Away in the UK fighting for India, world champion Nikhat Zareen missed her mother's birthday on August 3.
Nikhat took care of business that day, winning in the Commonwealth Games boxing quarterfinals at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Having missed the birthday celebration, Nikhat made up her mind to compensate for her absence by handing the ‘best gift’ to her mother, Parveen Sultana.
She bagged the gift on Sunday.
“I don’t think anything will make her happier than this...” Nikhat said, pointing to the gold medal she won after winning the 50kg light fly final 5-0 against Northern Ireland’s Carly McNaul.
Nikhat's colourful nails caught the eye in her moment of glory. They were painted in the colours of the Indian national flag, complete with the Ashoka Chakra. What's more, two of those had gold medals painted on them.
“It kept reminding me what I had to get for my mother from the UK. I got them done before my first bout,” said Nikhat, 26.
Nikhat breezed through her final as her opponent found no answers to her left hook-right cross combinations. McNaul's attempts to trap Nikhat on the left in the first round went in vain as the Telangana-born boxer kept raising the tempo with a series of forward lunges followed by quick jabs.
With about a minute and fifty seconds to go in the first round, a flurry of punches from Nikhat unsettled McNaul. Each of the scoring judges went 10-9 in favour of Nikhat.
In the second round, McNaul stepped on the gas, desperately trying to close the gap.
Nikhat, however, deftly avoided her attacks and picked her punches. The 2021 national boxing champion stayed in her territory, avoiding all the blows, even as coach Bhaskar Bhatt shouted from the ringside, “Usko bhaagne mat dena (Don’t let her escape)!” .
Nikhat, having sparred with McNaul earlier, said, “I knew how she fought. She is an expert in ‘clinching’. I had only one strategy: to maintain distance and hit her from openings on the side.”
Round three began with Nikhat driving a forceful punch into McNaul’s torso. McNaul even tried getting Nikhat to commit on the front foot, but the Indian saw through her plan and beat her with timely side-to-side movements.
“The competition level isn’t the same as a World Championship. But yeah, this has been a new experience,” said Nikhat.
Even before the official results were out, Nikhat raised her arms anticipating yet another unanimous decision in her favour. “I have only one motive. Go into the ring, give your best and win the bout via unanimous decision. By God’s grace, I have won all my matches thus far in a similar fashion.”
Nikhat plans to compete in the same category in Paris Olympics 2024. “I will take a break and come back. In the Olympics, I will stick to 50kg. I prefer losing weight and competing in a lower weight category,” she said.
Nikhat's win gave India its sixth boxing medal of the Games. Earlier on Sunday, Nitu Ghanghas opened India's boxing gold medal count after beating England's Demie-Jade Resztan by unanimous decision in the women's minimumweight final.
Amit Panghal delivered the second boxing gold of the day, beating England's Kiaran MacDonald to win his first Commonwealth Games gold medal.
One more boxing medal is guaranteed for India in the Super Heavyweight class, in which Sagar Ahlawat will take on England's Delicious Orie in the final later tonight.
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