World Men’s Boxing Championships: In pre-quarters, no quarters given

Gaurav Bhatt
Amit Panghal defeated Turkey’s Batuhan Citfci in the Round of 16 bout on Tuesday.

If you caught the heavyweight contest between Sanjeet and Uzbekistan’s Sanjar Tursunov, and immediately assumed the sound of ‘dhols’ blaring was what has long been a staple at Indian sporting events, don’t worry. You weren’t the only one.

Those beats sounded just like ours, but were all Uzbeki. Plus they kept cheering his name loudly. ‘Sanjar, Sanjar! So at one point I just laughed and started imagining that all the Uzbeks were cheering for me, says Sanjeet.

Sanjeet’s performance on Tuesday would have prompted at least a few Uzbeks to cheer for him. Maximising his advantages height, reach and speed the 21-year-old toppled 2017 Worlds bronze medallist and second seed Tursunov 4-1, to reach the World Championship quarterfinals on a fantastic day for the Indian contingent as Amit Panghal (52kg), Kavinder Singh Bisht (57kg) and Manish Kaushik (63kg) also advanced.

Till now, the crowds had been turning up for us, says high performance director Santiago Nieva. But Sanjeet’s bout was the first time that our opponent had a lot more support. They sure were making their voices heard but at the end of the day a boxer has to get the job done regardless.

I had the confidence because I had beaten him before, Says Sanjeet. But that was a split decision. Today was more one-sided, so improvement is there.

The first win came last February in the final of the inaugural India Open. This wasn’t a fun fight, Sanjeet had said of the meeting at the time, sporting a busted nose, cut lip and the gold medal. Then India’s number 3 heavyweight, Sanjeet had a lot of raw potential but was overshadowed by top prospect Naman Tanwar.

Tanwar, the youth Worlds bronze medallist, got another chance at the Asian Championships in April where he lost in the quarterfinals. Sanjeet won the trials to make his Worlds debut.

I didn’t have a lot of experience back then. But I feel much more comfortable in my game now and, more importantly, know how to use my physicality now.

Sanjeet (91kg), who upset second-seeded Uzbek Sanjar Tursunov, will face Ecuador’s Julio Cesa Castillo Torres in quarterfinals.

Sanjeet, four inches taller than the 5’10 Tursunov, kept the Uzbek at a distance, and frequently shut down his approaches with counters. The flashy Tursunov threw big and often, but Sanjeet evaded and landed the cleaner punches. The closing 30 seconds of the second round perfectly encapsulated the contest, as Tursunov played to the gallery, hands down and throwing to hurt. Sanjeet sidestepped, ducked, blocked and landed several counters.

Excellent finish, yelled high performance director Santiago Nieva in the corner. Those types of moments to finish the round are very integral in getting the result. I thought he was very calm and countered Sanjar well, says Nieva. After Sanjeet’s win in Delhi, we were a little worried because we expected an improved Sanjar. But Sanjeet was clearly the better boxer today.

Sanjeet’s performance was a far cry from his previous 4-1 win, against Scotland’s Scott Forest on Sunday. The Scot came out on top in several exchanges, and many would say the Indian’s win was fortuitous.

For sure we were all a little nervous before that decision, it could’ve gone either way, says Nieva. I was very nervous making the walk. Everything before, the camp, the training had been great, but when you make that walk, for your first bout in a major competition, you will get nervous.

Clinical Panghal

Earlier, Asian Games gold medallist Panghal continued his splendid run with a 5-0 win against Turkey’s Batuhan Citfci. The bout was, what is quickly becoming, a typical Panghal win: The 5’3 Indian is shorter than his opponent. Panghal sidesteps, ducks and leaves opponent punching the air. He closes distance and combos with an overhand and counterattacks incoming opponents.

The second-seeded flyweight next faces Carlo Paalam. The Filipino lost to Panghal in the Asian Games semifinals last year.

Kaushik defeated Mongolia’s Chinzorig Baatarsukh in the 63kg contest. Baatarsukh, an Asian Games silver medallist and two-time Asian Championships medallist, went punch-for-punch with the Indian in an ugly fight and would feel hard done by the unanimous 5-0 decision against him. Kaushik will take on Brazil’s Wanderson de Oliveira.

Bisht reached a successive Worlds quarterfinal with a 3-2 win over Finland’s Arslan Khataev. The 24-year-old landed better shots, but frequently displayed his old frailty of getting in heated exchanges in the pocket.

You have to stop wrestling and push him away, yelled Nieva in the corner. The several clinches also resulted in yet another cut above the right eye for Bisht. And two of the five judges scoring all three rounds in his opponent’s favour meant the decision could’ve easily gone against the bantamweight.

It happened at last world championship and also the Asian championship. Today was his opponent’s fault, but yes, Kavinder needs to be a little more careful when he goes in because without the headgear, clashes will result in cuts, says Nieva. But, there’s also the point that he has become used to fighting with cuts.

Standing between Bisht and a Worlds medal is fourth-seeded Englishman Peter McGrail, former gold medallist at the European Championships and reigning Commonwealth Games champion.

The cut is not going to be a factor in the quarterfinal, says Bisht. These things happen in boxing. I am feeling confident and happy with the performances so far. Tomorrow, there will be nervousness before the bout, but it’s the same even for an Olympic champion. I am focused on the bout. Rest is in God’s hands.