"I believe my journey as a boxer will begin only after I get that Olympics medal."
Historic performances, few firsts globally, rising from ashes, overcoming obstacles, and few controversies were part of Olympic-bound silver medallist Amit Panghal in his #RoadToTokyoOlympics. So, in his long journey of a boxing career, it would be an understatement if we say that he is one of the shining lights for men's boxing in India.
Haryana is a place from where a large chunk of talent is discovered. Similarly, Panghal hailing from Mayna village of Rohtak district took up this sport, thanks to his brother - Ajay Panghal, who is currently serving in the Indian Army. He was helped by his brother in every way he could to make him one of the best boxers in the world. He came from a such poor background who could not even gloves.
However, a man who went out of his way to support and made the ultimate sacrifice for Amit was his brother. His brother gave up his boxing career to concentrate on helping Amit become a world-class boxer. To such an extent that he cleared his defence forces examinations, physical tests and joined the Army to earn money to meet Amit's requirements.
Amit, even now, gives a huge part of the credit to his brother. "Whatever I am today, it is because of him. He left boxing and joined the Indian Army because of me," Amit had said in an interview. It was even his dream to become a boxer but following the footsteps of his brother, he has now earned the title of World No.1 in the 52kg category. He also admits that his parents were a bit overprotective as he would hurt him. But his grandfather, who was once a wrestler, passionately supported him and he began his journey.
In 2009, he won a gold medal in the sub-junior category in the national championship, and guess what three years later, he converted the national medal into an international medal when he bagged a gold medal in Sri Lanka in 2012. The actual senior tournament he participated in was in 2016 and bagged his first gold in the senior category in the national championship. Since then, he won many gold medals representing India at the global level.
He stunned 2016 Rio Olympic gold medallist Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan to win the 2018 Asian Games gold medal, witnessing an upward trend in his performance graph since then. Soon after, in 2019, he made more progress as he started off bagging the gold medal at the Strandja Memorial Tournament in February in Bulgaria, following up with a top podium finish at the Asian Boxing Championship in Bangkok and capping off his impressive run with another gold medal-winning effort at the Indian Open in Guwahati.
Nevertheless, what made him hit the headlines was the historic silver medal that he won at the boxing World Championships in Russia. He became the first Indian male boxer to win a silver medal at the prestigious event. Apart from this, the 23-year-old boxer also has an Asian Games gold (2018), silver at Commonwealth Games (2018) and bronze and gold at Asian Championships in 2017 and 2019, respectively under his belt. Besides, the silver made Panghal the undisputed top name in Indian men’s boxing and he capped the year by winning the Best Boxer Award at the BFI’s first-ever pro-style league.
One more aspect should be noted that he used to play for the 49kg but switched it to 52kg. The world body – International Boxing Federation (AIBA) was suspended by the IOC in 2019, given few controversies occurred within the committee. He had to shift to the flyweight category (52-kg) as 49-kg was removed from the Olympic program.
Shifting to a new weight category is challenging as he does not have the height advantage, and there are many tall, strong boxers in the 52-kg category. As he shifted to this category, he faced a lot of difficulties because there were many powerful boxers. His coach Santiago gave him three months to get acquainted with the weight difference. Only after winning the gold medal in the Asian Championships, he realised he have had a good transition.
The journey has been a long one, but the hard work and sacrifice paid off when Panghal qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after he defeated the Philippines' Carlo Paalam in the 52 kg quarterfinal in March 2020. But he does not think so, as stated, "I believe my journey as a boxer will begin only after I get that Olympics medal."