North East Rhinos, riding on determined efforts by skipper Nikhat Zareen and Mandeep Jangra, charged to a hard-fought 4-3 victory over Bombay Bullets in their penultimate league match in the Big Bout League at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadiumin Noida on Saturday night.

Teenager Ambeshori Devi Huidram and Argentina’s Francisco Veron (75kg) earned crucial points for Rhinos in a match that had seen the teams tied for the fourth place with 11 points each at the start of the match on Saturday. They were looking to get into the final set of matches next week with at least a slight advantage.

The women’s 51kg battle between the captains Nikhat Zareen (NE Rhinos) and Olympic bronze medallist Ingrit Lorena Valencia and the 69kg the one between Mandeep Jangra (Rhinos) and Naveen Bora (Bullets), who had both won each of their three bouts thus far, were edge-of-the-seat bouts.

Nikhat Zareen, who rested during NE Rhinos’ narrow win against Odisha Warriors, earned a unanimous points verdict against the Spaniard. The Indian star cast her nervousness aside and found a rhythm with her quick combinations to score a big win.

Mandeep Jangra had to stay focussed against the unconventional no-guard and teasing approach that 20-year-old Naveen Boora brought to the ring. The seasoned boxer, now on a comeback trail, took some time to find a method to beat Naveen Boora. He used dodges and effective jabs to gain an edge over the younger boxer in a split 3-2 verdict.

Ambeshori, national junior champion, made a winning debut for NE Rhinos with a come-from-behind victory over Priya Kushwaha in the youth women’s 57kg bout. The 16-year-old, who learnt her ropes at the Sarita Devi Academy, overcame a sluggish start to turn the bout on its head with her calm approach.

The Rhinos’ fourth win came from the Argentine Francisco Veron. Like Nikhat (three wins) and Mandeep Jangra (four), Francisco Veron has shown himself up as a reliable fighter for the Rhinos with his third win in as many starts.

Bombay Bullets’ Cuban-born Spanish star Emmanuel Reyas gave Ergashev Timur no chance at all in the 91kg bout, Kavinder Singh Bisht put the Bullets ahead 2-1 with a 4-1 points verdict over the energetic debutant Sehran Sandhu in a contest between boxers with root in Uttarakhand while Ananta Chopade pulled a point back in the final bout with a win over rookie Govind Kumar Sahani.

Earlier, Bombay Bullets skipper Ingrit Lorena Valencia won the toss and had no hesitation in blocking the women’s 60k bout. Their Spanish import Melissa Neomi Gonzalez had lost all three bouts so far and would have been up against the recently-crowned 64kg National Champion Pwilao Basumatary.

The Bullets made no changes to their line-up, unlike NE Rhinos who decided to rope in Govind Kumar Sahini, Sehran Sandhu and Ambeshari Devi Huidram. Interestingly, the Bullets have preferred the same line-up in each of their four matches while the Rhinos used a total of 16 boxers in their four matches.

In their final league matches, the Bombay Bullets will face Odisha Warriors (11 points) while NE Rhinos have the tougher Punjab Panthers (15 points) to deal with. In the other match in the climactic round, table toppers Gujarat Giants (17 points) will take on the Bengaluru Brawlers (10 points). The top four sides will move into the semifinals.