It took five days for Sanjeet to go from also-ran to the next big thing. The 20-year-old survived a battering from Kazakhstan’s Rakhmanov Ongtalap to kick off the India Open invitational, defeated local rival and top prospect Naman Tanwar and outboxed world bronze-medallist Sanjar Tursunov in the final to win heavyweight (91kg) gold, leaving high performance director Santiago Nieva with a headache — albeit “the nice kind”.
“Sanjeet has surprised everyone. In the nationals he lost in the first round against Naman. He lost in the selection trials, but here he won fighting as an underdog,” said the Swede. “It makes taking the decision a little difficult. But you can build on such performances to get results in Commonwealth Games.”
With an in-form Naman leading the field — the youth world bronze-medallist won the national trials and the an invitational in Kazakhstan this month — not many were willing to put their money on Sanjeet.
“I am ranked third in the country and probably that’s why everybody is shocked,” says the boxer from Rohtak. “All my bouts with Naman have been tight. I lost the last two times but I’ve also defeated him in the past. Perhaps being the underdog helped me here. This medal gives me the confidence that I am in the contention, that I have a future in boxing.”
‘A future in boxing’ was also the only concern for Sanjeet’s parents, who had already seen elder son Sanjeev take up the sport, only to switch to wushu after failing to make a mark. “They made sure that boxing never affected my studies,” says the BA Programme first year student. “It’s only fitting that they were here today to watch me win.”
They wouldn’t have been thrilled with how the fight began, though. The brawny Uzbek took the attack to Sanjeet, swinging for a knockout. The Indian had to cope with the onslaught for the majority of two rounds, before slipping under the lumbering hooks and tagging the bigger fighter to get the points, and the split verdict.
“It wasn’t a fun fight,” said Sanjeet, pointing to the busted nose and cut lip. “But after the first round, I had to turn the silver into gold. Ek-do usko acche pade, he knew I have a lot of power too.”
He credits coach Nieva and the revamped training regimen for his improved performance. “Everything is because of the training he makes us do. We are training in weightlifting halls. He also takes me to train in the wrestling hall. I have to work on my endurance a bit, but his training has already helped me gain explosive strength and speed in six months.”
Coach Nieva is a more restricted in his assessment. “It is very difficult to judge what is working,” says Nieva. “I am still not seeing the visible results like I imagined. But there are some results. Boxers are able to handle different situations well.”
Cuts an issue
Nieva’s big takeaway from the tournament has been the number of cuts suffered by the Indian boxers. “I counted eleven, and it is a high number. I don’t like boxing without headgear. Even in Worlds there are a lot of cuts. When it’s only three rounds you are going super fast. It becomes stressful and there are a lot of head clashes,” says Nieva. “But still the number is too high for Indians. We need to analyse if we need to do something. It can be a little subjective. But there have been mistakes where our boxers are going too close, unnecessarily.”
For now, it’s back to the drawing board for the contingent, which flies out to Finland on the 8th. It’s two months to go for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, but Nieva is nowhere close to finalising the team. “Some boxers we were expecting to win, lost early. Others we weren’t sure of, won medals. I was hoping I would have answers by the end of this India Open. Instead now I have a lot more questions.”
Indian Winners: Men’s Heavy: Sanjeet bt Sanjar Tursunov (UZB) 3-2; Light Fly: Amit bt Shyam Kumar Kakara 5-0; Light: Manish Kaushik bt Battumur Misheelt (MGL) W/O; Women’s Light Welter: Pwilao Basumatary bt Sudapon Seesondee (THA) 3-2; Welter: Lovlina Borgohain bt Pooja 4-1; Light Fly: Mary Kom bt Josie Gabuco (PHL) 4-1; Fly: Pinki Rani bt Jargalan Ochirbat (MGL) 4-1; Bantam: Manisha bt M Meenakumari 4-1.
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