India’s newly-crowned boxing world champion Nikhat Zareen’s journey has been fraught with not just the usual challenges a woman faces taking up sport in the country. She also had to fight the boxing establishment as well, overcoming challenges and politics, to earn the right to represent the country, and then reach the pinnacle with a gold at the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in Istanbul on Thursday. The journey, said the champion, hardened her enough for the ring and beyond, as she adopted a combative approach where "whatever happens I have to fight and give my best."
Zareen dominated Thailand's Jitpong Jutamas on Thursday, winning by a unanimous 5-0 verdict to clinch the flyweight (52kg) gold at the Worlds. With the medal, she has well and truly come out of the shadows of MC Mary Kom, whose rivalry with Zareen, and the controversial episodes when the two fought or tried to fight each other, had left a bitter taste. The victory for Zareen is vindication of what she always believed. That she had it in her to be on top of the world.
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"These two years, I focused on my game only and whatever the weaknesses were there in my game, I tried to improve," Zareen told reporters after her bout.
"I worked on my strong points and on where I lacked in my game. I worked on the aspects where I needed to work and made myself strong. "All those hurdles which I have faced in my career have made me strong. I have become mentally strong after all these and my thought process is that whatever happens, I have to fight and give my best," she added.
Two years back, Zareen had written to the then Union sports minister Kiren Rijiju asking for a "fair trial" for the Olympic Qualifiers. Her attempt was to gain a bout against Mary Kom with the Olympic spot at stake. Zareen was trolled on social media for the letter while Mary Kom had caustically asked "Who Nikhat Zareen?"
Zareen eventually lost the bout to Mary, though narrowly.
The 2011 junior world champion also had to overcome a career-threatening shoulder injury, which kept her out of the ring for a year and saw her miss all the big-ticket events like the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the World Championships in 2018.
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"In 2017, I dislocated my shoulder, I had to go under surgery and then I didn't take part in any competition for a year. I came back in 2018 but I wasn't at my peak so I missed the big tournaments CWG, Asiad and World Championships.
"But I didn't give up and after the comeback in 2019 haven't looked back. I have taken all competitions as an opportunity and I believed in myself. Because of that, here I'm today," she added.
Zareen will now prepare for the Commonwealth Games trial for which she will have to drop her weight and come down to 50kg.
There will be a bit of two and fro for Zareen as far as weight divisions are concerned though. The 25-year-old from Telangana will either have to climb up to 54kg or come down to 50kg for Paris 2024.
"It's difficult to change a weight category whether you drop down to a weight division or move up to a weight division,” she said.
"It’s more difficult when one moves from a lower weight to a higher weight as you are at a disadvantage with the other boxers being a bit heavy as they come in that weight by dropping their body weight. So one faces more strong boxers.
"I guess if I play in the 50kg category, it will not make much of a difference. Normally my weight remains 51.51.5 kg so my body will work well at 50kg. So for some time, I will continue in the 50kg weight division," added Zareen.
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