Postponed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Asian Games has been a stepping stone for many young athletes to announce their arrival in the big league.
Indian boxing’s poster girl Nikhat Zareen on Sunday wrote a new script as she became only the second Indian female to have two World Championships gold medals to her name.
Fighting before the vociferous partisan crowd at IG Indoor stadium in this Rs 20 crore event Nikhat Zareen capped off an outstanding campaign at the Mahindra IBA Women’s World Boxing Championship with a stunning victory in the finals against the two-time Asian champion Nguyen Thi Tam of Vietnam and secured a thumping 5-0 win.
Living up to her name, the tenacious Nikhat (50kg) oozed class in her rampant display against Nguyen Thi Tam and won the bout by a unanimous verdict with the scores from the five judges reading: 28-27, 28-27, 28-27, 29-26 and 28-27.
The Indian’s awesome performance saw her prevail in the first round with a 5-0 scoreline before Nguyen bounced back in the second round with a 3-2 scoreline to set up a grand slam finish.
The bout had a tentative start with both boxers not able to land clean punches. The Vietnamese pugilist was given a yellow card in the opening round before Nikhat was awarded the round by all five judges.
The Indian too was shown a yellow in the second iteration but maintained an upper hand. Two left-handed punches from Nikhat were the highlight of the second round which she won by a split verdict.
In the final round, both Nikhat and Nguyen were given a standing count but the Indian secured the world title with a win on points.
With this victory, Nikhat became only the second Indian female pugilist to win two golds at the World Championships alongside the boxing legend Mary Kom who has claimed a record six gold medals in the competition.
“I am extremely delighted to become World Champion for the second time, especially in a different category. Today’s bout was my toughest in the entire tournament and since this was the last match of the tournament I wanted to utilize my energy completely and leave everything in the ring. It was a rollercoaster of a bout with both of us getting warnings as well as eight counts and it was very close. My strategy in the last round was to go all out and attack and I felt very happy when my hand was lifted as the winner. This medal is for India and for everyone who has supported us throughout the tournament,” said Nikhat after her bout.
Despite shifting to light flyweight from flyweight for this year’s tournament, the 26-year-old pugilist from Telangana adjusted extremely well to her new weight category and performed at the highest of levels throughout the tournament. She notably toppled the top seed and the reigning African champ Roumaysa Boualam of Algeria, two-time World Championships bronze medallist Chuthamat Raksat of Thailand and the Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia of Colombia.
Commenting on Nikhat’s victory, Ajay Singh, President of the Boxing Federation of India, said, “Congratulations to Nikhat on becoming the World Champion for a second year in a row. I am sure that she will be a shining example for young girls all around the country to win gold medals for the country. She is going to be a champion for years to come and we will see an Olympics medal from here in 2024 for sure.”
Following Nikhat’s triumph, India now have a total of three golds in their kitty at the tournament after the 2022 Commonwealth Games medallist Nitu Ghanghas (48kg) and three-time Asian medallist Saweety Boora (81kg) also won gold for the hosts on Saturday.
In the 54kg category, Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Huang Hsiao-Wen of Chinese Taipei defeated Arias Castaneda Yeni Marcela of Colombia with a 5-0 scoreline and secured her second World Championships gold.
With a massive prize pool of Rs 20 crore, the prestigious event witnessed the participation of 324 boxers, including several Olympic medallists, from 65 countries fighting for the titles in the 12 weight categories.