All eyes will be on six-time world champion Mary Kom as 72 Indian boxers vie for honours against 200 pugilists from 16 nations in the second edition of India Open beginning here Monday.
Asian Games champion Amit Panghal and World Championship bronze medallist Shiva Thapa will be among the other top Indian boxers in the tournament which will serve as a preparatory meet for the World Championships (an Olympic qualification event) from September 7-21 in Yekaterinburg (men’s) and from October 3-13 in Ulan Ude (women’s), both in Russia.
Having opted out of the Asian Championships last month in order to prepare for the World Championships, 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist Mary Kom will make her competitive debut at home in 51kg in the USD 70,000 five-day meet at the Karmabir Nabin Chandra Bordoloi Indoor Stadium here.
“Yes, of course, there are expectations from me. I feel more confident in 51kg after the last few months of rigorous training. It feels like a homecoming to come here (Guwahati) and I hope there will be tremendous support for all the Indian boxers,” said the star pugilist who had won gold in 48kg category at the first edition of India Open in 2018.
While Mary Kom will be India’s biggest medal hope yet again, Amit Panghal (52kg) will be looking to continue his dominance after winning the Asian Championships gold.
Assam’s Shiva Thapa (60kg), who created a record by winning medals in four consecutive Asian Championships, will be aiming to impress the home crowd and so will Ankushita Boro (64kg), a gold medallist at the 2017 World Youth Championship.
2017 World Boxing Championships bronze medallist Gaurav Bidhuri (56kg) will be another big medal hope from India.
It will be an emotional homecoming for Thapa who will look to make it special three years after being crowned the national champion here.
The Guwahati pugilist recently created history in Bangkok when he won a bronze at the Asian Championship that made him the first Indian male boxer to claim four consecutive medals at the continental meet.
“I am hungry to change the colour of the medal. am very excited to get a chance to play in my hometown,” said Thapa who will next switch to 63kg to earn a successive Olympic berth.
Thapa is among six Assamese boxers who will be seen in action in the tournament.
Keeping in mind the approved weight categories for Olympic qualification, some of the Indian pugilists have changed their weight categories including Asian Games gold medallist Panghal, who has changed his weight category from 49kg to 52kg.
“This will be a good platform for us to face top-notch boxers and gauge the competition as we gear up for the World Championships,” Panghal said.
Assam’s Bhagyabati Kachari too has made a similar change in weight category while Asian Championships bronze medallist Manisha Moun will be fighting it out in 57kg for the very first time.
Simranjit Kaur, a silver medallist at the continental tournament in 64kg, has switched to 60kg as well and will be competing with former world champion Sarita Devi, who added her eighth Asian medal this year.
After her stunning performance at the Asian Championships, where she became the first Indian to win a gold in 81kg, Pooja Rani has gone back to her original weight category of 75kg.
The top international boxers lineup includes Asian Games gold medallist Baturov Bobo, Asian Games champion Mirzakhalilov Mirazizbek, two-time World Championships medallist Jasurbek Latipov of Uzbekistan, Youth Olympic champion Brian Agustin Arregui of Argentina, world champion and reigning Asian Championships Josie Gabuco of Philippines.
“The India Open is a great opportunity for the Indian boxers. In the run-up to their preparations for the World Championships, they will be facing some of the top boxers including Asian Games and World champions,” said Ajay Singh, President of the Boxing Federation of India (BFI).
“BFI’s vision is to take boxing to every corner of the country. Staging the second edition of the India Open in Assam will give step in that direction and a chance to bring world-class boxers to the North-East region which has already contributed many boxing success stories for India and will inspire the next generation to take up the sport in a much bigger way,” he added.