Mary, Nikhat set up showdown in 51kg trials
Neither MC Mary Kom nor Nikhat Zareen were at their dominating best on Friday during their first round matches at the selection trials for the Olympic qualifiers. But they did just enough to scrape through and set up a much anticipated showdown at the IG Stadium on Saturday. The winner of Saturday’s fight will get to represent India in the 51kg category in the first Olympic qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in Wuhan, China from February 3-14.
On Friday, 23-year-old Zareen was the first to take the ring against national title holder Jyoti Gulia. The first round was close, with Gulia connecting a few punches and Zareen trying to find her feet. That changed in the next two rounds when Zareen got a feel of her range. She kept the shorter Gulia at a distance and hit her with some clean punches, for an unanimous verdict from the 10-judge bench in her favour. Kom was closely following the proceedings from a corner of the indoor hall.
Zareen, who has claimed that she is not being given a chance to fight Kom to establish the more superior boxer in their weight class, said she was just happy to win the bout.
“I could not have lost this one because I know many people wanted me to, and not be there in the final against Mary Kom,” Zareen said. “I was nervous because it has been building on for so long. There was pressure. Also, I was nervous because it is difficult to cut down weight in winter. I was thinking so much about what to eat for breakfast today, that it kept me occupied, and took away some of the stress,” Zareen said with a smile.
Zareen then praised her opponent, who is also often her sparring partner.
“She (Gulia) is a young boxer and very talented,” Zareen said. “It took me time to warm up and I was more in control in second and third rounds,” said Zareen.
With her place in the final booked, it was Zareen’s turn to watch Kom’s fight. The six-time world champion was up against the relatively unknown Ritu Grewal, who won a silver medal at the national championships recently. Yet, Grewal was not ready just to be a stepping stone for the Kom-Zareen face-off, and came up with a strong challenge for Kom in the ring. Grewal went into attacking mode from the start, and used her left jab to stinging effect. Kom was forced to be on her toes, moving away from Grewal and looking for openings to use her left hook. It was Grewal’s defense that let her down; when Kom found her rhythm, she landed plenty of combinations to win the fight.
“I think she was the better boxer but I was surprised by the unanimous decision,” said Grewal.
After the bout, Kom had a long chat with India’s foreign coach Raffaele Bergamasco.
Zareen’s longtime coach from Hyderabad, E Chiranjeevi, was also present, and was not happy with her performance.
“She just did not use her skills today,” Chiranjeevi said. He also pointed out that Zareen will need to be mentally stronger for her fight against Kom.
“She (Zareen) is a superior boxer but she has to keep her emotions in check in the ring,” he said. “She cannot get angry while she is being hit and cannot get anxious if she is missing her punches.”
Kom refused to comment on the upcoming fight.
“I will speak once the trial is over,” she said.