Birmingham: Recently-crowned world champion Nikhat Zareen will launch her maiden campaign in the Commonwealth Games boxing event when she takes on Helena Ismael Bagao of Mozambique in the women’s 48-50kg light flyweight category here on Sunday.
The 26-year-old Nikhat has got an easy draw into the quarterfinals as she will face another lower-ranked boxer in Helen Jones of Wales if she manages to get past the Mozambique pugilist.
Nikhat is in superb form as she had punched her way to the World Championships title in May this year, winning the gold medal in the 52kg category in Istanbul by beating Thailand’s Jitpong Jutamas in the fly-weight final.
With this win, she became only the fifth Indian woman boxer to win a gold medal in the World Championships, joining MC Mary Kom, Laishram Sarita Devi, Jenny R. L., and Lekha K. C. She also became only the second Indian boxer to win a World Championships gold medal outside India after Mary Kom, who did it four times out of her six gold medals.
This year, Nikhat also won the gold medal in the prestigious Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria defeating three-time European Championship medallist Teliana Rob of Ukraine in the final. This win and her triumph in the World Championships established Nikhat as the best pound-for-pound boxer in her weight category. Winning the Commonwealth Games gold will further enhance the reputation of Nikhat, who had for years struggled to make a mark in weight categories dominated by the legendary Mary Kom.
Having come out of Mary Kom’s shadow by winning the gold medal in Istanbul, Nikhat has another chance now to further establish her supremacy as Mary Kom had to pull out of the trials because of an injury.
With age too working against Mary Kom, Nikhat has a chance now to bag a gold medal in Birmingham 2022 and establish herself as India’s best boxer in the 50-52kg weight division. She had to lose a couple of kilograms for the Commonwealth Games and will again have to gain some weight for the Asian Games in 2023 and the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Winning the gold medal in Birmingham 2022 will certainly boost her morale ahead of the tougher challenges at next year’s Asian Games and the subsequent Olympics in the French capital.
Nikhat Zareen’s road to further glory starts on Sunday with the women’s 50kg division in the Commonwealth Games. The pugilist from Osmanabad in Telangana needs to grab her opportunities with both hands and establish her authority on the field to keep her on course to emulate Mary Kom.