The 2018 Asian Games was a very successful competition for India, with the nation winning 70 medals which included 16 golds. Amongst those gold medallists was a fidgety boxer, Amit Panghal, whose victory represented more than just a medal for the village of Maina, Haryana.
Amit Panghal’s triumph was not just a victory of an underweight boy’s perseverance but also one showcasing a family’s tireless support and a brother’s selfless sacrifice.
Born into a modest agricultural family, boxing was the only reprieve for brothers Ajay and Amit Panghal. Harbouring ambitions of winning acclaims for the country, both brothers invested their spare time at a local boxing academy tutored by state-level coach Anil Dhankar in their village.
Back then, Amit Panghal was a lanky 12-year-old boy who weighed only 24 kilograms. Despite that frail exterior, he was deceptively strong and showed great determination and resilience, taking on much older boys without any fear. As a 14-year-old, he even bagged gold at the sub-junior nationals in Maharashtra.
Watching his younger brother climb up the success ladder, older brother Ajay decided to forgo his boxing career in order to help and support the family financially. Their father’s farming revenues weren’t enough to pay for Amit Panghal’s boxing tutorship and equipment, so Ajay enlisted himself in the Indian army in 2011.
Seeing his brother’s sacrifice, Amit Panghal was all the more motivated to do well as a boxer and soon moved to Gurgaon’s Combat Boxing Club after his coach Dhankar was transferred there. The Asian Games gold medallist still holds his brother in high regard, taking advice from him before all major bouts and labelling him as the ‘best coach’.
With better training facilities and his coach’s close attention, Amit Panghal quickly learnt the ropes of amateur boxing and began dominating at the junior levels in national competitions. Following his success in the junior circuit, Amit Panghal was promoted to the seniors in 2017 and instantly made his mark, winning gold in the National Boxing Championships.
Amit Panghal also impressed on the international stage, winning a bronze at the Asian Championships that year. The Indian was thoroughly impressive in the early stages of the competition, but Olympic gold medallist Hasanboy Dusmatov was too strong a match for him as he stuttered in the semifinals.
The youngster also performed admirably at the World Boxing Championships in 2017, once again foiled by Dusmatov in the quarterfinals. Despite these defeats in the later stages of competitions, Amit Panghal gained much-needed exposure against some of the best pugilists in his weight category, and all that would come to the fore at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
With his quick movements and precise punching, the Indian cruised through to the final of the Commonwealth Games, winning two out of three bouts via a unanimous verdict. Pitted against Galal Yafai in the finals, Amit Panghal put in another commendable performance matching the Brit punch for punch throughout the bout, but had to settle for second place on the podium after losing 1-3.
At the Asian Games, Amit Panghal dominated the first two bouts with unanimous 5-0 wins and getting through a cagey semifinal against Carlo Paalam, Amit Panghal set up another clash with a familiar foe in Dusmatov.
Having learnt from his earlier loses, Amit Panghal had his plans cut out and executed them to perfection. He kept moving around the ring and never gave the diminutive Uzbeki pugilist a steady target to aim at, while primarily striking with hooks on the counter. The move paid off as Amit Panghal emerged as the winner with a split 3-2 verdict to win a gold medal in his first-ever Asian Games.
This victory over his nemesis was all the more cause for celebration as it came just months after he changed his weight category from 48kg to 52kg, considering the former is not being recognised at Tokyo 2020.
The 23-year-old followed up his stellar show at the Asian Games with another gold in the Asian Championships in Bangkok a few months ago. Amit Panghal’s continued success on the international stage later allowed him to circumvent the national trials for the World Boxing Championships as he was granted a direct entry for the tournament.
Amit Panghal ensured that he made the most of the opportunity to become the first Indian ever to make the final at the Worlds.
His silver medal at Ekaterinburg, Russia along with the success at the continental event has resulted in him clinching the no. 1 position in his weight category ahead of the 2020 Olympic qualifiers in Jordan next month.
The nation will be hoping that the pocket dynamo bring his best to the fore and book his place for Tokyo 2020 at the earliest. After all, it's a dream he has cherished for long.