The Asian Boxing Championship has been shifted from New Delhi to Dubai keeping in mind the rising Coronavirus cases in the national capital. But that hardly matters for Manish Kaushik who has been in a rich vein of form since returning to the ring after a lengthy injury lay off.
"The target remains the same, to win gold in Asia and make myself a strong contender for the Olympics," stated a resolute Kaushik during a chat with olympics.com.
At the Boxam International Tournament in Spain, the light-welterweight boxer was the only one to win gold. And his road to the final was not an easy one. Before defeating Denmark’s Teteryan Nikolai by a 3:2 split decision he had got the better of Safiullin Zakir, then world number four.
"He (Zakir) is a top boxer. It was a wonderful experience. This was my first competition after the qualifiers and to get gold and beat Zakir was fantastic. There was a lot of pressure. I was anxious to know how my body would react after the injury.
"I had followed him closely. He plays with an open guard. So I had to make the most of it. I raced onto a lead and then he got disturbed," he stated.
His coach Jai Singh Patil has been a pillar of strength. To overcome a bicep tear and win an international tournament is no mean feat and Kaushik credits his coach for the success. At the Army Sports Institute in Pune, he underwent rehab and gradually returned to training in September and started to punch against a Swiss ball before sparring against lower-weight boxers. Once he regained his confidence and fitness he would go on to fight against an opponent of the same weight category.
"Jai Singh Patil has helped me a lot. I watch a lot of videos of my opponents to analyze them. It helps me to know them better and predict what they can do during a match. I am working on my defense as I think it would make me more complete."
With nine indian boxers having made the cut for the Tokyo Olympics, Kaushik feels that training abroad and roping in high-performance director Santiago Nieva has made the difference for the country's pugilists.
"Previously, from each weight category, there would have been only one boxer who would be allowed to go abroad to train or play competition. But that has changed. The second, third, and sometimes even fourth-ranked boxers would also be sent abroad to train. That helped us a lot.
"Then foreign coaches started coming to India which helped increase our level. As the level developed over here, we started winning competitions abroad as well. Then good tournaments were being hosted in India. That was also a major motivation, to play and win in front of our own crowd," he opined.
Hailing from Bhiwani, it is no surprise that the boxer idolises Vijender Singh who won Bronze at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. However, he is taking inspiration from two legends of the sport to finish on the podium in Tokyo.
"Vijender is a clean boxer. Although our style is different I like his approach very much. Whereas I try to emulate Muhammad Ali's footwork and Mike Tyson's power. But obviously, you can't compare, they are legends of the game," he smiled.
Kaushik is currently ranked fifth in the world and second in Asia behind Russia's Gabil Mamedov in the 63kg weight category. In Dubai, if there's no upset he should finish on the podium.
However, to beat the likes of Andy Cruz of Cuba, Sofiane Oumiha of France he needs to up his ante. It remains to be seen whether following Ali and Tyson's footprints helps him win a medal at the grandest stage on the planet.