Nikhat Zareen has a ruthless streak. Since March 2022, she is undefeated in the ring. Two world titles and a Commonwealth Games gold have been won along the way as her opponents have been demolished in a clinical and dominant fashion. And it won’t be wrong to say: she has owned the stage.
With every outing, though, it has become clearer — she is chasing something bigger… an Olympic medal. Every bout, every tournament is a step towards the 2024 Paris Olympics. The world titles, the CWG medal… they were all stepping stones.
In that respect, the Asian Games in Hangzhou will take her one step closer to her dream. Four Olympic berths will be available in the light flyweight division (50kg) and that means a semi-final berth will be enough for her to seal her ticket to Paris.
The 27-year-old Indian will be a strong contender for a gold medal at the Asian Games. If that happens, she will be only the second women boxer, after Mary Kom, from the country to win an Asiad gold.
At the world championships in March, Nikhat’s strength and mental toughness were on full display. She fought six bouts, going through moments where it became difficult to keep moving her feet because of the back-to-back fights.
It wasn’t easy but Nikhat took the physical toll in her stride and went through the grind in as business-like manner as possible. In every round, her attacks were relentless.
It will not be easy in Hangzhou either, and Nikhat will have to produce a similarly brilliant effort. The draw at the Worlds was packed with 35 boxers. Though the numbers are likely to be smaller at the Asian Games, a few known challengers will be there.
Her toughest win at the Worlds came against two-time world championships medallist Chuthamat Raksat of Thailand in the quarter-finals in a bout that went for review. In the final, Nikhat beat two-time Asian champion Nguyen Thi Tam of Vietnam who ran her close – though the scoreline would suggest otherwise – and even forced a standing count on her in the third round. Both the competitors are likely to be in Hangzhou. Nikhat will be prepared and unfazed by the challenge.
“She was always a very good technical boxer but in the last two years she has transformed herself,” said former chief coach Bhaskar Bhatt who was in Nikhat’s corner at the world championships.
“She has speed, power and control. She is focused and she is making intelligent moves, adapting to different styles. Nikhat has raised her level,” he adds.
The Istanbul World Championships title last year was a breakthrough moment for Nikhat, who first emerged in the public eye as a junior world champion in 2011, but remained in the shadows of Mary Kom as they both competed in the same weight class.
Before Tokyo, she was brave enough to ask for a selection trial against Mary Kom and even though she lost in the bout, she took it as a tough lesson and waited for her opportunity. The first goal was to make herself so strong at the domestic level that there should be no competition. Having won back-to-back national titles and every selection trial at home in the last two years, Nikhat has led by example and not left anything to chance. She is the undisputed pick in her weight category.
Her journey from Nizamabad, Telangana to the top of boxing world is inspirational. Nikhat is now a poster girl; not shy of speaking out on issues. She has embraced the limelight with rare equanimity.
“She is flooded with request for functions etc and even if she attends a few it is never at the cost of her training. Her training takes precedence over everything, she is that disciplined and driven,” says Bhatt.