On Saturday, Amit Panghal got India its first silver from a men’s boxing World Championship. The 23-year-old, however, has been watching the 52kg final, that he lost to Uzbek Olympic champion Shakhobidin Zoirov, almost on loop. Panghal spoke with The Indian Express, sharing his thoughts on the final — specifically the 5-0 unanimous decision — whether there’s a need to change his strategy of leaving things for the later rounds, and the doping violation from 2012. Excerpts:
Is the disappointment of losing the final bigger than the satisfaction of becoming India’s first men’s Worlds silver medallist?
Absolutely. I am very proud of this achievement. But if I had won the gold medal, the level of happiness would have been much more. I know all my friends and family are celebrating.
But imagine if I had returned as a champion, there would have been a bigger satisfaction. Because somewhere that thing will always remain that ‘okay, he has made the country proud, but he got a silver’. It is that feeling which will drive me now, because I didn’t get any satisfaction.
Did you watch the final again? What went wrong?
I spent the whole night watching it. The coaches too couldn’t understand the scoring. It was a close bout, maybe the scoreline could’ve been 3-2. But giving him so much confidence with a 5-0 verdict wasn’t right. The decision could’ve been 3-2 in my favour too, because I attacked well in the second and third rounds.
The first round I lost, but that’s because my plan is always to take time and figure the opponent out. There must have been some kind of pressure behind this decision. Uzbeks are generally always promoted. Even if they’re losing cleanly to Cuban boxers, it would never be a 5-0 loss. Ye meri samajh nahi aa raha hai (I can’t understand this).
And this isn’t just you talking as a boxer who lost?
No, I don’t believe that I was defeated. Mujhe harwa diya, ya chalo agar main haar bhi gaya (I was made to lose, or even if I lost) I can’t now be content thinking ‘okay, well I lost’. I ran into (Rio 49kg Olympic champion Hasanboy) Dusmatov four times. If I run into this guy again, I have to be at my best and this time win clearly.
As a boxer, you can never take any opponent lightly. Kiski body chal jaaye kis din pata nahi hota (you never know who is in better shape on any given day).
There should never be any excuses for a loss. Even in the final, I gave my 100 per cent. Whatever the result was, I demoralised him. I kept the pressure on him … Even later, boxers from other countries… even the Uzbek supporters were giving me a thumbs up. ‘You won’, they said. Boxers from other countries, who have got nothing to do with me, were asking for photos with me. ‘You’re the world champion’. That’s not a small thing. This gives me confidence, that the next time this guy is against me, I am not going to let it be. I will put even more pressure on him.
Do you think it’s time to change the strategy of taking the first round slow and figuring out the opponent?
I might have to change it a little. In the main bouts, against strong countries, I lose the first round. I cover the points in the later rounds, but the impression of the first round stays on the second as well. I think we would have to switch it up a little. Attack from the first round and continue till the last round. I usually pull my plan off but in the final… I don’t know if the impression from his first round was too good, or if there was any pressure of him being an Uzbek… an Olympic champion.
I even asked the coaches to watch the bout in front of me. ‘Imagine the two boxers are from neutral countries and then score the fight’. They said this fight is Amit’s, even if it’s a 3-2 decision. For the other guy to win 5-0 doesn’t make sense. And we aren’t even going to believe that that was the case.
The number 2 seeding helped you in the World Championship draw. But there wouldn’t be seeds in the Olympic qualifiers next February?
You can’t focus on the draw. We have to give our 100 per cent, from the first round to the last. Be it against Dusmatov, Zoirov. We practise for big fights and there’s no point hoping to hide from them.
National coach CS Kuttappa recalled the days of you being a latecomer or running away from the camp? Would you like to present your case?
I was never late for the training sessions (laughs). This is about the time when I wasn’t getting any international tours. (L) Devendro (Singh) was in my weight category, a super boxer. So I didn’t get many chances. I would ask for leave, but they would say no. My point was, it’s his competition, not mine. Now I realise that it was my duty to help him practise. How can you train without sparring partners? But in those days, when they wouldn’t give me leave, I would run away from the camp. Dimaag me yahi rehta tha, mera competition toh hai nahi. Ab baate samajh me aati hain (I was always thinking this is not my competition. But now I understand things).
And what about the doping violation? (Panghal tested positive for an anabolic steroid in 2012 and was banned for two years, with the sentence later reduced to a year after an appeal)
I had fallen ill. I was weak to the point that if I sat down or stood up, meri aankho ke aage andhera ho jaata tha (I would get dizzy). I have no idea what the doctor gave me, I’m not a doctor. ‘Marr jaayega’ (He will die) they were saying, itna kamzor ho gaya tha main (I had got so weak).
Whatever he gave me, after that I went to the camp and tested positive. It was my first overseas tour, and the first time I was going through the anti-doping process. Once I told them that this was the medication I took, the ban got reduced to one year.
At least people now should realise that if the punishment was reduced, I wasn’t really at fault.