Indian women boxing's Fantastic Four

Boxing legend Mary Kom was the only Indian with more than one world title - she has six.

Last Sunday, Nikhat Zareen became the second Indian boxer to achieve that feat when she won gold at the Boxing World Championships 2023 in New Delhi.

She had won gold in Istanbul last year, but it was a bigger challenge this time.

With the 2024 Paris Olympics qualification about to start, many boxers had to change weight categories.

With the draw for 50kg - the lowest of six Olympic categories - crowded, Nikhat had to drop to light fly from flyweight (52kg).

By winning in a new category last Sunday, Nikhat proved she is strong enough to be a title contender in Paris.

She qualified for this year's Asian Games in Hangzhou, China - an Olympic qualifier - when she made it to the final.

"To become world champion for a second time and before a home crowd who supported me, I am beyond happy. I dedicate this medal to India," said Nikhat, who had a cut on her upper lip from the frantic final round against Vietnam's Nguyen Thi Tam.

"This was a tougher challenge because this win came in an Olympic category. In the last world championships, I did not have to put in too much effort to control my weight.

"In this category, I had to follow a strict diet and be very disciplined. I gave it my all."

Nikhat had to grind out six wins - the most she ever did in a tournament.

"I had back-to-back bouts, so my body was a bit slow in some matches. I will take my lessons, work hard and come back stronger in this weight class," she said.

March 26 will go down as a special day for women's sports in India.

Lovlina Borgohain claimed the 75kg title, joining Nitu Ghanghas (48kg) and Saweety Boora (81kg) in adding to the gold won by Nikhat.

The last time India bagged four golds at the World Boxing Championships was when Kom, Sarita Devi, K.C. Lekha and R.L. Jenny won in 2006.

However, women's boxing in India found few takers despite Kom's world titles. Even when women's boxing was finally introduced at the Olympics in 2012, it remained a struggle to find the funds and resources needed.

There was barely a system in place, be it at elite or grassroots levels, and there was the added struggle of social opposition to women picking up fighting sports.

Kom's Olympic medal and a subsequent sixth world title belatedly made her a legend in her own country and inspired a new wave of girls to brave social opposition and lack of opportunities to pick up the sport.

Nitu, Nikhat, Lovlina and Saweety proved they are top-calibre fighters when they won closely-fought finals in an event that received 300-plus entries from 65 countries.

Their wins propelled third-time-host India to the top of the table.

The women were already accomplished boxers - Nitu was a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, Nikhat a 52kg World champion, Saweety a 2014 World silver medallist and Olympic medallist Lovlina a two-time World bronze medallist.

Other exciting Indian talents to look out for include Preeti Sai Pawar (54kg) and Jaismine Lamboria (60kg).

With multiple boxers vying for each spot, the coaches face a "good problem" in the build-up to the Olympics.

"We are very proud of the pugilists who have scripted history with their gold medals," said Boxing Federation of India president Ajay Singh.

"The performances of these pugilists will undoubtedly inspire young girls to win medals and elevate Indian boxing to greater heights."

Indo-Asian News Service


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