Nikhat is a fighter, she will keep fighting: Boxer's father Jameel Ahmed after World C'ship win
With family in attendance and a packed crowd chanting her name at the top of their voice, every bit of the energy drained over the last 10 days was worth it for Nikhat Zareen.
New Delhi: When Nikhat Zareen packed her final punch in front of a houseful Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium here to be crowned the Women's World Boxing Champion for a second time, her mind raced back to the 2018 World Championships held at the same venue.
It was just five years back that Nikhat Zareen traveled to New Delhi to witness the best pugilists in the world fight it out from the sidelines. From occupying those vacant seats at the IG Indoor Stadium then to winning a second straight World Championships, Nikhat has endured a tough road to glory.
"When we came here from Patiala and as soon as I entered the IG Stadium, there were flashbacks of 2018. I was not a part of the Indian team back then and here came as a spectator to watch the bouts and spar with all the boxers to gain experience. But today, I am delighted as I am not only a part of the Indian team but have also won a medal," Nikhat said.
"Nikhat is a fighter"
Despite being the reigning World Champion in the 52 kg category, Nikhat's second world title, on Sunday, didn't come easy.
Having cut down her weight to fit in the 50kg with the 2024 Paris Olympics in mind, Nikhat was left unseeded in the 2023 Women's World Championships. This meant that she had to fight six bouts in a span of ten days en route to the title.
But, Nikhat was unfazed throughout.
"Draws are very unpredictable. Seeding does not matter, my draw is good and I am happy with it," she had said early in the tournament.
Apart from a tough road, Nikhat had the pressure of expectations. Being the current poster girl of Indian boxing, the expectations to win a second-straight world title in front of the home crowd were enormous.
Having started the tournament with a dominant win, Nikhat was pitted against the top seed Roumaysa Boualam in the round of 32. She managed to win to advance but was drained.
The tiredness was on display during her pre-quarter bout against Patricia Alvarez, but she sailed through. Later in what was possibly her toughest bout, Nikhat beat Thailand's Raksat Chutamat by the barest of margins in the quarterfinals.
If these energy-snapping bouts were not enough, Nikhat was up against the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic medallist Ingrit Valencia in the semifinals. Up against a technically strong boxer, the Indian took her game a notch higher and stormed into the final.
"I perform better when I am against technically strong boxers as I used my knowledge of the game to full use," said Nikhat after her semi-final win.
But despite all that was going around, she battled fatigue and a bruised lip to climb to the top of the world.
And with her family in attendance and a packed crowd chanting "Nikhat, Nikhat" at the top of their voice, every bit of the energy drained over the last week and a half was worth it.
"I have said this before and I will say this again, she is a fighter and she will keep fighting. Her hunger to win is what keeps her going and puts her one notch above her competitor," said Nikhat's father Jameel Ahmed to The Bridge after his daughter's win.
"Asian Games is near and with the momentum she has, I am pretty sure she will end up winning gold there too and qualify for the Paris Olympics," the father added further.
Nikhat Zareen - The fighter who believes in positivity
One might feel Nikhat Zareen's journey in the World Championships was tough, but her road to establishing herself in the Indian boxing circuit was tougher.
It was not long back when she fought the legendary Mary Kom for a berth at Tokyo Olympics after a huge drama. And when she lost the bout, nobody was kind to her - neither Mary nor the fans.
But Nikhat did not take long to prove everyone wrong. She has been unbeaten at the international level since last year. Her winning run started with a gold at the 2022 Standja Memorial and the 26-year-old has since won two world titles to go with a Commonwealth Games gold.
Nikhat believes in the power of positive thinking and has integrated it into her daily life. She feels it has helped her grow on and off the ring.
"Everyone has a success mantra. I visualize things. I like to think positively. I have written 'champion' and drew a gold medal on a sticky note and pasted it on my bed. Every day when I wake up I see that, when I go to sleep I see that. It motivates me to do well. I did that for the last world championships, the CWG, and this time too," Nikhat quipped after her win.
A day after the 2020 Tokyo Olympics concluded, Nikhat put up a post on Instagram in which she is staring at a digital board reading "1082 days, 18 hours, 11 minutes, 44 seconds."
The caption to the post read "The road to Paris Olympics begins. One aim: gold medal."
It has been 615 days since that post and only 487 remain to the 2024 Paris Games. A look back at the past 615 days and it is certain that Nikhat Zareen is on the right track.