His own run at the 2018 Asian Games ended in the pre-quarter-final stage at the hands of Kyrgyzstan’s Abdurakhman Abdurakhamanov, but welterweight boxer Manoj Kumar helped engineer the fall of Rio Olympics gold medallist Hasanboy Dusmatov on Saturday at the hands of Amit Panghal to help India clinch its 14th gold medal.
Panghal won the only gold medal for India in the boxing ring at the Jakarta-Palembang event with a stunning 3-2 upset of Uzbek pugilist Dusmatov, who had beaten Panghal at the Asian Championships and the World Championships.
“Aaj hosle buland the (I was really confident today). I was better prepared than before. Today, I knew where he was vulnerable and where I needed to attack him. I’m also a much more experienced boxer than the Amit who lost to him twice,” Panghal told the media after his victory on Saturday.
Panghal gave credit to Manoj for the way he fought.
“Manoj Kumar really helped me prepare well for upcoming bouts. He not only keeps motivating other boxers, but tells us what to do before our bouts. In fact, at the Asian Games he broke down the vulnerabilities of each boxer I was facing, including Dusmatov,” said Panghal.
“Amit had asked me to watch Hasanboy’s semi-final. When I have free time during a competition, I anyway spend it watching others’ fights. Mukkebaazi kisko nahi pasand? (Who doesn’t like two guys throwing punches at each other?)” said Manoj. “When you have as much experience as me, one look is enough to spot a loophole in your boxing style.
“I had told him before the final that Hasanboy is a guy who rarely goes for a one-two, he attacks once and then pauses. You can see he goes on the offensive only when his punch lands. So I asked him to avoid getting hit the first time, because that will prevent him from landing any combination punches.
“If you block your opponent’s biggest weapon, then he will struggle,” Manoj told Firstpost.
Struggle, Dusmatov did. The Uzbek boxer — just four feet, 11 inches tall — was the overwhelming favourite going into the fight. But it was the boxer from Maina village in Rohtak who made a stellar first impression in the first three-minute round. Constantly weaving around the ring, he neatly evaded Dusmatov’s crisp right jabs and left hooks for the first 25 seconds of the round before unloading his first telling punch — a crunching left hook — on the Uzbek. That was just the beginning. In the next few minutes, Panghal unleashed a flurry of lightning-fast one-twos on the Uzbek.
By the time the first round ended, Dusmatov must have felt a sense of déjà vu. Just three months ago, another boxer from India — Mizoram’s Nutlai Lalbiakkima — had stunned him in the quarters of the President’s Cup tournament in Astana using the same strategy.
“The idea was to attack from the first round itself. Whenever I attacked him, he would try and throw a left hook as a counter. I knew I had to stay away from that,” Panghal said.
Breaking down Panghal’s strategy in the first round, Indian boxing’s High Performance Director Santiago Nieva said, “In the beginning, Dusmatov can be dangerous because he is explosive. But Amit was moving very well and he even jumped him with a one-two. That was the strategy. He was too fast for Dusmatov many times. When Amit gets his legs moving, he feints and jumps on his opponent with one-twos, opponents cannot react fast enough. I’m very happy with how Amit performed in the first round because we expected Dusmatov to be at his most dangerous in the first round.”
Manoj added that Panghal’s greatest strength is his foot movement and his combination punches. “Also, if you notice, for someone who’s as short as Amit, his reach is really good.”
With gold on the line, Panghal used all three to swat aside his opponent. In the second round too, his strategy was to keep a safe distance from the Uzbek, before moving in for a second, landing his combination punches and moving out of range of the Uzbek’s counter-attacks — just as Nieva and Manoj had instructed. With 42 seconds left on the clock, a thunderous left hook from Panghal’s one-two caught Dusmatov square on his right cheek leading the Uzbek to lose his balance and steady himself with two hands on the canvas.
As the third round began, Dusmatov must have sensed the gold slipping out of his hands. He emerged wanting blood. But once again the Indian chose to stay on the outside and make the Uzbek chase him to land his punches. Once in a while, Panghal would move in, land a combination and move out.
“In the third round I was thinking that I need to dominate just like I have in the first two,” said Panghal.
The judges ruled the contest 2-3 in favour of Panghal, a man who had watched Dusmatov dominate his weight class at the Rio Olympics from home and admitted he had not even imagined he would ever fight the Uzbek.
“I saw him compete at the Rio Olympics. But at that time I wasn’t even dreaming of playing against him. I was just a member of the national camp. I wasn’t even the No 1 boxer in India in the light flyweight at that time.
“This is my biggest achievement. What makes it remarkable is that it has come after beating the reigning Olympic champion, who has beaten me before. I have avenged those defeats today,” the armyman said.
Panghal’s medal came as a shot of adrenaline for the Indian boxing contingent, which was missing five-time world champion Mary Kom in its ranks and had seen favourite Vikas Krishan settling for a bronze after being declared medically unfit due to a cut near his eye.
“Two medals is less than what we expected,” Nieva admitted before adding, “We have high expectations on all our boxers. It’s not often that Indian men win a gold medal at the Asian Games. We had two in 2010 with Vikas and Vijender Singh. There was one in 1998. That was 20 years ago! And of course, we have Mary Kom. But she’s written a chapter for herself.
“But winning a gold medal in a strong field like the Asian Games, that too by beating a boxer who was adjudged the best boxer of the Rio Olympics, is historic.”