Make-or-break national boxing championship in Shillong

The domestic competition in Shillong will be vital for male pugilists from the country ahead of Olympic qualification events in 2024.
After a subdued show in Asian Games, Shiva Thapa (right) will be looking to use his experience and defend his national crown in Shillong. (Photo | Express)
After a subdued show in Asian Games, Shiva Thapa (right) will be looking to use his experience and defend his national crown in Shillong. (Photo | Express)

CHENNAI: In the all-important Hangzhou Asian Games, Indian boxers had a mixed outing. While the women pugilists did well to earn four Olympic quotas, their men's counterparts put up a subdued show to return with just one medal and no quota.

Nearly two months since those Games, the focus now turns to the national championship (November 25 to December 1) in  Shillong. Having missed out in China, the event in Shillong will be vital for the male fighters ahead of crucial events in 2024.

Given the significance of this domestic event, the elite including Shiva Thapa (63.5kg) and Amit Panghal (51kg) are set to feature in it. The aforementioned names have a rich trophy cabinet. However, they are walking on a tightrope as things stand. With cut-throat competition for places in each weight category, the two can't afford a slip-up. Shiva, despite his experience, had lost his very first bout during the aforementioned Asiad while Panghal had failed to make the cut in the team.

Tokyo Olympian Ashish Kumar (80kg) and 2021 Asian champion Sanjeet (92kg) are some of the other well-known names who'll be part of the event. Deepak Kumar, the 2023 World Championships bronze medallist, is one of the marquee names who'll give the event a miss.

Their footwork inside the ring, the weight behind punches, their defence, their offence... every attribute will be closely examined.

"We are going to take four boxers for the national camp and if there are any other interesting talents, who lose in the earlier rounds, especially from youth level, we might pick them too. Let's see. Top-four is definite," CA Kuttappa, national head coach, said.

Kuttappa reached Shillong on Friday and he is there as an observer along with other officials. His task becomes essential as they look to build a formidable group ahead of the World Qualification Tournament, scheduled to be held from February 29 to March 12 in Busto Arsizio, Italy. It should be noted passing the national test doesn't guarantee a spot in the qualification event. If the boxers catch the attention of the observers, they'll have to maintain that form during the subsequent national camps, where coaches will grade them on an everyday basis.

The World Qualification Tournament is a good chance for instant redemption for the male boxers, who were well below the required standards during the Asiad. Narender Berwal was the lone medallist (bronze) then while Sachin Siwach (57kg) and Deepak Kumar (51kg) had lost by split decisions. Reflecting on the performance, Kuttappa felt the boxers have to learn to adapt but he's confident that they will produce an improved show in the upcoming events.

"We felt we had won (Deepak and Sachin). However, we could have done much better. Performance-wise it was a decent effort from both. However, they can learn from their losses. The boxers need to instil a little bit more toughness in their game.

"They have to trust the process. Some of them are new, the trust level is lacking. It's not necessary that they follow everything. You can't just rely on one tactic, it won't work. You can't say 'I have a defensive game'. One has to adapt, practice and trust the process. We know this takes time and they're gradually getting our process. In the future, the men boxers will step up," he added.

It's a serious deal at the moment with time running out for the boxing contingent. With the last two quota events coming up next year, Kuttappa and his wards have to tick all the boxers if they have ambitions of making Paris a reality. The boxing think-tank is mindful of this. Nothing is guaranteed at the moment.

"We're looking at more options at 63.5kg. Let's see how the nationals goes. We'll take a good look at the team. We have seen Shiva do well in the World Championships in the past. It didn't click for him (Asiad). He has to perform if he wants to win."

Amit and Shiva have been part of the system for long. They'll be mindful of this and bring their A-game to Shillong.

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The New Indian Express