Wildcard entrant Gaurav Bidhuri became only the fourth Indian boxer to secure himself a World Championships medal after he defeated Tunisia’s Bilel Mhamdi to enter the semifinals at the mega-event here.
Gaurav is the only Indian remaining in fray now after Amit Phangal (49kg) and Kavinder Bisht (56kg) bowed out following quarterfinal losses.
Gaurav prevailed in a split decision in the bantamweight (56kg) quarterfinal to make the last-four stage, becoming the second from the country to do so in his debut World Championships. 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 said after his victory.
Besides Vikas, Vijender Singh (2009) and Shiva Thapa (2015) have been the country’s only other medallists at the marquee event. 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, 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 tomorrow’s rest day.
But there was slight disappointment as well for the Indian contingent when Amit, another impressive debutant in the event, lost in the quarterfinals.
The Asian Championships bronze-medallist went down to Olympic champion and second seed Hasanboy Dusmatov of Uzbekistan in a unanimous verdict, ending what has been a fine campaign for the 21-year-old.
Kavinder also bowed out of the event after losing a unanimous verdict to South Korea’s Inkyu Kim.
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 roller coaster ride for Gaurav, who hadn’t even qualified for the tournament to start with.
Ousted in the Asian Championships quarterfinals, Gaurav had also gone on to lose the box-off for a World Championships 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.
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 Championships bronze-winner.