Indian boxer Amit Panghal (52kg) was knocked out of the Tokyo Olympics with a 1-4 loss to Rio Games silver medallist Yuberjen Martinez in the pre-quarterfinals of the men's flyweight (52kg) category on Saturday.
The World No. 1 Indian, the top seed in his debut Olympic Games, had received an opening-round bye. One of India's strongest medal contenders, Panghal was put under pressure by the sprightly Colombian in the opening round itself but the pre-bout favourite made a faster start than he usually does, ensuring he connected better to claim the first three minutes 4-1.
"They have sparred with each other. In some of them Amit was better than today but in others, it was similar to what happened today. It wasn't a total surprise because we had seen that this guy is very dangerous," Indian Boxing's High Performance Director Santiago Nieva said after the bout.
Martinez's pace should have set alarm bells ringing in the Indian corner despite Panghal bagging the first round because the Pan-American champion upped the ante in the second round, working relentlessly on Panghal's body with his uppercuts.
Panghal found it tough to respond and Martinez's persistence brought him level with the top star.
"We knew what to expect but our hope was that Amit would stand up better in the last two rounds," Nieva added.
Martinez made sure that there was no letup in the intensity in the final three minutes as well, leaving Panghal on the defensive for the most part.
"He didn't have the strength to move, so he stayed inside. Then (eventually) he didn't have the strength to respond also and he became passive. There the Colombian scored a lot of points," Nieva said.
"Against no other opponent, I have seen Amit so tired. It's not just him, in the Italy camp we also had Deepak, who is also a world-class boxer, and he also could not stop him. We were facing a very high-calibre boxer," he added, referring to Asian silver medallist Deepak Kumar, who was there with the Olympic-bound group for sparring.
Despite this loss, the 25-year-old Panghal remains one of the best-performing Indian boxers in recent times, having secured a gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games, followed by an unparalleled silver medal at the World Championships in 2019. The diminutive army man is also a three-time Asian medallist, securing a medal every time he has been at the continental showpiece.
This is, in fact, the first major setback Panghal has endured since he first burst onto the scene in 2017.
Martinez won the light flyweight silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and will turn professional after the Tokyo Games. "This is a big step for me in my aim to win the gold medal. He was the top seed and a great competitor, a fantastic fighter, but I was very well-prepared for this fight," Martinez said after the bout.
"I am in the quarterfinals now but I know I will have to be at my best if I want the gold medal. That is what I am here for," he added. His parents, who follow the pacifism-supporting Anglican church, were against him taking up the sport but eventually came around to support his ambitions.
On Friday, Lovlina Borgohain assured India of its first boxing medal, and second overall, at the Tokyo Games after she won her women's welterweight quarterfinals against Chen Nien-Chin of Chinese Taipei. Lovlina, the current World No. 3, will win at least bronze and will take on Turkey's Busenaz Surmeneli, the reigning World Champion and current World No. 1, in the semifinals on August 4 for a chance to box for gold.