New Delhi: Indian boxer Nikhat Zareen lived up to the expectations as she clinched the coveted gold in the flyweight (52kg) division with a facile 5-0 win over Thailand’s Jitpong Jutamas in the final of the Women’s World Championship in Istanbul on Thursday.
Capping off a stupendous campaign that saw her dominate all her rivals, the Telangana boxer out-punched her Thai opponent to win via unanimous verdict with judges scoring the bout 30-27, 29-28, 29-28, 30-27, 29-28 in her favour.
“I didn’t expect to win (by such a big margin) in the final. I wanted to win unanimously,” Zareen told reporters later.
“My aim was to play the first two round so that I win by unanimous decision and then relax in the third but I got a spilt decision score in the final so I had to go all out in the third round,” she added.
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With this win, Zareen, a 2019 Asian Championship bronze medallist, became only the fifth Indian boxer to be crowned world champion.
Six-time-champion Mary Kom (2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2018), Sarita Devi (2006), Jenny RL (2006), and Lekha KC (2006) are the other pugilists who have won the world title.
This is India’s first gold medal in four years. Mary Kom (48kg) had won the last title in 2018.
Incidentally, it was the legendary Mary Kom who had participated in the flyweight category in the 2019 edition of the tournament.
Zareen had been refused a trial by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI), which decided to go by Mary Kom’s consistent performances while making the choice and the Manipuri claimed her eighth world medal, a bronze.
The 25-year-old Zareen produced some beautiful combinations of punches to outclass Jutamas.
Jutamas had a better start of the two but Zareen soon made up and took the upper hand. The first round was fought on an even keel but Zareen’s blows were more powerful and her punches were eye-catching.
The Indian took the first round comfortably but Jutamas made a strong comeback in the second.
The Thai boxer took advantage of her longer reach as she countered Zareen’s attacks from a distance, while landing punches herself.
There was very little separating the two boxers but strength proved to be a key factor as Zareen used her powerful right hand and came up with beautiful combinations in the final round to seal the deal.
As the winner was announced Zareen was overcome by emotion and she jumped with glee and couldn’t hold back her tears.
“I was thinking about my parents. They were the only ones with me during my bad time. I’m happy to win a medal for them.”
Talking about her career-threatening injury Zareen said “In 2017, I dislocated my shoulder, I had to go under surgery and then I didn’t take part in any competition for a year. I wasn’t at my peak in 2018 so I missed the big tournaments.
“But I didn’t give and after the comeback in 2019 haven’t looked back. I have taken all competitions as an opportunity and I believed in myself.”
Zareen will now be preparing for the Commonwealth Games trial for which she will have to drop her weight and come down to 50kgs.
This is Zareen’s second victory over Jutamas. She had got the better of the Thai boxer at the Thailand Open back in 2019 as well.
The Hyderabad pugilist has been in stellar form this year. She became the first Indian woman boxer to claim two gold medals at the prestigious Strandja Memorial in February.
Apart from Zareen’s gold, Manisha Moun (57kg) and debutant Parveen Hooda (63kg) will return home with bronze medals.
“Winning a medal at the worlds is always a dream and Nikhat could achieve it so early is extremely commendable. We, at BFI, are proud that our boxers have not only made all of us proud but each of their boxing journeys is inspiring for the upcoming generations,” Boxing Federation of India President Ajay Singh said.
A 12-member Indian contingent participated in the competition. While the medal haul has decreased by one, an Indian has been crowned world champion after four years.
India’s best performance in the event remains the one in 2006 when the country snared eight medals, including four gold, one silver, and three bronze.
India now have won 39 medals, including 10 golds, eight silver, and 21 bronze in the Women’s World Championships.