Nikhat Zareen won the gold medal at the World Youth Championships at age 15, raising hopes of another boxing sensation from India. However, the boxer from Nizamabad hasn’t had it easy in his upside-down career, which is slowly but surely beginning to go in the right direction.
Competing in flyweight, the weight class that Mary Kom has dominated for the last decade, meant Nikhat Zareen had to fight hard to emerge from the legendary boxer’s shadow. In 2019, the 25-year-old won a gold medal at the prestigious Standja Boxing Memorial Tournament and won a silver medal at the Asian Championships in Bangkok.
However, Nikhat missed the bus to the Tokyo Olympics after losing a controversial and well-received rehearsal to Mary Kom for the 51kg berth. Nikhat may have lost that crucial lead in 2019, but she didn’t throw in the towel.
Cut to March 22nd, Nikhat is on course to become the flagship of the country’s women’s flyweight category. After Mary suffered a setback after the Tokyo Olympics, the Telangana native will represent India at the World Championships and the Asian Games.
She became the first Indian boxer Win 2 gold medals at Strandja in Bulgaria, where she defeated Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Busenaz Cakiroglu en route to the top step of the podium.
Before celebrating the historic victory, Nikhat had to face trials again, this time for places in two of the biggest boxing events of 2022, the World Cup in May and the Asian Games in September. As expected, there were no slips this time.
Setting new goals after the disappointment in Tokyo wasn’t easy. The lockdowns and restrictions during the pandemic could have crushed their already subdued spirits, but Nikhat has just pushed harder than ever. The spirited boxer, who settled for the minimum, began her comeback trail with new hopes and aspirations.
Since childhood, Nikhat has had the zeal to prove naysayers wrong. When the people in her town told her father boxing wasn’t for girls, Nikhat wanted to prove them wrong. In fact, she started boxing to prove something.
‘BOXING MARDO KA GAME’
“When I started boxing, a lot of people criticized me and said, ‘ladki hai aap. Boxing mardo ka game hai. Kahan boxing my ja rahe hai? Mar lagega toh phir, karab hoga, phir shaadi kaun karega?’ I think that’s why I want to tell every single woman to keep believing in yourself,” Nikhat told indiatoday.in.
“Before boxing, I was athletics. I never dreamed of becoming a boxer. I was athletics, 100m, 200m were my events. I always went to the events with my father. My father always watched my times.
“When I went into a stadium, I saw that Urban Games were taking place. I saw girls in all sports except boxing. Then I was curious to know why there were no girls in boxing.
“I asked my dad, ‘Dad, sab game mein ladkiyon hai but boxing mein kyu nahi hai? Bas mardo ka game hai kya?’.
“He said ‘no beta, girls can box too, but people think girls don’t have the guts to box’.
“I belong to a place where very few people allow their daughters to pursue their dreams in sport. I took those words as a challenge and then decided to start boxing.
“I said to my father, ‘Dad, my boxing Karoongi. I wanted to show people around me that boxing is ladkiyan bhi kar sakthi hai.
After signing with popular sportswear brand Adidas for their Impossible is Nothing campaign, Nikhat said she believes the popular mantra fits perfectly with her journey in sports. The partnership is focused on empowering women to achieve their dreams, empowering women to break down barriers and Nikhat’s addition will only strengthen the campaign.
NIKHAT’S PILLAR OF STRENGTH
Nikhat Zareen said she was fortunate to have the full support of her father (Photo Courtesy: zareennikhat/Instagram)
Nikhat highlighted her father Mohammad Jameel Ahmed’s unwavering support and said she wanted to make him proud by winning an Olympic medal for India.
“Every girl deserves a father like mine,” she said.
“In the beginning it was challenging for me and my dad because people were saying all kinds of things around us. But my father never listened to any of this. He supported me on my way. That’s why I’ve always said I’m lucky to have such a dad.
“One day I will make him proud by winning an Olympic medal.”
“PARIS ALWAYS ON MY MIND”
Nikhat Zareen has his sights set on the Paris Olympics (Photo Courtesy: zareennikhat/Instagram)
That day might not be far off as Nikhat is a strong contender to represent India at the Paris 2024 flyweight games. While Nikhat has never strayed from her ultimate goal, the mature pugilist believes it’s important to view the ladder as a series of small steps.
“Paris is always on my mind, but it’s not my focus. Rather than looking at it as a whole staircase, I want to see it step by step,” she said.
“It’s time for Paris. Winning medals at World Cup, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games this year will definitely boost my confidence. I will believe that I can do well in Paris.”
“I’m currently 23 years old, but I want to get into the top 10 in the world rankings. I want to take every opportunity that comes my way to achieve my goal. I want to do my best in every competition, step by step.”
“NO FEAR OF EXPECTATIONS”
All eyes will be on Nikhat as she seeks to continue Mary Kom’s legacy in the flyweight category and make a name for herself. After slipping under the radar there will be the weight of expectations but Nikhat said she is prepared to make the most of hard-earned opportunities.
“Mary Kom has dominated the flyweight category for so long. Now of course I get the opportunity, I want to win medals and distinguish myself.
“I’ve always believed that whatever happens, happens forever. I learned one thing – never stop working hard, if you have to work hard, the Almighty will take care of the rest.
“I try to see things positively. If people expect me to do well, it will only boost my confidence. I haven’t gotten all the attention in the past, but now I get it. Why shouldn’t I? I take it positively and keep working hard?”