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Boxing

'Felt bad last time': World Champion Nikhat Zareen lives her dreams

Women's World Boxing Championships: As Nikhat Zareen prepares to defend her world champion title at home, she remembers how she was left on the sidelines the last time it was held in India.

Nikhat Zareen Boxing
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Nikhat Zareen

By

Pritish Raj

Updated: 9 Nov 2022 4:06 PM GMT

New Delhi: World champion Nikhat Zareen will look to defend her title at the 2023 Women's World Championships at home, but she still remembers the hurt of not being able to participate the last time the event was held in India.

On Wednesday, the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) signed an MoU of hosting rights for the world event with the International Boxing Association (IBA) at an event here, in Nikhat's presence.

The nation's torchbearer in women's boxing now, Nikhat still remembers how she had been left on the sidelines in 2018, when Mary Kom won her sixth and last world title in New Delhi and tearfully held aloft the tricolour in front of cameras. The spotlight then had been all on the Manipuri legend and how at the age of 35 she continued to win world titles.

But in the shadows, the then-22-year-old Nikhat Zareen had vowed to bide her time and strike hard when the time would come.

"I am excited that India is hosting next year's Women's World Championships. The last time it happened in India, I was not a part of it and felt bad about it. Despite that, I came to watch the tournament and learnt a lot of things. This time I am hopeful to defend it in front of my people and win the gold medal for my country," Nikhat told The Bridge in an exclusive interaction.

The baton of women's boxing has passed on from Mary Kom, who will turn 40 this month, to Nikhat, the current world champion in the flyweight category, in these past four years.

'Who Nikhat Zareen?', a rebuffed handshake and a series of tribulations later, Nikhat finally had her moment of glory earlier this year when she became the fifth Indian to win a gold medal at the World Championships after Mary Kom, L Sarita Devi, Jenny RL and Lekha C. She topped that with her dominant Commonwealth Games 2022 gold medal.

This made her an instant celebrity after years of waiting in the wings. In a recent viral social media post, Nikhat Zareen was seen dancing with Bollywood star Salman Khan.

"It is overwhelming. I can't express it in words. All my dreams are coming true, all the dreams I had as a child. Meeting Salman Khan and dancing with him is like living a dream. All my dreams were related to one thing - winning a medal for my country. I can say now that I am living my dream," she said about the seventh heaven she has enjoyed this year.

"I will buy a Mercedes (if I win the world title in New Delhi). I built a home with the prize money and rewards I got last time, this time I will buy a Mercedes," she laughed.

Nikhat Zareen the torchbearer

The 2023 Women's World Championships will see a hike in prize money, with a prize pool taken up to Rs 19.50 crore (USD 2.4 million). Gold medallists will be awarded approximately Rs 81 lakh (USD 100,000).

"Boxing is a sport full of players coming from humble backgrounds. Players struggle and make a name for themselves after hard work. For people like them, this cash reward will be a huge boost," Nikhat said.

Telangana's Nikhat Zareen is the biggest boxing star in India right now and her stature has grown exponentially with her success. But she remembers it was not always like this.

"When I started boxing, women's boxing was completely underdeveloped in my state. Since I won a gold medal at World Championships, there has been a buzz. I am getting multiple calls, people are asking me to open an academy and train kids," she said.

"The day I decide to hang up my gloves I will open a boxing academy and serve my state and country. It will be like giving back to the game which I love."

Nikhat added that she will be back in action next year at the World Championships and then the Asian Games, but that the 2024 Paris Olympics remains her biggest aim. With great form and age by her side, the fiery boxer from Telangana's time has finally come to rule the world.

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