Ekaterinburg: Asian champion Amit Panghal (52kg) on Friday became the first Indian to enter the finals of the World Men's Boxing Championship while Manish Kaushik (63kg) signed off with a bronze medal after going down in the semi-finals here. Second seeded Panghal prevailed 3-2 against Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov in the last-four stage.
But Commonwealth Games silver-winner Kaushik, competing in his debut world championship, lost 0-5 to top-seeded Cuban Andy Gomez Cruz, a gold-medallist from the previous edition besides being the reigning Pan-American Games champion.
"The bout went very well for me although I had to put in more effort than I had thought. It is a huge achievement for Indian boxing and I am thankful for all the support that I have got," Panghal said after the triumph.
On Saturday, Panghal will take on Uzbekistan's Shakhobidin Zoirov, the reigning Olympic champion. Zoirov defeated Frenchman Billal Bennama in his semi-final showdown.
Before this, India had never won more than one bronze medal in a single edition of the world championships but Panghal and Kaushik changed that by making the semi-finals.
The past Indian medal-winners at the world meet are Vijender Singh (2009), Vikas Krishan (2011), Shiva Thapa (2015) and Gaurav Bidhuri (2017). "I am going to push hard for a gold," said Panghal.
His trademark pace and ability to adapt coming in handy, Panghal outmaneuvered the taller Kazakh, who came into the semis after upstaging reigning European gold-medallist Artur Hovhannisyan of Armenia in the quarterfinals.
The diminutive Armyman from Rohtak was more accurate, put more power into his punches and was sharp defensively against the Kazakh. This was after Panghal spent most of the first round getting a measure of his rival.
Bibossinov was no pushover either and tried his level best to cash in on the height advantage but the Indian kept him at a distance to ensure that most of the Kazakh's attacks either didn't connect or lacked in impact. Panghal's rise has been nothing short of spectacular in Indian boxing ever since he claimed a 49kg category bronze in the 2017 Asian Championships.
He was a quarterfinalist at the world championship on debut in the same year, went on to win consecutive gold medals at the prestigious Strandja Memorial in Bulgaria, before becoming the Asian Games champion in 2018.
This year, he already has the Asian Championships gold to his credit after moving to the 52kg category following the dropping of 49kg from the Olympic roster to accommodate more women's divisions in the 2020 Tokyo Games.
In the other semi-final bout featuring an Indian, Kaushik struggled to keep up with the Cuban, whose counter-attacking game was simply outstanding. Kaushik did get a few body punches through but couldn't fend off the counter-strikes that came his way in all the three rounds.
"I gave it my all but I guess there are a few things lacking in my game, which I will try to improve on. I will work harder and deliver better results in the coming tournaments," Kaushik said.