty (and at times, sloppy) exchanges with Zoirov in what was eventually a tight third round. Perhaps the verdict could’ve been closer had Panghal come out blasting in the first round.
Southpaw vs southpaw
Panghal was also squaring up against a fellow southpaw for the second bout in a row, after the tight 3-2 win over Kazakhstan’s Saken Bibossinov in the semifinal. Panghal had troubled orthodox boxers with his sharp angles. But the unfamiliarity a southpaw faces against a fellow lefty is understated. In both bouts, especially on Saturday, Panghal overextended with his jab to the head and straight left and was countered by left and right hooks coming over his punches.
All in all, it’s been a crazy 18 months for Panghal, who has gone from an exciting light-flyweight to almost a world-beater flyweight. With experience, Panghal could only get better. And that’s a scary thought. He is, after all, still only 23.
Childhood coach Anil Dhankar says: “I made this prediction to another boxer when I laid my eyes on Amit. He had that spunk that I knew he would do something. World silver is a big deal. But Mary had won five World Championships. India only woke up to her after her Olympics medal. That’s the target for Amit too now.”
On a somewhat related note, it would be fascinating to see how Mary Kom does at next month’s women’s world championships. Mary has collected six world gold medals, but all have come at 48kg or less. (She did win the Olympic bronze at 51kg). In Russia, the 36-year-old will deal with bonafide 51kg contenders. They’d be taller, younger and will have better reach advantage. Perhaps there’s something to be learnt for everyone by watching Mary deal with the ordeal.
As for Amit Panghal, he has already boldly gone where no Indian man had gone before. Some calibrations and a strong performance at the Olympic qualifiers, and he could do it all over again in Tokyo.