Boxing: New selection process reaps rewards with record haul for India at worlds

Deepak Bhoria in action during his quarterfinal victory in the 51kg division of the 2023 Men's Boxing World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. IBA

Team India return from the 2023 men's World Boxing Championships with a record haul of three medals (all bronze) -- a performance that bodes well for the near future of men's boxing in the country. Deepak Bhoria, Nishant Dev, and Mohammed Hussamuddin won bronze with impressive performances through the competition. They are just the eighth, ninth, and tenth men to medal at a Worlds.

As the term 'record haul' would indicate, the takeaways from the tournament are mostly positive:

Validation of a new process

The newly appointed high-performance director of the team, Bernard Dunne, had come up with a new process where the boxers to represent India at the Worlds were selected based on sustained performances at the national camp and not just a one-off bout or past performance. This had been in place for the women's Worlds where India won a record four golds, but it was at the men's that the first high-profile casualty of this new process happened.

In the normal way of things, India would have been represented by reigning Asian Games and Commonwealth Games gold medalist (and Worlds silver medalist) Amit Panghal in the 51kg division, but in his place went Deepak Bhoria.

Bhoria had been waiting a long while for such a chance -- sidelined by Panghal after suffering injury in 2018 while being India's #1 flyweight boxer -- and he seized it. If ever a validation was needed that the tough decisions that can come about with the implementation of a new process is worth it, this was it.

He was assured throughout the tournament, adapting his tactics and boxing style to suit opponents, and pushing his semifinal opponent to the end before suffering a narrow 3-4 loss.

Mr. Reliable: Mohammed Hussamuddin

Asian Championships: bronze. Commonwealth Games: bronze (x2). Now, World Championships: bronze. Mohammed Hussamuddin -- son of the coach of two-time world champion Nikhat Zareen -- sealed his place as one of India's most reliable boxers this tournament.

He was superb throughout the tournament -- displaying an ability to dominate (he won the first three rounds 5-0) as well as holding his nerve when the going got tough (in a tight quarterfinal, which he won 4-3).

It was a shame, though, how his campaign ended. Hussamuddin had to withdraw from his semifinal bout after suffering a knee injury -- a decision likely made keeping in mind the upcoming Asian Games, an Olympics qualifier. He had suffered a similar fate at the 2022 Asian Championships, where a cut above his eye failed to heal in time for his semifinal necessitating his withdrawal against 2021 Worlds silver medallist Serik Temirzhanov of Kazakhstan.

It must have been a hard decision to take, but now he must focus on building on his achievements. Time now to convert those consistent bronzes to silvers and golds.

The inconsistency of Shiva Thapa

Going into the worlds, the squad was headlined by Shiva Thapa. The only previous Worlds medalist in the squad (bronze, 2015) and six-time Asian Championships medalist (including gold in 2013 and silver in the last edition, 2022), he was the superstar everyone looked up to.

But much like his two Commonwealth Games outings, Thapa made a quicker-than-expected exit from the Worlds. Having received a bye in the first round, the second-seeded Thapa lost 3-4 (split decision, after review) in the second. In a tight match (as the score indicates), Thapa lost after suffering a poor start and an uninspiring finish to the bout.

Now entering his eleventh year as a senior boxer for Team India, Thapa needs to find that elusive consistency soon... ahead of what could be his last Asian Games and Olympics.

Sachin's sharp learning curve

Sachin Siwach (2021 World Youth Champion) was one of five boxers under the age of 23 in the Indian squad -- one of whom went on to medal, Nishant.

For the other four boxers it has been a steep learning curve, none more than Sachin. He started with a comfortable 5-0 win before running into top-seed Makhmud Sabyrkhan in the pre-quarters. Sabyrkhan was too strong, too fast and altogether too much for Sachin as he was swept aside 5-0. If ever there was a 'welcome to the deep end' kind of bout for a junior-level champion, this was it. He can, though, only improve with such harsh lessons.

The silver lining in the semifinal losses

The two semifinals featuring Indian boxers that did happen were fantastic bouts. Deepak took European champion Benamma Billal all the way: after being outboxed in the first round, he fought back superbly in the second before a touch-and-go third went Billal's way. Nishant, meanwhile, stood toe-to-toe with the fearsome Asian champion Aslanbek Shymbergenov and pushed him all the way. The second round, especially, was an exhibition of the best of Nishant. He started a bit slowly against the aggression of Aslanbek but after weathering that tough start, he went on the offensive himself -- doing something nobody had done all tournament, pushing Aslanbek onto his backfoot and forcing him to adopt a counter-attacking approach. This fight too went to review (where Nishant lost 5-2), but it was another clear indication that the Indians were no pushovers at this stage.

Ahead of the Asian Games (where these boxers will face many of the same opponents), it's exactly the kind of boost they needed.