Gujarat Giants, spurred by skipper Amit Panghal and heavyweight Scott Forrest, staged remarkable rallies — from 0-2 and 2-3 — to stop Punjab Panthers with a 4-3 conquest in the high-voltage final of the Big Bout Indian Boxing League at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium Complex, here on Saturday.
Darshana Doot (women’s 51kg) and Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Abdulmalik Khalakov (57kg) scored well-crafted victories to put Panthers 2-0 ahead, but the smart-thinking Ashish Kulheria (69kg) and the redoubtable southpaw Amit (52kg) hauled the Giants back on track.
The spirited and efficient Sonia Lather’s split verdict win against legendary Sarita Devi in the classic women’s 60kg bout took the Panthers one victory away from the crown. But the Giants’ heavyweight import from Scotland, Scott Forrest, dished out a gutsy show to take the contest into the final bout.
It was left to Ashish Kumar to beat Yashpal in the 75kg battle for Gujarat Giants to take home the trophy. He did that in style, making use of his superior bodyweight and ring-craft to give Yashpal a few lessons. To the credit of the Indian Universities 69kg champion, he took the punishment pretty well and stretched Ashish into the third round.
A string of three losses didn’t deter the southpaw Darshana when she stepped into the ring on Saturday night. She had been roped in as Punjab Panthers’ skipper MC Mary Kom faced a back problem. She showcased her eagerness from the beginning to sign off with a win against Rajesh Narwal. She executed her plans well and exerted her domination to secure a 4-1 verdict.
The twinkle-toed and supremely confidence Khalakov, who had lost to Chirag in the league stage, came with a specific plan. He lost no time in landing punches, taking Chirag by surprise to make a strong impression on the judges in the opening round. The Indian clawed back with counter-attacking tactics in the second round, forcing Khalakov to back-pedal.
But the young Uzbek star was ready with his tactics in the final round, cramping Chirag’s hooks and using a combination of jabs and uppercuts to complete a unanimous verdict. How he controlled the pace of the bout was admirable and he deserved to celebrate with a couple of back-flips when the result was announced.
Asian Championship medallist Kulheria’s win against the evergreen Manoj Kumar didn’t come as a surprise since the Panthers’ star was fighting his second strenuous bout within 24 hours. Ashish moved deftly through the bout in which Manoj couldn’t find the rhythm or the space that he was looking for to make an impression on the judges.
The southpaw Amit walked in as favorite to beat PL Prasad second time in the Big Bout and he crafted a unanimous victory. Prasad’s challenge was greater since he had to work harder in the ring to make an impression on the judges against a boxer who used his technique with great efficiency and productively.
Sonia Lather beat Sarita in an intense battle that was as much with the mind as with the gloved fists. In one of the best contests of the night, Sonia did well to gain the upper hand in the first round. She stayed in front, though the vastly experienced Sarita was not giving up till the last moment.
With his team facing a do-or-die situation, Scott made light a bleeding cut on his time early in his fight with southpaw Naveen to eke out an important win. He was light on his feet and landed heavy punches through the slightest of gaps in the Indian heavyweight’s guard and ran out with a comfortable winner in the end.
The Boxing Federation of India-approved league, offering Rs 3 crore prize purse, brought together 87 pugilists from six teams in a celebration of the sport. As many as 11 young women 57kg boxers also got to feature in the league stage, rubbing shoulders with Olympic and continental medallists. The quality of contests drew a sizeable television viewership.