Star boxer Nikhat Zareen will kick-off India’s challenge at the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships 2023 on Thursday as the country’s pugilists were handed a mixed draw.

The reigning champion Zareen will have an easy start when she faces Azerbaijan’s Anakhanim Ismayilova in the 50kg Round-of-64 but defending her crown might get challenging with the potential opponents, Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia of Colombia and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Japan’s Tsukimi Namiki, waiting for her in the semi-final and final respectively.

Women’s World Boxing C’ships: Eyes on home favourite Nikhat Zareen amid turbulent build-up to event

Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain (75kg) has received a bye in the opening round while Saweety Boora (81kg) will be just a win away from securing the medal as she starts in the Last-8 after being given a bye in the opening round.

Lovlina will face Mexico’s Vanessa Ortiz in the Round-of-16. However, a mouth-watering semi-final clash between two Olympics medallists will be on the cards as the Indian is placed along with Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Li Qian of China in the same half.

Jaismine Lamboria also faces tough hurdles as she will have to potentially overcome a strong title contender, the Rio Olympics champion Estelle Mossely of France in the 60kg quarter-finals while the silver medallist from the Tokyo Olympics Beatriz Ferreira of Brazil is placed in the other half.

Similarly, Preeti (54kg), who begins her campaign against Hungary’s Hanna Lakotar, was also handed a tough path as she is likely to face the last edition’s silver medallists Lacramioara Perijoc of Romania and Jutamas Jitpong in the second and third round respectively. Thai boxer Jitpong had lost to Nikhat in the last edition’s final.

Women’s World Boxing C’ships: Nikhat Zareen to Lovlina Borgohain – meet India’s 12-member squad

The tournament was kicked off with a grand opening ceremony at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex on Wednesday which was also attended by the Honourable Union Minister for Youth Affairs & Sports Anurag Singh Thakur, IBA President Kremlev and BFI President Ajay Singh.

Tournament’s brand ambassador and six-time champion great MC Mary Kom was also present along with the guest of honour Bollywood star Farhan Akhtar.

The country’s other boxers Nitu Ghanghas (48kg), Sakshi Chaudhary (52kg), Manisha Moun (57kg), Shashi Chopra (63kg), Manju Bamboriya (66kg), Shruti Yadav (70kg) and Nupur Sheoran (+81kg) will have relatively easy path at the ongoing championship, which is hosted by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) from March 15 to March 26.

Besides Zareen, Sakshi, Nupur and Preeti will also be seen in action on Thursday. The world’s biggest boxing event, which is being conducted in India for the record third time, will witness high-voltage action in the presence of 324 boxers, including several Olympics medallists, from 65 countries.

The biennial event will also see a massive prize pool of INR 20 crore as the boxers will compete in 12 weight categories.

Shruti replaces Sanamacha

Sanamacha Chanu has been ruled out of the tournament after suffering a concussion during her training and the decision was taken after a preliminary medical examination by the team doctor, keeping in mind the long-term health and future prospects of the athlete. The reserve boxer Shruti Yadav has replaced Chanu and will represent the country in the 70kg category.