Gujarat Giants staged a remarkable comeback, twice, after being 0-2 and then 2-3 to beat Punjab Panthers 4-3 in what turned out to be an epic Big Bout Indian Boxing League finale at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium Complex in Delhi on Saturday.
Darshana Doot (women’s 51kg) and Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Abdulmalik Khalakov (57kg) had put Panthers 2-0 up but the smart-thinking Ashish Kulheria (69kg) and captain Amit Panghal (52kg) hauled the Giants back on track in the pulsating contest.
However, 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 performance to take the contest into the final bout.
It boiled down to the 75kg clash between Giants’ Ashish Kumar and Panther’s Yashpal. And it was Ashish who triumphed, making use of his superior body weight. To his credit, Yashpal managed to stretch the bout into the third round.
A string of three losses did not deter the southpaw Darshana Doot when she stepped into the ring on Saturday night. She had been roped in when Panthers skipper MC Mary Kom faced a back problem. Right from the start, she showcased her eagerness 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 confident Khalakov, who had lost to Chirag in the league stage, came with a specific plan. He wasted no time in landing his punches, taking Chirag by surprise to make a strong impression on the judges in the opening round. The Indian then clawed back with counter-attacking tactics in the second round, forcing Khalakov to back-pedal in defence.
However, the young Uzbek star was ready with his own plan in the final round, cramping Chirag’s hooks and using a combination of jabs and upper cuts to complete a unanimous verdict in his favour. The manner in which 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 Ashish Kulheria’s win against the evergreen Manoj Kumar did not come as a surprise since the Panthers’ star was fighting his second strenuous bout inside 24 hours. Kulheria moved deftly through the bout as Manoj failed to find rhythm or space.
Sonia Lather beat Sarita Devi in an intense battle that was as much of the mind as of the gloved fists. In what was the best contest of the night, Sonia did well to gain the upperhand in the first round. She stayed in front even though the vastly experienced Sarita didn’t give up till the last moment.
With his team facing a do-or-die situation, Forrest made light of a bleeding cut on his temple early in his fight with southpaw Naveen to eke out a vital 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 a comfortable winner in the end.