Rio de Janeiro: Former Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Manoj Kumar (64kg) stunned ex-Olympic bronze-medallist Evaldas Petrauskas in a fiercely-contested opening bout to enter the pre-quarterfinals of the Rio Games here.
Manoj prevailed 2-1 in the hard-fought battle in which he had to hold his ground against the intense aggression displayed by Lithuanian Petrauskas in all three rounds. A former Asian bronze-medallist, Manoj will next be up against fifth seed Uzbek Fazliddin Gaibnazarov in the pre-quarters scheduled on Sunday.
Evenly-matched on pace and agility, the two boxers were quite distinct in their attacking approach. While Petrauskas, the London Olympics bronze winner in lightweight 60kg division, aggressively tried to engage the Indian from close range, Manoj preferred to back-peddle and hit from a distance.
At the end of the opening three minutes, it was Manoj’s tactics that found favour with the judges, who awarded the first round to the former Commonwealth Games gold-medallist on a split decision. In the second round too, Petrauskas was the more aggressive of the two but Manoj managed to stave off the challenge by sticking to his strategy of keeping a distance and hitting occasional uppercuts to the Lithuanian’s body.
None of the boxers were willing to make any change to their strategy in the final three minutes as well although the desperate attacks launched by Petrauskas did unnerve Manoj to an extent. The pumped up effort secured Petrauskas the final round but it was not enough to turn the bout in his favour as Manoj was adjudged the winner.
Manoj joined 7th seed Vikas Krishan (75kg) as the second Indian in the pre-quarters. Tomorrow, Shiva Thapa will open his campaign in the bantamweight (56kg) category.