Moments into her opening bout at the 2023 IBA Women’s World Championships, Lovlina Borgohain charged at her opponent, Mexico’s Vanessa Ortiz, and landed a big right hook to the face. That was, perhaps, the one and only effective aggressive move she executed, managing the rest of the 5-0 unanimous win by staying on the defensive.
This time last year, Lovlina found out that the 70kg category in which she won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics is scrapped for Paris 2024. She chose to gain weight to go up to the 75kg category, as opposed to cutting weight to make it to 66kg. The choice, given her tall frame, made sense, and the ease with which she got past Ortiz to reach the quarterfinals, without too many aggressive moves, is vindication of that choice.
Taller boxers often enjoy greater reach and ease of movement against shorter counterparts, and there can be hardly a bigger mismatch than between Lovlina and Ortiz. Sensing that, Lovlina stayed strong on her backfoot, and conservative in attack, absorbing pressure from Ortiz and waiting for the right opportunity to string clean jabs.
Lovlina Borgohain in action against Vanessa Ortiz.
— Express Sports (@IExpressSports) March 20, 2023
The strategy was effective, but Lovlina was not fully satisfied with the performance. “The opponent was shorter than me so it was a strategy (to be defensive),” she told the media. “It was my first bout today so I am still getting into a rhythm. I had planned other things but could not do it all.”
“I am not very happy with this performance. I think I can be better. The score was 5-0 but I expect better of myself.”
Ortiz would start both the second and third rounds on the front foot, charging early and even landing a few clean hits. But Lovlina’s defence on her backfoot held throughout, and allowed her to wait for the opportunity to daze her opponents with a strong right hand to the temple.
This is not the first test for Lovlina in her new weight category, having won the gold medal at the Asian Championships last year. But she’s still getting used to maintaining and competing in the higher weight. “It is a bit challenging because the other boxers are used to it and it’s my first world championships (in 75kg),” she said. “I’ll need a little more time.”
She may have managed with clever tactics as opposed to all-out aggression, but as far as first tests go, Lovlina has come out unscathed. Whether that will be enough to prevail at a world championship, ahead of an Olympic year, remains to be seen.
Earlier in the day, Sakshi Chaudhary also reached the quarterfinals of the 52kg category by defeating Kazakhstan’s Zhazira Urakbayeva in a 5-0 unanimous result.
Pawar bows out
Preeti Sai Pawar came into the pre-quarters of the world championships relieved, after a bout-reviewed 4-3 win over Romania’s Perijoc Lacramioara. The result on Monday did not go in her favour, as she came out on the losing side of a bout-reviewed 3-4 contest against Thailand’s Jutamas Jitpong.
The contest was not quite the cagey, contained affair that Lovlina would see out later, but instead, a more even match-up full of smart tactics and aggressive moves.
Jitpong had faced Nikhat Zareen in last year’s 52kg gold medal match – the second successive 2022 silver medallist Pawar had to face this week – and has made a step up to qualify for the 54kg Olympic weight category. The difference in speed, which ultimately gave Jitpong the edge, was evident from the start.
Buoyed by vocal home support, Pawar got off to a strong start, and won the first round 4-1 by making a few strong left hooks and showing aggression, but Jitpong was hardly fazed, moving her opponent around the ring and tiring her out, dodging and counterpunching, and using her anticipation to nullify the one-two sequence that Preeti used so effectively in her previous bout.
Jitpong would go on to win the next two rounds 3-2, playing the waiting game, leaving Preeti tired, flat-footed and unable to land any clean punches, and also seizing the moment to attack. Despite the final decision going to a bout review, Jitpong was jubilant in the ring, celebrating before the result was announced. At times, elite athletes just know. It may take a bit more work for Preeti to get to that elite level.