‘Born to win’: the rise of Indian boxer Nikhat Zareen


Hyderabad, India – As soon as when Nikhat Zareen got here house with a bleeding nostril, her mom burst into tears. “Your face can be spoiled,” she mentioned, worrying how her lady would discover a groom.

Practically a decade later, Zareen on Sunday turned the second Indian after Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom to win the ladies’s boxing world championship two years in a row.

It was a formidable win for the unseeded participant who, after successful the 2022 World Championship within the 52kg class, dropped to 50kg for this yr’s event in New Delhi. The drop was prompted by her need to compete within the 2024 Paris Olympics, a victory that’s her subsequent dream.

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“I really feel nice, particularly coming from a small city like Nizamabad, and successful gold within the World Championship twice was like a dream come true. I may make my nation proud with consecutive gold medals. It is a terrific feeling,” mentioned the 26-year-old who defeated Nguyen Thi Tam within the closing.

Zareen, in pink, after defeating Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Tam (Courtesy of Boxing Federation of India)

“Can women field?”

Zareen’s mother and father say she fell in love with boxing as a younger lady. Watching guys battle it out, her first query was, “Can women field?”

“Why not?” Mohammed Samsamuddin, her first boxing coach, replied.

“I felt boxing was like love at first sight for Nikhat,” the 72-year-old former coach instructed Al Jazeera.

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Zareen, the third of 4 daughters of Mohammad Jameel Ahmed and Parveen Sultana, additionally gained her mother and father’ blessing. A state-level soccer participant himself, Jameel labored as a salesman in Saudi Arabia earlier than returning to his hometown to oversee Nikhat’s sports activities profession.

“My father used to coach me in Nizamabad and I had fairly success in athletics. However in a sports activities assembly, there was a boxing occasion the place not a single lady participated within the event,” Nikhat mentioned in an interview in 2011 when she gained the Junior World Boxing Championship in Turkey.

“So I requested my dad why there weren’t any women in boxing. I requested if women do not do boxing. However he mentioned women can field.

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“Most individuals assume that women ought to research after which get married. However my father, who’s a sportsman, inspired me to take up boxing. Nevertheless, my mom was somewhat scared. She was very fearful,” she mentioned.

From athletics to boxing

However Zareen hadn’t began to change into a boxer. A “bundle of vitality” as a toddler with a “tomboyish streak” as her father described her, he determined to channel that vitality.

“She was operating round our small house in Naseem Colony in Vinayak Nagar in Nizamabad city of Telangana and was at all times up for mischief,” Ahmed instructed Al Jazeera.

He solely took her to a coaching heart to maintain the stressed nine-year-old lady busy. She stunned everybody, together with her father, together with her enthusiasm for athletics.

“She excelled in 100m, 200m, lengthy soar and excessive soar,” mentioned Ahmed. “She competed in a state athletics occasion earlier than her eye fell on an indoor boxing fitness center.”

It was the place the place Samsamuddin educated boxers. Nikhat watched the male boxers in motion for days earlier than sporting the gloves.

“I used to be surprised at first, however as soon as she placed on the boxing gloves, there was no turning again,” mentioned Samsamuddin.

In 2009, when Zareen was 13, she was noticed by Omkar Nath Yadav, a boxing expertise scout, at a state authorities occasion in Karimnagar district to advertise sports activities in rural areas.

“She was a thin lady. After watching a couple of matches, I used to be impressed together with her footwork and shot velocity. She was hungry to win and I made a decision to take a threat,” mentioned Yadav.

He entered Zareen’s title for the nationwide video games held within the state of Punjab, for which he mentioned he additionally obtained some criticism. Many requested how the younger lady may field with tall, 18-year-old boxers from the states of Haryana and Punjab.

“However she was robust. She justified my religion with a brave present. There was a spark,” Yadav mentioned.

“You hit me, I hit you”

Zareen’s curler coaster journey in a hitherto male stronghold had begun. “You hit me, wait, I will hit you too,” turned her mantra, she says.

In 2010, she gained the gold and greatest boxer award on the junior nationwide championships. The next yr, the 15-year-old boxer made historical past when she gained gold within the 50 kg flyweight class on the Junior World Boxing Championship within the Turkish metropolis of Antalya.

