Nikhat Zareen, Lovlina Borgohain triumph as India bag four titles in world boxing

ByAvishek Roy, New Delhi
Mar 26, 2023 11:16 PM IST

Nikhat Zareen won the 50kg final after winning the 52kg title last year; Lovlina Borgohain won the 75kg title on the final day of the women’s world boxing in Delhi

Nikhat Zareen gallantly fought six bouts in 10 days, battling past tough opponents in energy-sapping contests in the 50kg division. Still, there was enough left in the tank for her to defeat two-time Asian champion Nguyen Thi Tam of Vietnam 5-0 in a thrilling final to win her second world title on the final day of the women’s boxing world championships on Sunday.

Lovlina Borgohain (L) and Nikhat Zareen posing with their medals during award ceremony(PTI)
Lovlina Borgohain (L) and Nikhat Zareen posing with their medals during award ceremony(PTI)

Soon after, Tokyo Olympics medallist Lovlina Borgohain beat Australia’s Caitlin Parker in another closely contested final in middleweight (75kg). Lovlina’s triumph was confirmed through the bout review, giving India the fourth gold in this edition. Nitu Ghanghas (48kg) and Saweety Boora (81kg) had won their final on Saturday. With four gold medals from as many finals, India matched their best performance and topped the medal tally. The last time Indian women had such success was at home in 2006.

Anticipation was high on Sunday afternoon after India won both their bouts on the first day of finals. The atmosphere in the KD Jadhav indoor hall was electric. When Nikhat walked into the packed arena, she was greeted with thunderous applause. Indian flags were waved and the audience waited breathlessly for the action to begin. From there on, Nikhat and Nguyen took over to produce some terrific action in the ring.

Nikhat, 26, became the toast of the nation when she won her maiden world championships title, in flyweight (52kg), in Istanbul last year. On Sunday, she won gold in an Olympic category, having dropped to 50kg for the Paris Olympics.

The start was far from easy as Nikhat was up against the rough tactics of Nguyen, but she managed to land some clean punches to win the first round 5-0. Nguyen fought back to take the second 3-2. With well-timed and sharp attacks, she swung the momentum in her favour. The third round saw the boxers exchange blows. First, Nguyen received a standing count – jolted by Nikhat’s trademark straight punch – before returning the favour, crashing a solid left jab into Nikhat’s face.

The crowd was stunned into silence as Nikhat for the first time in the competition was forced into a standing count. Stung by the fierce blow with time running out, Nikhat fought with renewed fervour and sealed the contest with a flurry of punches. As she stood in the ring waiting for the result, the crowd rooted full tilt for her with tension building up. Very soon, she was announced winner, and Nikhat was back in her spirits – leaping in joy as her hand was raised by the referee, revealing a bloodied lip and teeth as she beamed on being announced winner by unanimous verdict.

“It was my last match, so I did not want to leave anything out there. My strategy was to put every ounce of energy left in me into this match and win the final. When my hands were raised, I was very happy,” said the boxer from Nizamabad, Telangana.

“It was a very roller-coaster bout. She got a warning then I got a warning. She got an eight count and then I got an eight count. It was very close. In the last round, my strategy was to go all out, so I just tried to attack.”

Coming into the competition, Nikhat was unseeded as it was a new weight class for her. The draw featured some world class opponents, although the US, Britain and Ireland had stayed away from the championships. In that crowded draw, Nikhat had to navigate one fight after another.

Nikhat started with a quick win against Ismayilova Anakhanim of Azerbaijan, but after that each bout presented a different challenge. Having to fight on successive days added to the difficulties. Despite that, she sizzled against Thailand’s Raksat Chuthamat, a two-time world championships bronze medallist, in the quarter-final and upset Rio Olympics medallist Valencia Ingrit Victoria of Colombia 5-0 in the semis.

It was an emotional week for Nikhat’s family too. Her father Jameel Ahmed and mother Parveen Sultana, who had never watched her bouts from the stands, were present to witness their daughter’s success.

Lovlina finds her touch

If Nikhat made an emphatic statement in New Delhi, Lovlina rediscovered the champion in her. After winning bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, she had a tough time adjusting to the new-found fame. Her performances at international level dropped. The 25-year-old also had to move up from 69kg to 75kg as she chases qualification for the Paris Olympics.

The boxer from Assam displayed commendable grit and impressed all with her tactical game. Her bout against Caitlin Parker looked like anyone’s game. Parker with fast hands was landing punches even as Lovlina tried to control the barrage from distance. Lovlina scored with her reliable left jab, which got her points throughout the tournament. She took the first round 3-2, but Parker got the second 4-1 to leave the contest on knife edge. Lovlina though did enough in the third round to get the bout review.

“It is a very important victory for me. I was not fully successful in putting my strategy into action, but happy I could win gold in an Olympic weight. It was our target, we worked very hard with the coaches,” said Lovlina, happy to end her streak of bronze medals at the world championships.

Australia coach Santiago Nieva, who was previously with India, though felt his ward deserved the win.

“I was pretty confident we had won; unfortunately, the judges and evaluators gave it to the home boxer, which is not uncommon in boxing. She (Caitlin) landed harder and clearer punches. She made Lovlina retreat and become defensive. Lovlina also had some scores, but in general there was clear dominance from our side,” Nieva said.

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