This is India’s best-ever performance in the championship. Before this, the best came in the 2019 edition when Amit Panghal clinched silver and Manish Kaushik won a bronze.
All three boxers have the chance to go all the way, the next step being the semifinal bouts on Friday. Deepak thumped Kyrgyzstan’s Diushebaev Nurzhigit 5-0 by a unanimous decision. Hussamuddin beat Javier Diaz Ibanez of Bulgaria by a 4-3 split decision. Nishant Dev rounded off a special day for the country with his 5-0 win over Jorge Cuellar of Cuba.
This has been a historic high for the men boxers under new high performance director Bernard Dunne, who took charge just seven months back.
It was an uphill task for Dunne to revive India’s fortunes in men’s boxing after a disastrous Tokyo Olympics, where no boxer could cross the quarterfinals stage.
The prime example of Dunne’s outof-the-box methods is Deepak, who stepped into the shoes of 2019 World Championships silver medallist Amit Panghal for the ongoing Worlds in Tashkent.
Deepak was preferred over Amit in the 51kg weight category after Dunne replaced the concept of selection trials for big-ticket tournaments, bringing in an evaluation process at the national camp. An evaluation was done over three weeks in March, supervised by Dunne and men’s boxing head coach CA Kuttappa, and scores were given on different benchmarks.
At the end of the process, the members of the men’s boxing set-up found Deepak to have nearly 50 points more than Amit. To his credit, Deepak, who nearly quit the sport after suffering a career-threatening fracture to his right hand, proved that Dunne’s choice was correct. On Wednesday, the 25-year-old dominated from the beginning, using his ring intelligence and quick movement to win the first round.
Deepak carried on the good work in the second round as well; dodging his opponent’s attacking moves to stay ahead. The third round was more about consolidating the lead and Deepak smartly negated Nurzhigit’s charge. The Indian will now face Billal Bennama of France in the 51kg semifinals on Friday.
“I maintained distance and used my left hook to good effect. Bennama is an experienced boxer. He has done well in previous world championships, so it’s going to be a tough fight. But I have confidence in my abilities,” Deepak told TOI after the win.
For Hussamuddin, it was a lot tougher. The Nizamabad-based pugilist took some time to gauge Ibanez’s movements. Being a southpaw proved to be a positive for Hussamuddin, as he managed to defend some heavy blows from the Bulgarian. Still, the first round went to Ibanez. In the second round, Hussamuddin counter-attacked well to edge out 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 the win. He will go up against Saidel Horta of Cuba in the 57kg semifinals.
“It was a tough bout. My opponent was playing really rough and it caused me a lot of problems, especially in the first round. But I prevailed. I had made my plans before the bout and kept on moving and dodging inside the ring. It made him go out of his comfort zone to attack me. That gave me the chance to hit a lot of side blows and gather points,” Hussamuddin said.
“It feels great to secure a medal for India, but I want to go for gold now.”
Like Deepak, Nishant too secured a unanimous victory. Nishant’s opponent was significantly taller than him and the Indian had to find opportune moments to land his blows to gain advantage. He will fight Asian champion Aslanbek Shymbergenov of Kazakhstan in the 71kg semis.
“It’s a great feeling to win against a pedigreed Cuban boxer… that too by a unanimous verdict. Our strategy was to create pressure from the first round and stay strong mentally throughout. I will go in with this positive mindset in the semifinal as well,” Nishant said.