Deepak Kumar Bhoria earned India's first medal at the 2023 Men's Boxing World Championships by defeating Nurzhigit Diushebaev of Kyrgyzstan 5-0 in the 51kg flyweight division quarterfinals. Deepak (25) made the India squad for the tournament in remarkable circumstances, pipping the overwhelming favourite Amit Panghal because of his superior performance at the selection trials.
Deepak is only the eighth-ever Indian to medal at the Worlds, and faces fourth-seed Billal Bennama of France in the semifinal on Friday. Mohammed Hussamuddin (57kg) and Nishant Dev (71kg) also confirmed medals with quarterfinal wins, thus ensuring this was India's most successful Worlds ever.
Starting in the red corner, Deepak walked out to a partisan crowd that was largely supporting his opponent. A couple of last-minute tips from his coaches and the bout began, with both boxers keeping their distance initially. Deepak was the first to go on the offensive, landing an uppercut before a quick combination punch put his opponent on the backfoot. He fended off a late flurry despite being backed into a corner, weaving away before a quick left hook saw him connect once more. Unsurprisingly, all five judges scored the round 10-9 in his favour.
Diushebaev started the second round with plenty of aggression - with a series of quick jabs to Deepak's midriff and face, but the Indian kept up his defence. A superb counter-punch with a minute to go saw the Kyrgyz boxer earn a standing count, with Deepak using his boxing smarts to lure his opponent and then deliver telling blows. The Indian won the second round 10-9 from four judges with one judge ruling 10-8 in Deepak's favour.
The final round saw Deepak aim to keep his distance, bobbing and weaving away from Diushebaev's punches, before the referee paused the bout to have the Kyrgyz boxer's glove fixed. Deepak opted for a defence-first approach but a couple of openings in his opponent's guard saw him connect. With his coaches yelling at him to be cautious from the sidelines, Deepak kept his guard up before another counter-punch to the face saw Diushebaev receive another standing count right as the bout ended.
There was little doubt when the result was announced, with the referee raising Deepak's arm to confirm the unanimous victory. A quick namaste to all four sides of the ring, and Deepak walked off with a relatively muted celebration: perhaps with bigger aims than the bronze medal he assured for himself.
Historical outing for team ���� at the #MWCHs ����
- Boxing Federation (@BFI_official) May 10, 2023
Speaking after the bout, Deepak underlined his ambitions for the gold, saying "The plan for today's bout was simply to rely on my left hook, keep my distance and feint - I'd planned this with the coaches and the fight went well. It feels great to reach the semifinals - it raises my confidence. Just as I've executed all the bouts so far, I'll play well in the semifinals too. It's nice to confirm the medal, but my focus is all on the next bout and the plan for it. It's against France, but I aim to perform well and bring home the gold."
Bhoria's displacement of Panghal - who won gold at the 2018 Asian Games and the 2022 Commonwealth Games and silver at the 2019 World Championships - came under the newly-appointed High Performance Director Bernard Dunne, at a 12-day training camp where he outscored Panghal (731-682).
However, Deepak already had pedigree of his own: he won gold at the 2023 National Championships in his hometown of Hisar, Haryana, to add to his golds from 2021 and 2018 as well (when he burst onto the domestic stage as a 21-year-old). He'd made waves on the international stage in 2021, winning silver at the Strandja Memorial, defeating 2016 Rio Olympic gold medallist and 2019 World Champion, Shakhobidin Zoirov of Uzbekistan along the way. The orthodox boxer, who had to quit the sport as a child due to financial constraints and even once worked as a newspaper vendor to sustain himself, is rarely in awe of the big names, even defeating Tokyo Olympic bronze medallist, 2021 World Champion and #1 seed at these Worlds, Saken Bibossinov in the Ro32 (5-2 after a bout review).
"Coaches had told me to lure my opponent with the right punch before using my left hook to good effect. It worked as I connect a lot of left hooks to get points", said Deepak after that win. Despite being an orthodox boxer, an injury to his right arm in 2011 forced him to develop his weaker arm, with his left hook now one of his major strengths - which has served him well in these World Championships.
Road to SF:
Round-of-64: Deepak Kumar Bhoria 5-0 Luis Delgado of Ecuador
Round-of-16: Deepak Kumar Bhoria 5-0 Zhang Jiamao of China
Quarterfinal: Deepak Kumar Bhoria 5-0 Nurzhigit Diushebaev of Kyrgyzstan
India's previous medal winners at the men's World Championships include Vijender Singh (bronze, 2009), Vikas Krishan (bronze, 2011), Shiva Thapa (bronze, 2015), Gaurav Bidhuri (bronze, 2017), Panghal (silver, 2019), Kaushik (bronze, 2019) and Akash Kumar (bronze, 2021).