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Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019

Mary Kom-Nikhat showdown likely before selection trials

There have been a lot of verbal exchanges between Zareen and Mary Kom, who was exempted from the selection trials.

other-sports Updated: Nov 19, 2019 23:18 IST
Avishek Roy
Avishek Roy
New Delhi
Mary Kom during the practice session at IG Stadium, in New Delhi.
Mary Kom during the practice session at IG Stadium, in New Delhi.(PTI)
         

The much-awaited showdown between MC Mary Kom and Nikhat Zareen could well take place before the selection trials for the Olympic qualifying tournament. It is likely to come in ‘Big Bout’—billed as the country’s first franchise boxing league.

The players’ draft of the new boxing league, starting on December 2, took place on Tuesday, in which 42 were picked by six franchises. London Olympics bronze medallist and six-time world champion Mary Kom, the biggest name in the league, was bought by NCR Punjab Royals team. Zareen was drafted by Odisha Warriors.

The Boxing Federation of India (BFI) has already announced there will be a selection trial in 51kg along with other categories in December, to choose the team for the first Olympic qualification tournament in Wuhan, China from February 13. The decision came after Zareen protested, demanding that she must be given an opportunity to face Mary Kom for the berth.

There have been a lot of verbal exchanges between Zareen and Mary Kom, who was exempted from the selection trials. As per BFI’s original selection policy, gold and silver medallists (in women) in the September world championships were given direct berths for the qualifiers. However, later Mary Kom, who only won bronze, was also exempted from trials. Peeved at not getting a chance for a selection trial, for the second time, Zareen complained to the sports minister and the decision was finally reversed.

BIG PRELUDE

However, a clash between the two in Big Bout looks very much a possibility. There are seven weight categories in each team—five men (52kg, 57kg, 69kg, 75kg, 91kg) and two women (51kg and 60kg). Teams will contest six bouts in all—four men, one women and one men’s pro bout, which will feature professional boxers. One men’s bout will be an exhibition, and won’t be taken for points. The two teams will pick the bouts they want to fight, depending on their strategies. The captains of the teams, yet to be named, will have to compete while there is an option to block a boxer.

“They (Mary Kom and Zareen) are in the same weight category and it should happen. There is a strategic element involved—team owners can block one player—something which we can’t control and is between the teams. But it’s a bout everyone will be a looking forward to,” said Atul Pande, Executive Director of Emerging Sports Management, the company which owns the rights to organise the league.

There are six teams in the league—NE Rhinos, Bengaluru Brawlers, Bombay Bullets, Adani Team Gujarat, Punjab Royals and Odisha Warriors—and each team will face the other once. The league phase will be hosted in Cuttack and Ludhiana while the grand finale will be held in Delhi.

Mary Kom and Zareen could well face off twice if their teams reach the final. The schedule is yet to be drawn.

The 51kg category will be the biggest draw in the league as it will also feature Colombia’s Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia of Bombay Bullets. Another tough contender in the division in India’s Pinki Rani, who will represent Bengaluru Brawlers. World Championship silver medallist Amit Panghal will compete for Adani Gujarat.

Mary Kom, 36, who prefers to compete in light flyweight (45-48kg), had to switch to 51kg in a bid to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. Zareen lost to Mary Kom in the semi-finals of India Open at Guwahati in May. The 23-year-old from Hyderabad is a junior world champion and is waiting in the wings. She won bronze in 51kg at the Asian Championships this year.

“It (boxing) is relatively unexplored among television sports. This is the first time we are trying it, and it will improve as we go along. We are trying to build a model that is commercially viable and forward-looking so that everybody, eventually if they invest in it, makes money and creates value for themselves,” said Pande.

The league though will clash with the women’s nationals, to be held in Kannur, Kerala from December 2-8. Both Mary Kom and Zareen will skip the event.