The good news is that Sonia Chahal continued her run to become the second Indian to reach the world boxing championships final. The ‘maybe, we need to work on this’ news is that she had to rely on another close decision going her way to do so.
A unanimous 5-0 verdict doesn’t exactly befit Chahal’s performance in the 57kg semifinal win over North Korea’s Jo Son-Hwa. The Indian scored 30-27 on all but one card; A Cuban judge gave the first round to the Asian Games silver medallist Jo. Even Chahal didn’t give herself the first round.
“Vo first round already jeet chuki thi (She had won the first round),” Chahal told the reporters moments after the bout. “Second round evened the score, so the coaches were telling me to be more aggressive in the third round.”
How the judges scored the first round is a debate for another day. Chahal was fighting a southpaw who knew how to maximise her advantages. Instead of using her lead right hand to only control the distance, Jo went for swift hooks. Busy watching the right, Chahal often couldn’t see the left coming.
To her credit, Chahal fought back in the much closer second and third rounds. She even found some success in the last round, swatting Jo’s lead hand and landing clean rights. After all, an orthodox can do to a southpaw what a southpaw can do to them.
But a unanimous win for the less-busier boxer still raised some eyebrows. Some of it is the unconventional technique. Chahal’s slap hook is not as pretty as a conventional right. But, a major part is that the Indian, literally, is almost always on the backfoot. Unlike most modern boxers, Chahal throws counters and combos while backpedalling. “I had prepared for her but she changed up her game. I was playing a counter game, but after the first round, I had to go on the attack,” said Chahal.
Down a round (at least in their minds), Chahal’s corner advised her to take the initiative. But it is tough for a primarily defensive, back-pedaller to launch into attacks with the weight on the rear foot. So the coaches came up with Plan B.
“Coaches told me, don’t launch direct attacks, because she would sidestep and counter. So, I had to tempt her into throwing shots and then counter,” said Chahal. “She clinched the win in the last round,” said coach Mohammed Ali Qamar. “You need to stand there and counter. We told her that you need to throw some more punches to win the fight. We had to remind her that aap zyaada peeche peeche mat jaao.”
Still, one step back, two steps forward for Chahal, who adapted and advanced. As it stands, Chahal is a win away from becoming world champion. And with the height advantage again restored against German Gabriele Wahner, Chahal could revert back to the distance-boxing gameplan she used in the quarterfinal against Colombia’s Yeni Castenada.
Fellow Worlds debutant Simranjit Kaur had to settle for bronze after she lost the 64kg semifinal 4-1 to China’s Dan Dou. The Indian started out brightly but could never settle into her combinations against a nimble Chinese, who remained considerably fresher as the fight progressed. Simranjit did, however, initiate her signature heavy exchanges, only to come out second best against a Chinese who packed a punch. Mary will take on Ukraine’s Okhota in the 48kg final. Mary has already defeated Okhota earlier this year. A repeat on Saturday will make her a record six-time world champ.