Nikhat Zareen, Lovlina Borgohain biggest Indian medal hopes at women’s world boxing championships

Just five years ago, the KD Jadhav Hall wore a triumphant look. India’s most successful amateur boxer, MC Mary Kom was being swamped by television cameras as she held a precious piece of metal up in the air. She had just won her sixth World Championship gold – a record that took her past Katie Taylor’s feats at the Worlds. The Indian team had won a total of four medals and had introduced a host of new faces ready to take on the world. However, the current landscape of amateur boxing looks a world away from that day.

The sport itself is on the verge of losing its Olympic status – its federation in the crosshairs of the International Olympic Committee. The 2024 Paris Games are set to be the second edition where the IOC – and not the IBA – will be conducting the boxing competition. The New Delhi World Championships are not going to be considered as Olympic qualifiers and have a reduced field with USA, Great Britain and Ireland among several nations choosing not to be part of an IBA-run tournament.

For Indian boxers, it provides an opportunity to have a crack at medals that would usually not come about this easily. Manisha Maun, a current bronze medallist (circa Turkey 2022) who came to the limelight in New Delhi 2018, could very well add another Worlds medal to her tally owing to a depleted field. Sakshi Chaudhary, who rated high enough in the Indian camp to be a part of the 52 kg category this time around, can dream that a medal could result in her being given the opportunity to participate in the 54 kg category – an Olympic weight class. Jasmine, taking part in the 60kg category and a virtual unknown, has the returning Rio Olympics gold medallist Estelle Mosely in her category and could possibly face the Frenchwoman (boxer at night, IT engineer by day) in the World Championship final. The possibilities are endless.

India’s expectation of assured medals rest on current 52 kg World Champion Nikhat Zareen and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain. And even those arrive with asterisks of their own.

Both have had their own winding paths to where they are today – Zareen, a survivor of a bloody battle for supremacy against Mary Kom, a prowler in similar weight divisions, is now a World Champion. Lovlina, on the other hand, has had the time, experience and wins at the highest levels of amateur boxing – two bronze medals at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships followed by a Tokyo Olympics bronze. The caveat though is that her success has come in the welterweight category.

New challenges

Both of India’s best medal hopes will be taking on new weight divisions with these World Championships set to serve as a test. While Nikhat has now shifted to the 50 kg category – a two kilo reduction, Lovlina has gone the opposite route. The lanky boxer has moved up to the 75 kg division from the 69 kg category.

Lovlina has said she’s comfortable with the change (she giggled and told The Indian Express that she was at 77 kg and will have to cut a couple of kgs before the tournament began). But her boxing, which relies on staying outside her opponent’s reach, and then using her superior reach for her weight category, will have to be transformed. Now, the Assamese girl finds herself in a power game – the harder she lands her punches, the better it is for her.

“It took me a month to gain the weight to fight in the middleweight class and then three-four months to get accustomed to that weight,” Lovlina told reporters earlier this month. She then explained how the process worked. “I had to take supplements, proteins and weight gainers once I made the decision to build my strength for this category. I added some new techniques to my overall game as well. Jitne zyaada hathyaar leke jayenge…” (the more weapons you take…)

Unlike Lovlina, the change in weight has been a lot simpler for Zareen. One of the best boxers in her category at managing the range of her lead hand, the move to 50 kg has to improve her chances not just in New Delhi but for Paris as well.

The 50 kg category, being an Olympic weight class, means that boxers from both 48 kg, as well as 52 kg, will be participating in it. While in some classes, the lack of competition is a reality, in Zareen’s category, the field is far better stacked than what it was a year ago in Istanbul when she won her maiden senior Worlds medal. What transpires over the next fortnight would indicate how much of a medal contender she is likely to be when the Paris Olympics come around as well. But first, the Worlds.

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