Their contingent already reduced in size from what it was four years ago in London (eight boxers to three), the challenge facing India’s boxing representatives at the Rio Olympics grew even stiffer following the release of the official draws on Thursday.
India’s highest rated boxer in the AIBA ranking lists (6th) and World Championionship bronze medallist Shiva Thapa will have to overcome defending Olympic and former World Champion Robeisy Ramirez of Cuba in his first round encounter in the 56kg bantamweight division. In the light welterweight division Manoj Kumar will face London Olympic bronze medallist Evaldas Petrauskas of Lithuania. Vikas Krishan however has a slightly easier task as he takes on American Charles Conwell, who at 18 years is the youngest boxer in the draw in Rio.
The hardest task of course is the one faced by Thapa in the bantamweight division. Cuba’s Ramirez is one of the biggest stars on the amateur boxing circuit. Both Ramirez and Thapa are 22 and coincidentally both burst onto the international scene in the same tournament – the 2010 Youth Olympic games. The two boxers faced each other in the final of that tournament with Ramirez winning by a comfortale 5-2 margin.
Following that first breakout performance, Ramirez has gone from strength to strength. At the 2012 London Games, Ramirez became one of the youngest boxing Olympic champions (and the second younges t Cuban) when at 18, he dominated the flyweight (52kg) field to win the gold medal. Ramirez’s form seemed to have dipped subsequently as after moving back to the bantamweight division, he was upset in the quarter-finals of the 2013 World Championships. Ramirez though found his touch at the World Series of Boxing which he joined that same year. Part of the excitement surrounding Cuba’s entry into WSB was down to fans keen to see Ramirez compete across a longer round format. The Cuban didn’t fail to disappoint. He is currently unbeaten in WSB competition with a 10-0 record.
Ramirez is reckoned to be one of the most dazzling amateur fighters to watch with his penchant for combination punching to both the head and body. The fact that he is a southpaw boxer gives him an additional advantage against Thapa who boxes from an orthodox stance. Thapa though isn’t without options. Standing 1.69m, the Indian enjoys a seven centimetre height advantage against the Cuban. Ramirez has blinding speed and his attacks appear to come from awkward angles, but the Indian has a massively improved defensive game compared to four years ago.
Thapa’s challenges don’t end even if he manages to beat the Cuban. A possible next opponent would be former world bronze medallist Mykola Butsenko of Ukraine. Also in Shiva’s half of the draw are Murodjon Akhmadaliev, who won silver at the 2015 World Championships, 2013 world champion Javid Chelabiev.
Manoj Kumar has it only slightly easier than Thapa. His first opponent is the Lithuanian Petrauskas – a bronze medallist from London. A southpaw, he again has an advantage against Kumar. While the Indian has a 3cm height advantage (172cm to 169cm ) it remains to be seen how he uses it for both boxers have a hard punching brawling style.
Krishan, enjoying an easy draw, will be the first Indian to enter the ring in Rio, as his first round encounter is on August 10. Competing in his second Olympics, he has far more experience that his opponent. However, Krishan will know to be careful against his opponent who has an aggressive style and throws a lot of body shots.