Indian female boxer Nikhat Zareen could not have made a better start in 2022, as she clinched gold in 52 kg at the Strandja Memorial International Boxing tournament in Bulgaria. With a bustling 2022 year that features the World Championship, Commonwealth Games, and Asian Games, Nikhat seems to be on the right track.
Nikhat defeated the seasoned boxer on her route to the final. She defeated Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Buse Naz Cakiroglu of Turkey in the semis. In the final, she outpunched Ukraine's Tetiana Kob, a three-time European Championships medallist, in 4-1 to win the gold medal.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Nikhat said:
“ I don’t fear any boxers, whether that boxer has won an Olympic medal or World Championships medal in the past, once I get inside the ring with them, I see them as just another boxer. It all becomes ground zero. I have a never-give-up attitude. Also, my ultimate dream of winning a gold medal in the Olympics helps me to stay focused on my path.”
“Strandja tournament was very special to me because it’s my second gold at this tournament. It was not a cakewalk as every day I had to face an opponent who was much stronger and more experienced than me. But I had the confidence in me and was just focused on one thought that no matter what the outcome of the bout, I have to give my hundred percent and come out of the ring with no regrets."
She also said:
"With this thought, I ended the tournament as I had wanted and it’s certainly going to give me much-needed confidence for the upcoming tournaments in the year ahead.”
Nikhat became the first Indian boxer to win two gold medals at the Strandja tournament. In 2019, she was the second choice boxer behind national champion Pinky Jangra. Since India had sent two boxers from 51kg and 69 kg weight category, Nikhat was given the opportunity to finish the tournament with the Gold medal.
“Even in 2019, I had to face a lot of experienced boxers and even this year I was up against boxers who were more experienced and decorated than me. In 2019, I did not face any Olympians but in 2022 I had faced 2 Olympians and played finals against the former world championship medalist. Each bout was against the experienced and tough boxers.”, Nikhat said.
Upon being asked how tricky it can get while facing an opponent she has never faced, Nikhat replied:
“ It’s definitely very tricky. Whenever the draw comes out, I check out the opponent whom I’ll face in the 1st round and then I look at their performance on Google. I watched their bout on YouTube and then analyzed her strengths and weaknesses and made a game plan accordingly. If the opponent is very new to whom I have not seen her play anywhere, then I observe her movements and style in the 1st round and then I give my all out in the remaining rounds. “
Nikhat demanded selection trials to participate in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Although she lost to legendary Mary Kom in the finals, the defeat was quite a learning lesson and made her stronger.
“I had learnt that whatever happens, it happens for the good. It’s all god’s plan. I have to be patient and keep believing in myself. More opportunities will come my way and there’s no point in crying over what was no longer in my control. Rather, I should start looking forward to the challenges ahead and work on them.”
Nikhat talks about how she handled the pandemic period
Strandja's competition was her first major international tournament post pandemic. With no training or competition during the pandemic, it was difficult for almost every athlete to maintain their rhythm.
“ The most important thing that I’ve learnt during this pandemic was how to keep myself positive and strong in the worst situations. I always try to stay positive and avoid negative thoughts. I believe that if this is a bad phase for me then there will be a good phase too once it’s over. Life is all about that."
"If we just have a good time in our life we won’t be grateful to the almighty. Bad times teach us to have faith and believe in the plans of god. This is what helps humans to move forward in life”, Nikhat said.
Nikhat’s focus is always on learning and improving every day. She spoke about her liking that kept her focused.
“I keep learning from day to day life whether it’s a small or big learning, I try to improve myself. I love music a lot. When I’m feeling low I listen to music, when I’m feeling happy, I listen to music. It’s an antidote to all my kind of moods. I also like watching movies, especially biopics and sports related movies. I love talking to friends. I’ve learnt cooking during the pandemic.”
Nikhat, who is taller than most boxers in her weight category, has her own way of dealing with things.
“There are different kinds of boxers in my weight category. But for me, I have the advantage of height, most the boxers in my weight category are shorter than me, I’ve also gained much experience in the recent times.”, she said.
Upon being asked if this will be her year, Nikhat replied:
“Yes, hopefully it will be my year. Currently my focus is on the upcoming trials and then I’ll focus on winning medals at these competitions.”