The 52kg world champion eased into the Round of 16 in the 50kg division at the Women’s Boxing World Championships in Delhi on Sunday
Nikhat Zareen knew she would be dragged into uncomfortable territory against top seed Roumaysa Boualam. The Algerian, the first female boxer from her country to compete at the Olympics in Tokyo, is a bit of a brawler. If she gets going, she can land a flurry of punches and rattle her opponents.
It is a style that is not to Nikhat’s liking, but the 52kg world champion displayed great ring craft and maturity to upset the top seed by unanimous verdict and sail into the round of 16 in 50kg division at the IBA women’s world championships here on Sunday.
To counter her, Nikhat had to ensure she did not play into Roumaysa’s hands. She was ready with a gameplan, and that was not to wait for counters but instead dictate the pace from the start. For that, Nikhat had to be the aggressor and use her defence well to blunt Roumaysa’s thrust. When it came to execution, Nikhat was perfect, though the 5-0 scoreline doesn’t give a complete picture.
Roumaysa, who won a bronze medal at the Strandja Memorial tournament recently, went all out in attack with fast hands, dealing some powerful punches. That did not unnerve Nikhat. She stuck to her plan of letting her own punches fly and then retreat from the exchange. Nikhat won the first round comfortably though it looked tightly contested.
“My strategy was to dominate from the first round because she is the top seed, so that is a bit of an advantage for her. I went with the mindset that If I can beat the top seed, it will create a positive impression on the judges. So, I wanted to dominate from the start. I took the initiative to attack,” said Nikhat.
She started on the offensive and maintained the same tempo throughout, throwing her jabs and left hooks to good effect. Roumaysa soon responded, swinging her arms and bringing out her fast combinations drawing closer to Nikhat. The Algerian resorted to clinching and was cautioned time and again.
“She is a fighter and if you fight in close range with her, then she becomes very aggressive. So, I wanted to play from a distance; still there was some clinching happening,” said Nikhat.
The second round saw Roumaysa come out with more purpose and Nikhat was caught in the firing range at times. Nikhat, however, did well to often catch a retreating Roumaysa off guard with her attacks. With the Algerian docked a point in the second round, Nikhat stayed ahead in the contest.
It was in the third round where Nikhat came into her own and played true to her own style -- stepping back and finding the opportunity to slip in her punches. She closed out the bout with some ferocious strikes.
This was Nikhat’s second win in the tournament, having beaten Ismayilova Anakhanim of Azerbaijan in the first round with RSC (Referee Stopped the Contest). Nikhat will next face Mexico's Fatima Alvarez Herrera, who defeated Nassar Hanan of Jordan with a RSC verdict in the second round. Nikhat defeated Alvarez in the Istanbul worlds last year, but knows she can’t drop her guard.
“I am in the pre-quarters, so I will focus step-by-step. As I move forward, I will be getting tougher opponents.”
With the 50kg being a new Olympic category for the 2024 Paris Games, many top boxers are competing. There was a big upset on Sunday with Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist and second seed Namiki Tsukimi of Japan stunned by Lkhadiri Wassila of France in a split decision. 2016 Rio bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia (50kg) of Colombia sailed through with a dominating win against Nziva Veronica Mbithe of Kenya -- RSC in the second round. Nikhat could meet Valencia in the semi-final if both keep winning.
“They are all experienced boxers in my category. I am new to this weight and that’s why I didn’t get the seeding. I played Valencia a long time back in the Indian league but that’s in the past. Before that I have two more rounds and I will take it as it comes.”
Manisha also through
2022 World Championships bronze medallist Manisha Moun (57kg) also registered a 5-0 win against Tina Rahimi of Australia. Manisha was never in trouble and she was sharp with her punches, never allowing Rahimi much room to have a go at her.
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