Wildcard entrant Gaurav Bidhuri on Tuesday became only the fourth Indian boxer ever to secure himself a medal in the World Championships after he defeated Tunisia’s Bilel Mhamdi to enter the semifinals of the mega-event here.
Gaurav prevailed in a split decision in the bantamweight (56kg) quarterfinal contest to make the last-four stage, becoming the second from the country to do so in his debut world championship. The only other Indian to have achieved the feat was Vikas Krishan, in the 2011 edition.
“It is so so surreal. I was a wildcard entry and now I am a medallist. Everything has happened so quickly for me, my brain will take some time to process all this,” Gaurav told PTI after his triumph.
Besides Vikas, Vijender Singh (2009) and Shiva Thapa (2015) have been the country’s only other medallists at the marquee event of the sport. But they have all settled for bronze medals and it remains to be seen if Gaurav can better them on that.
“I am going to create bigger history now by winning a better medal than bronze. I have been dealing with a back problem for the last eight months, (but) somehow kept going and finally I have been rewarded, it is just so overwhelming right now,” said the boxer, who will face American Duke Ragan in the semifinals after Wednesday’s rest day.
But there was slight disappointment as well for the contingent when Amit Phangal (49kg), another impressive debutant in the event, bowed out in the quarterfinal stage. The Asian Championships bronze-medallist went down to Olympic champion and second seed Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan in an unanimous verdict, ending what has been a fine campaign for the 21-year-old.
Gaurav, who has been battling a back niggle for the last eight months, took the ring next for India and was on the offensive from the word go.
He had his opponent on the ropes on more than one occasion with his combination punches and also left him with a cut on his forehead in the opening round. It went from bad to worse for Mhamdi after he ended up getting a warning for failing to keep his head up in the second round.
The Tunisian, despite his bloodied face, upped the ante in the final three minutes and delivered some good right hooks but Gaurav had done enough by then to seal the issue in his favour.
It has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride for Gaurav, who hadn’t even qualified for the tournament to start with. Ousted in the Asian Championships quarterfinal stage, Gaurav had also gone on to lose the box-off for a world championship spot.
It was a stroke of good luck that he ended up being handed the wildcard that was originally meant for Bhutan. The Asian Boxing Confederation (ASBC) gave the lucky entry to Gaurav after Bhutan declined the offer.
The 24-year-old was with the rest of the Indian team on a training-cum-competition trip to France and Czech Republic when he got the news and could hardly believe his luck at that time. On Tuesday, he was expectedly overwhelmed at how his fortunes took a turn for the best in a matter of few weeks.
The Delhi-boxer went on to win a gold medal at the Czech tourney but was still a long way off from being considered a top medal contender at the world meet.
The spotlight was firmly on the likes of Shiva, Vikas and Manoj Kumar—the more accomplished and experienced trio.
However, their ouster for varied reasons brought him into focus, especially after the pre-quarterfinal win over Ukraine’s Mykola Butsenko, a two-time European Championships’ silver-medallist and 2013 world championship bronze-winner.