This is India’s best ever performance in the league. Before that, the best came in the 2019 edition when Amit Panghal took silver and Manish Kaushik won bronze.
All three boxers have a chance to go all the way, with the next step being the semi-final bouts on Friday. Deepak beat Diushebaev Nurzhigit of Kyrgyzstan 5-0 by unanimous decision. Hussamuddin defeated Javier Diaz Ibanez of Bulgaria by a 4-3 split decision. Nishant Dev capped off a special day for the country with their 5-0 win over Cuba’s Jorge Cuellar.
It was an all-time high for men’s boxers under new high performance director Bernard Dunne, who took charge just seven months ago.
It was an arduous task for Dunne to revive India’s fortunes in the field of men boxing after a disastrous Tokyo Olympics, where no boxer was able to make it past the quarter-final stage.
The best example of Dunne’s original methods is Deepak, who took the place of 2019 World Championships silver medalist Amit Panghal for the ongoing Worlds in Tashkent.
Deepak was preferred over Amit in the 51kg weight class after Dunne replaced the concept of big-prize tournament selection trials, introducing an evaluation process at the national camp. An evaluation was conducted over three weeks in March, overseen by Dunne and men’s boxing head coach CA Kuttappa, and scores were awarded on various benchmarks.
At the end of the process, members of the men’s boxing roster found that Deepak had almost 50 points more than Amit. To his credit, Deepak, who nearly quit the sport after suffering a career-threatening broken right hand, proved Dunne’s choice was correct. On Wednesday, the 25-year-old dominated early on, using his ring smarts and quick moves to win the opening round.
Deepak also continued his good work in the second round; dodging his opponent’s attack moves to stay ahead. Round three was more about cementing the lead and Deepak smartly negated Nurzhigit’s charge. The Indian will now face Frenchman Billal Bennama in the 51kg semi-final on Friday.
“I maintained distance and used my left hook wisely. Bennama is an experienced boxer. He has done well in previous world championships so it’s going to be a tough fight. But I’m confident in my abilities” , Deepak told TOI after the victory.
For Hussamuddin it was much more difficult. The Nizamabad-based pugilist was slow to assess Ibanez’s moves. Being left-handed turned out to be an advantage for Hussamuddin as he was able to defend a few hard shots from the Bulgarian. Still, the first round went to Ibanez. In the second round, Hussamuddin counter-attacked well to get ahead of his opponent.
The third round saw both boxers throw caution to the wind and go on the offensive, but the Indian used his combinations well to secure victory. He will face Saidel Horta of Cuba in the 57 kg semi-final.
“It was a tough fight. My opponent was playing really hard and it gave me a lot of problems, especially in the first round. But I won. I had made my plans before the fight and I kept moving and dodging inside the ring. It got him out of his comfort zone to attack me. It gave me the chance to hit a lot of side kicks and get some points.” said Hussamuddin.
“It’s great to get a medal for India, but I want to go for gold now.”
Like Deepak, Nishant also picked up a unanimous decision victory. Nishant’s opponent was significantly taller than him and the Indian had to find opportune moments to land his punches in order to take the lead. He will face Asian champion Aslanbek Shymbergenov of Kazakhstan in the 71kg semi-finals.
“It’s a great feeling to win against a purebred Cuban boxer…that too by a unanimous verdict. Our strategy was to build pressure from the first lap and stay mentally strong throughout. I will go with that positive mindset into the semis as well,” Nishant said.