Boxing was ‘love at first sight’ for a younger Zareen (Courtesy: Boxing Federation of India)

Ahmed, satisfied that her daughter was destined to change into world champion, in 2014 moved to Hyderabad, the South Indian metropolis that has produced a few of India’s most outstanding sports activities stars: Sania Mirza in tennis, PV Sindhu and Saina Nehwal in badminton, Gagan Narang in capturing, and Sreeja Akula in desk tennis.

“I knew this boxer was born to win. There was that killer intuition that made her a powerful boxer. She wouldn’t draw back from any arduous blows she obtained from the boys within the coaching heart of Nizam Faculty,” India’s nationwide boxing coach Emani Chiranjeevi instructed Al Jazeera.

“I believed this lady was going to make waves. She exuded confidence and practiced collectively for hours. She was very robust mentally and that helped her to develop in stature.”

Chiranjeevi additionally praised Ahmed for aiding her daughter. “He would come by scooter, keep within the fitness center and watch her food plan,” he mentioned.

When Mary Kom requested, “Who’s Nikhat?”

Mary Kom, a six-time world boxing champion, is taken into account India’s biggest boxer and even impressed a Bollywood biopic. Now 40 and a mom of two, the boxer from the northeastern state of Manipur gained bronze on the 2012 London Olympics within the 51 kg flyweight class.

In the meantime, Zareen additionally began to rise in the identical weight class. She took bronze on the senior nationwide championships and gained the Belgrade Worldwide Championship in 2018. The next yr, she labored her solution to gold at Strandja Memorial, Europe’s oldest worldwide boxing occasion, and silver on the Thailand Open.

However Zareen didn’t get previous Mary Kom within the India Open that yr. The truth is, Mary Kom was chosen for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which had been held in 2021 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

After Mary Kom’s title for Tokyo was introduced, Zareen demanded a “due course of” and known as for a combat in opposition to her. However her plea was rejected by the Boxing Federation of India, who defended her choice, citing Mary Kom’s “constant efficiency”.

In the meantime, in 2019, an exasperated Mary Kom requested, “Who’s Nikhat Zareen?”

Zareen then wrote to the Federal Sports activities Minister demanding one other “truthful probability”. A lot to Mary Kom’s chagrin, the minister ordered a combat between the 2 gamers. Mary Kom defeated Zareen with a 9-1 verdict, their acrimonious “trial” ending with no traditional handshake.

The controversy upset Zareen, however she mentioned she shortly got here to phrases with it. “I strategy challenges in a constructive approach. There’ll at all times be obstacles. However these challenges make me a a lot stronger individual,” she mentioned.

She says boxing teaches folks methods to take care of challenges. “It makes you bodily and mentally stronger. After I turned a boxer, I felt extra impartial. I used to be not afraid as a result of I may shield myself.”

Zareen additionally mentioned she is impressed by Mary Kom’s achievements in world boxing. Because the veteran left the scene, Nikhat cemented her supremacy with back-to-back gold within the 52kg and 50kg classes in Istanbul and New Delhi. She additionally gained gold on the Commonwealth Video games in Birmingham final yr.

However her gold-winning efficiency in Turkey final yr stays a particular reminiscence. “Turkey is a fortunate nation for my daughter. She gained the junior world championship and the senior world gold there,” mentioned Ahmed.

Olympic medal subsequent dream

Zareen instructed Al Jazeera that it was tough to win consecutive world championship gold medals.

“I gained the primary one in Istanbul in Turkey. It was my first championship gold medal. It is particular as a result of I gained outdoors of India and I did not have the help of the house crowd, the sort I obtained within the New Delhi championship,” she mentioned.

“On this yr’s world championship I fought six matches and I used to be unplaced since I used to be within the 50 kg class. However I beat an African champion, two-time Asian Video games medalists, a Rio Olympics bronze medalist, and the Vietnamese lady, Nguyen Thi Tam, within the closing.

“They had been all robust opponents and I managed to win the gold. I used to be very joyful after I may beat (Tam) within the closing. I had misplaced to her within the Asian championship. I wished to take candy revenge and I did.”

About her rising fame, Nikhat says, “Who would not like fame? Everybody enjoys the awards, fame and success. I’m additionally having fun with it.

“However I’m conscious of the following few hurdles. I do know I’ve to work arduous. Till I obtain my dream of successful Olympic gold, I would not need to cease my arduous work.”

Subsequent purpose? The Asian Video games to be held in September, she says.

“I’ll attempt to medal and qualify for the Paris Olympics. I hope to change into the primary feminine boxer to win an Olympic gold medal for my nation.”

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