By Harihar Swarup
Teary eyes and a roar toward the camera— Nikhat Zareen went through the full wringer of emotions after a closely—fought gold medal match that saw her emerging as World Champion for the second straight year. It was the culmination of an arduous tournament in which she had to overcome as many as six challengers owing to her unseeded status.
Winning a back- to- back gold at the IBA Women’s World Championships was a feat achieved only by the legendary Mary Kom. At just 26 years, Nikhat is slowly filing those giant shoes. The crowd-favourite beat Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Tam 5.0 at a packed KD Jadhav Indoor Hall in New Delhi. But the unanimous decision was no reflection on how close the bout was.
“It’s a special day, a second World Championship gold, that too in a new weight category. Today’s bout was my toughest so far, facing an Asian champion. The next target is the Asian Games, so to win against her, in the first big championships since changing categories….. The strategy was to use all the energy I had left, despite a tough tournament and I threw everything at it,” said Nikhat said after the match.
Shortly after NIkhat’s bout, Lovlina Borgohain won a Contentious 5-2 decision against Australia’s Caitlin Parker to claim her first ever Women’s World boxing Championship gold medal. The middleweight Assam boxer was awarded the fight 3-2 in a split decision. She then got two points from the evaluator and the observer under IBA’s new bout review system.
These two wins capped a dream weekend for Indian boxer after the two gold medals.
It was a change in weight category from 52kg to 50kg , that has left Nikhat unseeded at these World Championships in her six gruelling, physically taxing bouts, she spent a cumulative 45 minutes ducking, weaving and charting a path over the toughest of seas to get her second World championship gold.
In all those bouts, Nikhat was rarely allowed to play her natural game. She needed to think on her feet, change strategy and innovate. A mid-range boxer, she has the ability to stay just behind the reach of her opponent, while being close enough to avoid an attack and then land a punch of her own. It’s that unique ability, mastered over years of practice with multiple international coaches, that has resulted in her becoming one of India’s top boxers.
“I think it’s because she’s got so much confidence in her own capabilities. She actually enjoys boxing. She actually enjoys the challenge of having that combat,” said John Warburton, the boxing head of Inspire Institute of sports and one of international coaches who worked with Nikhat recently.
‘The way she’s fighting, she’s making a statement. I can beat you in anyway I want to. I can beat way at long range, I can brawl with and beat you’, and that’s her mind set”. she reportedly said.
Nikhat’s boxing journey came into prominence when she won the gold medal at the 2011 Youth World Boxing Championships. The Nizamabad native has now added the World Championships medals as well as the 2022 Commonwealth to that initial spark. Her next stop: the Asian in Hansghou. And if the performance continues; the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
It is a target that has been part of her life since the day she won her Youth World Championship medal. (IPA Service)