No Americans or Brits, a weakened field – all took a backseat when sixty seconds into her fight, India’s Preeti Sai Pawar was whacked in the face with a vicious right cross. The monster punch rocked her well and good and she dropped a couple of steps back in a daze. The provider of the punch was Romanian boxer Perijoc Lacramioara, the 2022 World Boxing Championship silver medallist in the same category. This was not going to be a cakewalk.
And yet, Pawar, punched the odds out of the ring to win her bout against her seasoned opponent 4-3 at the Women’s World Boxing Championship in New Delhi on Saturday.
Pawar had enjoyed a breezy entry into her Round of 32 contest after having earned a referee stoppage in her previous bout. Against the battle tested Romanian, it would be anything but easy. Pawar, a left-handed boxer, against Lacramioara and her orthodox stance.
Immediately after that initial shock, she went to work. A straight one-two is a punch that is essentially the bread and butter of most Indian boxers at these World Championships and the Haryana boxer landed a clean, straight left on the Romanian’s face after Lacramioara had moved away from a lead hand jab. But despite the punch, the Romanian continued to be aggressive at close quarters, ducking her head and letting her hands fly. Her exit out of those attacks would also end in a left hook landing clean on Pawar’s temple. It would seem that that aggressiveness would lend Lacramioara the first round, but three out of five judges thought differently as Pawar led 3-2 after the first round.
The second round started in similar ways with Pawar unable to gauge the range at which she needed to unload. Engaging closer than required, her punches were off the mark, whereas Lacramioara landed her crosses forcefully at will during the exchanges. Soon, the Indian would change her strategy and start to stay out of those close exchanges and prefer to box out of reach. The realisation came a round and a half late but nevertheless started to bear its fruit as Lacramioara’s attacks were easier to deal with at a further range. But the judges once again went the opposite direction to the flow of the fight and awarded the round 2-3 to Lacramioara.
Having started boxing at the age of 14, Pawar was persuaded by her uncle to take up the sport. Soon, the Khelo India Games came calling, then the Youth Asian Championship happened and finally the senior Asian Championships rolled in – and she took medals in all those events. A senior World Championship appearance in an Olympic weight category was awarded for her progress. And now she found herself on equal footing on the judges’ scorecard against the 2022 World Championship silver medallist.
At the start of the third, it was clear that Pawar had learned from the first round. The approach was to wait for her opponent to send for a right cross. Once the cross was out of the way, the opening to land a quick left jab appeared. It would be the shot that would possibly win her the fight as all the judges scored the round in her favour for a 5-0 result.
That last round won her the bout by the way of a 3-2 scoreline, one that was immediately reviewed. The review showed that the evaluator of the bout scored it in favour of Lacramioara but the observer scored it in favour of Pawar. The scoreline remained 4-3 in favour of the Indian, who visibly looked relieved at the decision landing on her doorstep as the referee raised her hand.
World Championships should be an iron test and Pawar will face hers next when she faces Thai World Championship silver medallist Jutamas Jitpong in the Round-of-16. Jitpong had lost in the 2022 World Championship gold medal match to Nikhat Zareen in the 51 kg category and is making the step up to the 54 kg weight Olympic weight category.
Two other boxers from India won their bouts on the third day of the Women’s Boxing World Championship. In the 48 kg category Nitu Ghangas, who had recently won the Commonwealth Games gold medal, needed a few seconds in the first round to punch South Korean boxer Kang Do-Yeon. Later in the day, Manju Bamboriya won her bout against New Zealand’s Cara Wharerau in a unanimous 5-0 decision in the 66 kg weight category, a Paris Olympic division. She next goes up against Navbhakor Khamidova of Uzbekistan, the top seed in her weight division.