Despite being a debutant at the Tokyo Olympics, 25-year-old boxer Amit Panghal is one of India’s best medal hopes at the Summer Games with the flyweight (52kg category) boxer already turning heads with his performances at the highest level.

India’s last medal in boxing came in  London 2012 Olympics when MC Mary Kom had clinched a bronze. The last medal in India’s men’s boxing dates back even further to 2008 when Vijender Singh had won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Though India have as many as nine boxers competing at the Summer Games, Amit Panghal, along with Mary Kom and Vikas Krishan remain their biggest chance of winning an Olympic medal in boxing.

Steep rise of Panghal

Born on October 16, 1995, to a farmer family, Amit Panghal had taken to boxing in 2007, inspired by his brother Ajay Panghal. However, Amit was always a natural in the sport and the light flyweight (49kg) category pugilist clinched a National Championship gold medal in his very first attempt in 2017.

Amit Panghal hasn’t looked back since. He followed it up with a bronze medal at the 2017 Asian Amateur Boxing Championships and a gold medal at the prestigious Strandzha Cup in 2018. However, Panghal became a household name only after he clinched a silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the gold medal in the 2019 Asian Games.

But, just when boxing seemed like a cakewalk for Panghal, Olympics decided to drop his discipline (49kg light flyweight) from the Games and the boxer had to move up a weight category to 52kg.

Panghal adapted to the new category smoothly and within no time became an Asian champion in the 52kg category as well. He followed that up with a silver medal in the World Championship to become the world no.1 boxer in the flyweight category.

Panghal’s road to Tokyo Olympics

At the Asian Olympic qualification tournament, Panghal edged past Philippines’ Carlo Paalam 4-1 in a split verdict to seal an Olympic berth. Panghal’s run in the qualifiers, however, ended in the next round as he lost to China’s Hu Jianguan.

Indians will be optimistic about Panghal’s medal chances at the Tokyo Olympics for the sharpness that Panghal has shown since his return post COVID. While most boxers were expected to be rusty after almost a year of inaction, Panghal has gotten back on track almost immediately.

He has won gold medals at the Alexis Vastine Memorial boxing tournament in Nantes, France, and the Boxing World Cup in Cologne, Germany. Though he went medal-less at the Boxam meet in Spain and could only manage a bronze medal in Russia’s Governor’s Cup, Panghal will look to get his mojo back before he steps into the ring at Tokyo’s Ryōgoku Kokugikan.

Panghal’s biggest challenge in Tokyo 2020

While the dreaded 52kg category in men's boxing has numerous stalwarts like Cuba's Yosbany Vieitia, Gabriel Escobar of Spain, Algerian Mohamed Flissi, China's Hu Jianguan and French boxer Billal Bennama, Panghal's biggest challenge will be Uzbekistan's Shakhobidin Zoirov.

The defending Olympic champion in the flyweight category, Zoirov is currently ranked second in the world and comes to Tokyo with two consecutive wins over Panghal. The two star pugilists had last met at the Governor’s Cup semi-final and the World Championships final, with the Uzbek emerging as the winner on both occasions.

However, Amit Panghal is known for his intelligent reading of the opponent and his bout against Zoirov at the Governor’s Cup was a close call. Boxing Federation of India’s high-performance director Santiago Nieva believes that Panghal can get over the line if he counterpunches effectively - a strategy that he will need to execute perfectly at the Tokyo Olympics.

Featured Image: Media/ SAI