India’s Nutlai Lalbiakkima announced his arrival on the big stage in style, defeating reigning Olympic champion Hasanboy Dusmatov to reach the 49kg semifinals of the President’s Cup Tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Friday. Lalbiakkima, 22, outscored the Uzbek 4-1 to assure himself of a medal.
With the major upset, Lalbiakkima, who hails from Siaha in Mizoram, has staked his claim for an Asian Games berth in the highly-competitive light-flyweight category, led by Commonwealth Games silver medallist Amit Panghal and reigning national champion Shyam Kumar Kakara. Lalbiakkima is third in the pecking order after losing to Panghal in the semifinal of January’s India Open and to Kakara in the final of the nationals last October. Last month, 21-year-old Himanshu Sharma won the gold at the Belgrade invitational to make matters even more interesting.
Calling it a “good headache”, India men’s high performance director Santiago Nieva said that Lalbiakkima’s performance has put him in consideration ahead of the selection later this month.
“This was not just a fantastic performance for him, but a huge result for Indian boxing,” Nieva told The Indian Express. “Lalbiakkima doesn’t have a lot of international experience. But he stepped up today and showed that if you train hard enough, anything is possible. He is still in competition with two more bouts to go. He needs to repeat the performance. A medal here will absolutely make him a contender.”
The 5’2 boxer is adept at utilising his short frame and fighting on the inside. He used the ploy to rattle Dusmatov — winner of the Val Barker Trophy for being the most outstanding boxer at the Rio Olympics — and peppered the 25-year-old with quick combinations and a mean left hook.
Making sure his wards study footage of Dusmatov and other top boxers closely has been high on Nieva’s agenda, and the Swede believes it helped Lalbiakkima.
“He makes it a point to closely study the top boxers and their movements, and it was a clear advantage today,” said Nieva. “But then again, Hasanboy has defeated Amit twice, so it also depends on the boxer’s performance on the day.” Coach Jai Singh Patil, who was in Lalbiakkima’s corner on Friday, says the Mizo prevailed due to his willpower and endurance.
“Kkima gym me badi mehnat karta hai,” says Patil. “His endurance level is quite high, so that made the difference. But also, it was his day honestly. Yesterday, we watched Dusmatov’s fights, and devised strategies. But implementing it was the key. When you get in the ring and land 3-4 solid punches, you can dictate the fight against anybody.”
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