Women's World Boxing Championships: Is this the start of the Nikhat Zareen era?
Nizamabad girl Nikhat Zareen has fought a long battle under the shadows of Mary Kom and finally has proven true to her potential by reaching the final of the World Boxing Championships.
Nikhat Zareen has been around the Indian boxing scene for ages now. In fact, she has been around for such a long time that it is hard to forget that she is just 25-year old.
It has been more than a decade since Zareen broke into the limelight with a gold medal at the Women's Junior and Youth World Boxing Championships in 2011. This was back when her home state was yet to be divided into two – Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Zareen was also amongst the first sportspersons along with the likes of Saina Nehwal and others to be honoured by the newly formed Telangana state with a cash reward during India's Independence Day in 2014, just over two months after the separation of the two Telugu-speaking states.
While Nikhat was always touted as the one to watch out for, things have hardly gone her way be it inside or outside the square-shaped boxing ring.
If convincing her family about her sporting ambitions and shutting her detractors down was not tough enough, she ran into her childhood hero – the legendary Mary Kom, in the ring.
Competing in the same weight class as the most successful boxer in the world meant that Nikhat would often be under her shadows.
Fresh off the Asian Championships bronze in April 2019 – her only major podium at the senior level until this year's World Championships, Nikhat ran into a red hot Mary Kom in the final of India Open Boxing the following 2019.
The 22-year-old was brushed aside with relative ease by Kom. This convinced the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) that Nikhat is yet to reach the level of the Olympic medallist, who in turn gave the latter a direct entry to the 2019 World Championships and the Asian Qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This certainly did not sit well with Nikhat and she was not the one to go down without a fight.
The youngster appealed to the then Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju and got herself a shot at glory. While Kom still went to the World Championships without a trial, she was forced to fight it out with Zareen for the Asian Qualifiers.
The trial bout did turn out to be anti-climatic with Kom crushing Zareen 9-1 to not only make it to the qualifiers, but the youngster got a fair shot. On the other hand, Kom dominated the Asian qualifiers too and made it to the Olympics before going down in the Round of 16 to a Columbian pugilist by a split decision in the Round of 16.
Though Nikhat Zareen's reputation took a hit after this turn of events, the Telangana girl displayed she is here to stay and she will fight her heart out to stay.
Fast forward a year after the Tokyo Games, Kom decided to skip the World Championships to "make way for the youngsters", and Nikhat got her break.
Competing in her second World Championships, the 25-year-old has not only forced her way into the final but she has done it in a dominating fashion.
Nikhat has been relentless in her attacks throughout the tournament and has time and again shown there is no room for complacency. Even after pocketing the first two rounds of the bouts with ease, she has been going with the same intensity in the final round.
The desperation and determination for not wins but big, dominating wins are visible in her eyes. Two 5-0 unanimous decision victories in the quarterfinal and semifinal and Nikhat has given herself a shot at history at the Women's World Championships in Istanbul.
"I am playing against a boxer from Thailand tomorrow in the final. I have played against her before but still, have to plan my strategies. I am committed to the aim of bringing home the gold medal for India," stated Nikhat after her semifinal win.
The Nizamabad girl has seen it all over the past few years and has given a good account of herself at the highest level.
With Mary Kom not getting any younger, the entire nation is hoping for the rise of another superstar to carry forward her legacy and all the eyes, for now, are firmly on Nikhat Zareen.
Is this the start of the Nikhat Zareen era?