Nearly decade ago, when Nitu Ghanghas stepped into the Bhiwani Boxing Academy, she recalled being in awe of the poster-covered walls of medallists. On a memorable Saturday night inside the KD Jadhav Hall at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi, she went on to reserve a place for herself on those walls as she was crowned World Champion.
The 2022 CWG gold medallist defeated Mongolia’s Lutsaikhan Altantsetseg by a 5-0 unanimous decision to clinch her first World Championship title.
Her father Jai Bhagwan, who sacrificed a lot to watch his daughter thrive, and almost all known ones from her village were at the arena. To make the moment even more special, a teary-eyed Nitu stood alongside Bhiwani’s very own, Vijender Singh, her idol. Now, after becoming only the sixth Indian woman to clinch the World Championship gold, even Bhiwani’s neighbouring village Dhanana, had a hero to call their own.
“I am thankful to everyone in my village who supported my dream to become a boxer. They prayed hard for me at the Commonwealth Games and turned up here today to cheer me,” said Nitu.
“I had started boxing after watching Vijender Singh. And it was heartening to see his presence there especially for my bout. I was even more motivated after seeing him cheer for me. My confidence grew manifolds due to his presence.”
Even as she went up against an experienced boxer in the final, the 22-year-old stepped into the ring with the hopes of a gold medal in the 48kg category pinned on her. Considering the kind of tournament she had in just her second World Championships, where she recorded three back-to-back victories by Referee-Stops-Contest decisions, those hopes weren’t unfounded.
It was the opening bout on the first day of the finals on Saturday and an eager Indian crowd greeted her with loud cheers, hoping the first Indian star could put on a show. And, Nitu did not disappoint. She went for the kill straight up, charging down and attacking the Mongolian from the word go. Unlike a lot of the other light flyweight bouts in the tournament, this one saw a lot of clinching, meaning both boxers were not throwing clean punches but clinging onto each other.
What mattered was that Nitu took the first round on all five cards. The Mongolian was able to put up a better show in the second round, which saw better boxing from both corners, but again, the Indian had convinced three out of five judges in her favour. After the final round, coaches Bhaskar Bhatt and Dimitry Damuk were all gleaming, patting the Indian on the back, knowing their ward had done enough. She sealed the deal with a 5:0 unanimous decision.
Nitu had mentioned after her semifinal win against Kazakhtan’s Alua Balkibekova that the level of aggression in the final would depend on the fight. And so, unapologetic and firm about her approach, she explained, “Having discussed with my coaches yesterday, I had decided to be aggressive since the first round today to get the scores in my favour.”
She didn’t just punch her way to the top of the podium, she strutted this week in Delhi.
Interestingly, according to the new ranking evaluation criteria, Nitu had emerged as one of the most consistent boxers in the camp. She was awarded a total of 634 points during the three-week observation period. It was the second best across weight categories, just behind Nikhat Zareen.
Her consistency has also gotten better since she made the switch from youth to the senior elite category. Her major achievements include a gold at the Strandja Memorial in 2022, a gold at the Commonwealth Games 2022 and now, still in the early stages of what promises to be an exciting career, she has now become a World Champion.
In a conversation with this publication before the Birmingham Games, Nitu had said that after many turbulent years, she had finally started to hope that things will change for the better. So, with another gold at a major event, did she finally feel like the change had some bearing?
“Since the Commonwealth Games, I feel a lot of improvement in my financial status. Most importantly, there is improvement even in my game because whatever financial problems we used to face at home, I am relieved of those so I can prepare freely as well,” she told Scroll in a conversation later on Saturday.
“Speaking about the mental aspect, winning these medals back to back has given me immense confidence,” she added.
Aware that the Rs 82.7 lakhs she had just won as prize money for this event is life-changing, the young pugilist knows exactly what she will do first. “First of all, any debts that I may have had, I will clear those with this amount. Then, I will use it support my siblings who are pursuing challenging careers themselves.”
Just like that, a younger sister who is pursuing a career in medicine and a brother who is an aspiring shooter now have just the person to look up to inside their very home when they need inspiration. For many more boxers out there, there will perhaps be a poster on a wall somewhere at their boxing academies with World Champion Nitu’s face on it, to serve as a reminder to chase their dreams.
1: Nikhat (50kg) vs Nguyen Thi Tam of Vietnam- 6 PM
2: Lovlina (75kg) vs Caitlin Parker of Australia - Approximate time 7:30 PM