NEW DELHI — Five-time world champion M.C. Mary Kom spearheaded the Indian contingent, with 18 of them — including 10 men and eight women — entering the finals of their respective categories at the India Open International boxing tournament at the Thyagraj Indoor stadium here Jan. 31.
Running a distant second was classy Uzbekistan, who saw all their seven boxers sailing through smoothly from the semi-finals.
World boxing giants Cuba, who had four in the semi-finals, saw three of them take their places in the title round; only Toirac Yohandi Ortega was ousted in the superheavyweight final, losing 0-5 to the towering Uzbek Bakhodir Jalolov.
India's charge into the final was led by none other than Mary, Sarita Devi and Pinki Rani in the women's session while Manish Kaushik and Dinesh, who upset Manoj Kumar, led the men's charge.
Shiva Thapa fell by the wayside in the men's semi-finals. Hindered by a slight wrist injury, he failed to unravel Manish, just like he couldn't during the recently-held nationals.
Southpaw Manish looked in fine fettle and used his speed and power to win 5-0 in the lightweight category.
"I had no pressure on me so I fought freely. I instigated him and then went on the attack," he said after his victory.
Mary suffered some early hiccups in the opening round against her taller and stronger Mongolian opponent Altansetseg Lutsaikhan in the light-fly category. She promptly changed her strategy in the second to turn the bout on its head.
She began by fighting from close quarters only to realize that it wasn't a good tactic against the aggressive Mongolian, who cleverly used her height, reach and power to her advantage.
In the next rounds, the Manipuri pugilist opted to maintain a safe distance, before launching into short-burst attacks.
That was enough to throw the Mongolian out of her rhythm and Mary piled on the points for a 4-1 victory.
Mary will take on Josie Gabuco, an impressive all-round boxer from the Philippines, in the final.
Sarita overcame her Indian counterpart Priyanka Choudhary 4-1 in the light-weight category while Thai girl Chuthamat Raksat found Pinki Rani too hot to handle, going down 0-5 in the flyweight division.
Sarita next meets the strong and aggressive Finnish woman Potkonan Mira Marjut, who more than packs a punch, in the final while Pinki takes on Ochirbat Jargalan of Mongolia.