‘Apna time aega’ (My time will come), Nikhat Zareen said after her dream for the Tokyo Olympics ended in April. Cut to November, six months after her bout against Mary Kom, which ended her Olympic journey, the 24-year-old is ready to realize her potential.
Nikhat Zareen will be India’s entry in 51kg at the postponed AIBA Women’s Boxing World Championships in Istanbul. The Telangana boxer won the nationals, held in Hisar, Haryana in dominating fashion to earn her place in the team. She defeated Haryana’s Minakshi 4-1.
She says her hard work and positive mindset played a big role in making a stronger comeback in the ring.
“I am happy with how I performed at the national championships. Yes, there were times when I was nervous but it also kept me on my toes. I believed in my hard work and kept myself positive and it paid off,” says Nikhat Zareen.
It has been a tough year and a half for the former world junior champion. The on-and-off training due to COVID-19 pandemic had started affecting her performance.
But Nikhat Zareen is not an average boxer. She is a real fighter in and out of the ring, a trait she acquired during her early years.
Like many female boxers in the country, she has had her share of bouts against the patriarchal society. Initially questioned by people in the surroundings for picking up the sport, Nikhat Zareen has come a long way in those early days of resistance.
Her positive nature and finding meaning even from negatives is what makes her the future of Indian boxing.
"My father always said to look at the positive side of things. That has always kept me going," she recalls.
After the Olympic disappointment and COVID-19 restrictions, the pugilist did not lose hope and shifted her base to the Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) to overcome the COVID-19 restrictions.
She trained at IIS in Bellary for four months, focusing on her shortcomings to return to form in time.
"I had to carefully assess my situation during the COVID-19 lockdown. I could not afford disruption in training every now and then. IIS was a good option so I shifted my base there," she added.
The result of all the hard work was that Nikhat Zareen was adjudged the best boxer at the nationals.
Nikhat Zareen is currently training in Hyderabad and says she is focused on the world championship, her second appearance at the marquee event.
“I am fully focussed on my goal and have no pressure. I am ready for all the challenges that will come in my way to realize my dream of the Olympics,” she added.
Nikhat Zareen on Mary Kom’s challenge
India’s veteran boxer Mary Kom skipped the national championship due to lack of preparations. But with Worlds deferred until March 2022, the boxer is expected to ask the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) for a trial to get selected for the team.
While it is not clear in which category the six-time world champion will ask for the trial, she might return to her usual 48kg division. The AIBA introduced new brackets this year which will avoid clashes between top boxers from the same country.
Nonetheless, Nikhat Zareen says she is ready for Mary Kom too if she decides to compete in 51kg.
“So far, I don’t know in which weight category she will compete in. But if she decides to compete in 51kg I am ready for her. However, I think she will return to 48kg where she has competed so many times,” says Nikhat Zareen.
The boxer’s confidence comes from her training under John Warburton. The training in ISS incorporated specific tweaks to her bout persona. However, she knows there is still room for improvement and she must keep working hard as 2022 is important to her growth.
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“While training in ISS I learnt a lot. John held me work really hard to punch hard and straight and not let my opponents come in my punching zone easily. But there is still room for improvement like how to manipulate opponents, my speed and power. 2022 will be an important year with Asian and Commonwealth Games, so it’s all training for now,” Nikhat Zareen says.