Deepak Bhoria and Nishant Dev lost close semi-final bouts while Mohammed Hussamuddin gave a walkover due to a knee injury on what turned out to be a disappointing day for Indian boxers at the World Boxing Championships in Tashkent on Friday.
On a positive note, all three won bronze medals and provided India with its best-ever finish, in terms of medals won, at the World Championships. Before Tashkent, India’s men’s team had their best haul in the 2019 edition in Russia where Amit Panghal clinched a silver and Manish Kaushik a bronze.
Bhoria (51kg), Hussamuddin (57kg) and Nishant (71kg) gave a brilliant display in the tournament and raised hopes of making the final. However, the day did not get the kind of start the Indian contingent had hoped for when Hussamuddin was forced to withdraw because of a knee injury that he sustained during his tough quarter-final win against Bulgaria’s Javier Ibanez on Wednesday.
There was swelling and pain in his right knee and the coaches did not want to take any risk with the Asian Games, which is also a Paris Olympics qualifier, four months away.
Expectations rested on Bhoria, who had shown terrific form all through the four bouts and caused a major upset by taking out top seed and World Champion Saken Bibossinov of Kazakhstan in a bruising second-round fight. In the semi-final, he was up against another strong opponent in France’s Billal Bennama, who was making his third successive world championships last-four appearance.
The confidence showed in the rings as an astute Bennama threw Bhoria off his game plan and read his punches well.
The Indian has landed clean punches and used his left hook to good effect in his earlier bouts but against the tall Bennama, he struggled to find his range. Bennama, with good feet movement and feints, never allowed Deepak to settle down and did well to block his lethal left hook.
Bennama did most of the damage with a stinging jab that often caught Deepak off guard. He won the first round 3-2 but Deepak came back roaring in the second round. He was landing his right cross and his more aggressive approach helped him take the second round. It led to the decisive third with both boxers looking for an opportunity to attack.
Bhoria made an impressive start and a powerful punch saw Bennama being given a standing count of 8 by the referee. The 25-year-old Indian must have thought he had done enough to impress the judges but Bennama came right back with a flurry of punches. A left hook from Bennama shook Deepak. From there on, both engaged in furious exchanges over the last two minutes of the bout. Bennama seemed to have done enough to narrowly edge past Bhoria.
Bhoria’s loss put 22-year-old Nishant under pressure to deliver. Nishant, competing in his second world championships, had negotiated tricky opponents from the most crowded draw (59 boxers) at the Worlds. With the light middleweight (71kg) class now an Olympic weight category for the 2024 Olympics, it has drawn boxers from middleweight too.
With a fearless attitude and maturity on the big stage, Nishant had been a revelation this week. Kazakhstan’s Aslanbek Shymbergenov, however, proved to be too hot to handle.
The 2018 Asian Games silver medallist kept himself busy even as Nishant kept looking for an opportunity to counter. The Indian took too much time to open up in the first round, and by then Aslanbek had settled into his rhythm, getting his combination punches going.
Nishant, who is a southpaw, stepped up and started the second round well, connecting with his jabs and follow-up shots. He saved his best for the third round as he upped the accuracy with his punches but in the end, Aslanbek was adjudged winner of the tight contest 5-2.
The two close losses, although heartbreaking, will give Bhoria and Nishant a huge dose of confidence. Bhoria made it to the team replacing Tokyo Olympian Amit Panghal who is regarded as India’s best bet in flyweight.
With a strong performance at the world championships, Bhoria has proved the selection of High Performance director Bernard Dunne right and his rivalry with Panghal, the reigning Commonwealth Games gold medallist, will be a good headache for Dunne.
After lying low with a shoulder injury last year, Nishant has shown he has the talent to beat the best in the world. Not to forget 29-year-old Hussamuddin who ended his long wait for a medal at a major championship.