Last week saw Tokyo-bound boxer Manish Kaushik (63 kg) win gold in his first competitive outing in over a year at the Boxam International Tournament in Castellon, Spain.
He defeated Denmark's Nikolai Terteryan in a split decision in the final. The Indian had earlier beaten world number four Kazakh Safiullin Zakir in the second round.
The fact that he was returning from a right bicep injury, sustained during his win over CWG champion Harrison Garside of Australia while securing an Olympic quota, makes the win more special.
“Initially, I thought it was just swelling and played the bout against Garside with it as it was my chance to qualify for the Olympics. Under the lockdown, I could only do shadow boxing and fitness drills at home and when the swelling and pain did not subside, I informed the coaches and the bicep tear was diagnosed,” said Kaushik to Indian Express.
He had to go under the knife and after the surgery, he started his rehab at the Army Sports Institute in Pune.
“Like any athlete, I faced some fear of operation and whether I will be able to make a comeback or not. Dr Pardiwala made sure that he had regular sessions with me and my physio Aalaap would regularly update him and coaches about the rehab process."
His weight increased to 75 kg during the recovery process and his coach Jai Singh Patil worked on his diet once he started training in September.
Post-rehab, when he joined the national camp coach CA Kuttappa and high-performance director Santiago Nieva made him spar with lower weight boxers to regain his agility in the ring. Gradually, he went on to fight against heavier category boxers to get in the groove.
However, he was unable to give his 100 per cent in the ring due to a mental block. Overcoming it was a challenge.
“The injury meant that I had a mental block in terms of international competition as well as fear of injuring the bicep again initially,” admitted the 25-year-old.
“But once the coaches and I realised that I was playing without the fear, it was about executing the plans in Spain.”
Winning against Zakir in a comeback tournament is no mean feat and Nieva believes if the 25-year-old can add a few more tricks to his sleeve then he would be unstoppable.
"Manish reminded me of his old self in Spain and I am glad about his progress. The win against Kazakh boxer, who was trying to impose himself, showed that Manish’s movement and long-distance punches were back to best. In the past, Manish has faced some problem in facing counter punch boxers like himself and the Danish boxer was of the same. But Manish matched him tactically and his combinations of punches helped him. - India's high performance director Santiago Nieva
"A boxer like (Andy) Cruz is a counter puncher boxer with more agility in the ring and Manish did match him in world championships. He needs to add some more variations to have success against boxers like Cruz or (Hovhannes) Bachkov and also to land more punches when they are in close range. The main challenge is to lead them to catch Manish instead of Manish catching them,” expressed Nieva.