India’s local favourite and defending champion Nikhat Zareen said the semifinal win was her best bout so far this past week as she ensured back-to-back final appearances at the IBA Women’s Boxing World Championships, defeating Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia of Colombia by a 5:0 unanimous decision in the 50 kg event on Thursday in Delhi.

Women’s Boxing World C’ships: Nitu, Nikhat Zareen, Lovlina Borgohain, Saweety reach finals

Nikhat had won the gold in a higher category (52kg) last year but dropped down for this edition considering her preparation for Paris 2024. The 50kg weight division is in the Olympic roster and is where she won the gold at the Commonwealth Games 2022 and at the National Boxing Championships 2022 in Bhopal.

Looking to win back-to-back gold medals at the marquee event, the Indian boxer said, “Playing in front of the home crowd, the feeling is surreal. The way they are cheering and supporting, it motivates me a lot especially when I come to my corner. Even before sir can tell me the score, I can hear the audience’s voices. I come to know from them that we are leading and dominating that round.

“This was my fifth bout in the tournament. I think I am improving everyday, my performance was getting better each day. I am very happy with the way I performed today against a very experienced boxer.”

Despite Nikhat having moved to a lower weight category, this was not the first time she was facing the Colombian, who is a veteran on the circuit and had won silver in this division in 2022. The two had squared off earlier in the Big Bout Boxing League which the Indian had won unanimously. However, since then, Valenica rose in her rank and played in major competitions including the Olympics.

Nikhat said, “Valencia is very experienced and she was a silver medallist in the previous edition so her confidence level was already high. But I had faced her in 2019 and so I devised a strategy to check whether I could play the same way with her in the first round of today’s bout. I figured that my game was, in fact, suiting me and so I continued the same in the next round.”

Nikhat, however, faced a scare in the quarterfinal against Thailand’s two-time World Championships bronze medallist Chuthamat Raksat. It turned out to be a thriller as the Thai boxer gave a tough fight and the bout was reviewed. Nikhat eventually won 5-2.

“They were all tough but if I had to choose the most challenging bout in the tournament so far, it had to be the one against the Thai boxer. I was also very tired in the final round and I also won it by a split decision after the bout was reviewed,” Nikhat said.

Talking about how challenging this event has been, she added, “This is the first time that I am playing six bouts back-to-back with all opponents being tough. Someone was an African champion, someone was a two-time World Championship medallist, everyone was experienced and strong. I could feel the level of fatigue and load set in on my body but still I managed to keep myself strong.”

The Nizamabad pugilist will face two-time Asian champion Nguyen Thi Tam of Vietnam in the final on Sunday.

Nitu enters first World Championships final

Commonwealth Games Gold Medallist Nitu Ghanghas also stormed into her first ever final at the World Championships after defeating reigning Asian champion and last year’s World Championships silver medallist Alua Balkibekova of Kazakhstan in the 48kg semifinal.

The bout was a rematch of last year’s World Championships quarterfinals that the Kazakh won. However, stronger, wiser and far more experienced, Nitu turned the tables this time around to win the closely fought bout 5-2 on points after it was reviewed.

Talking about the fight, Nitu said, “There was a bit of pressure on me because I lost to her the last time. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistakes. I knew that if I was puzzled at any point, I would lose the bout.”

She added: “The last time I played her, I played with a lot of distance and I think that was a mistake. I wasn’t able to cover up in the three rounds. This time, I had to ensure that I did not give her distance because that is her strength. Instead, I focused on a close-range game this time. I also prefer playing in the long range but she feels very comfortable playing in the long-range. I also had to initiate first attack so that she counters it and I attack again.”

Nitu came into the semifinal with three consecutive Referee -Stops-Contest wins under her belt. She spoke about how that may have added pressure for her opponent but she too felt most challenged particularly in this bout.

“After winning three bouts RSC, I think the pressure was on the Kazakh boxer. She must have watched the bouts as well. Even more so because of the home crowd,” admitted the 22-year-old.

“I felt most challenged in this bout because the first round went 3-2 in the Kazakh boxer’s favour. I was feeling like I have to cover up. But I didn’t take a lot of pressure because it was still close and not something stark like a 5-0 or 4-1 in her favour. At the end of the second round I started feeling like yeah, I have got this covered.”

Nitu will now take on the 2022 Asian Championships bronze medallist Lutsaikhan Altantsetseg of Mongolia in the final on Saturday.

Lovlina on her switch to 75kg division

Two-time bronze medallist in the past, Lovlina Borgohain ensured that she will better the colour of the medal at the World Championships this time around after she sealed a 4:1 win in the 75kg final. Going up against the decorated Chinese Li Qian, the Indian pulled off a stunning victory after being tied at 1-1 after two rounds with three judges on the fence, the Indian ultimately prevailed 4-1.

Fighting in the 75kg Olympic weight division this time around, Lovlina was up for a challenge. She spoke about the transition saying, “To prepare for this weight category, I had to struggle a lot. When I started playing in this category at the National Games, then the National Championships and then the Asian Championships, I think it is going well so far.

“I feel much more comfortable in this weight category because I don’t need to control my weight so much. It is my natural weight and so I am able to do well,” she added.

She further dissected her game saying: “When I used to play in the 69kg category, my opponent used to be less in height or my equal but here, the opponents are usually taller and their punches are more powerful. Some things are going well for me in this category because having played in a lesser weight division, my speed is better.”

Lovlina will face the two-time Commonwealth Games medallist Caitlin Parker of Australia in the final on Sunday.

Saweety completes perfect day

Wrapping up India’s dominance in the 81kg semifinal, three-time Asian medallist Saweety put up a stellar performance to beat Emma-Sue Greentree of Australia 4-3 on points after the bout was reviewed.

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“I think taking pressure does you no good. I knew I have practiced, put the work in. All I had to do was deliver,” she said after winning the last bout featuring an Indian on Thursday.

“Now, the hope is to bring four gold medals for India. I think we have all got the tougher bouts out of the way and I do think we have a good shot at getting those four golds,” she added.

She will now go up against the 2018 World Champion Wang Lina of China in the final on Saturday.