Mohammad Jameel, a former footballer and cricketer, wanted one of his four daughters to take up a sport. The Nizamabad native has chosen athletics for his third daughter Nikhat Zareen. A young Nikhat became a state champion in both sprint events, but went to the boxing ring on the advice of an uncle. At 14, she was crowned world junior boxing champion and seemed destined to become a major force.
But living in the shadow of the legendary Mary Kom meant patiently biding its time under the sun. A shoulder injury didn’t help and she missed a full year in 2017. Five years later, the pain and frustration are distant memories as Nikhat became the world flyweight champion (52kg ) with a unanimous decision win over Jitpong Jutamas of Thailand. Jameel looked back proudly.
ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS ✍️ 🤩
⚔️@nikhat_zareen continues her gold streak (from Nationals 2021) and becomes the only 5️⃣th 🇮🇳boxer to win🥇medal at the World Championships🔥
— Boxing Federation (@BFI_official) May 19, 2022
“Winning a gold medal at the world championships is something that will inspire Muslim girls as well as every girl in the country to aim for greater in life. A child whether he is a boy or a girl has to make his own way and Nikhat has paved his own way,” an emotional Jameel told The Indian Express.
With her uncle Samsamuddin’s sons Etheshamuddin and Itishamuddni being boxers, a young Nikhat didn’t have to look for inspiration outside her family circle. Her father did not discourage his daughter from taking up the sport which did not see many female boxers competing in Nizamabad or even Hyderabad in the late 2000s.
With the sport requiring the girls to wear training shorts and singlets, it wasn’t easy for the Jameel family. With both of her parents, including her mother Parveen Sultana, supporting her dream, the youngster would become the 2011 Junior World Champion in Turkey by beating Ulku Demir of Turkey. “I worked as a sales assistant in Saudi Arabia for 15 years before deciding to move to Nizamabad to support my daughter’s studies and sports.
Many sincere congratulations my dear friend @nikhat_zareen Today, you proved who you are to all the no-sayers! So proud of you and I hope you succeed every time you step into the ring and the biggest ring “Life” pic.twitter.com/rBR9PxgFs1
— Lovlina Borgohain (@LovlinaBorgohai) May 20, 2022
While Nikhat’s two older sisters are doctors, I had to devote time to training Nikhat as well as his younger sister, who plays badminton. When Nikhat told us about her desire to become a boxer, there was no hesitation in our minds. But sometimes parents or friends would tell us that a girl shouldn’t play a sport where she has to wear shorts. But we knew whatever Nikhat wanted, we would support his dream,” Jameel said.
While the youngster would become a junior world champion in 2011, it wasn’t until 2016 that she would break out at senior level with her first senior national title in Haridwar where she beat Manisha in the final in the flyweight category.
With 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist Mary Kom also competing in the same category, it hasn’t been easy sailing for Nikhat at the senior level. A shoulder injury in 2017 meant she was out of national camp for a year. The youngster would return to the ring with a bronze medal at the senior nationals in 2018, in addition to winning the title from the Belgrade international the same year.
The road to @Paris2024 start⏱
— Nikhat Zareen (@nikhat_zareen) August 8, 2021
Medals at the 2019 Asian Championships and Thailand Open would be a sign of the youngsters’ rise to senior level, but with Mary Kom showing her weight class supremacy, it was not an easy phase for Zareen. She didn’t get a break from the Indian team for the 2018 CWG and the Asian Games, but her father Jameel kept her motivated.
“When she won the world junior title, she was 15 and it took her time to realize that the transition to senior level will be difficult.
Congratulations World Champion, @nikhat_zareen! Istanbul mei lath gaad diya 🇮🇳
निखत ज़रीन बहुत बेहतरीन | 👏👏 https://t.co/Uv2es2zm3j
—Neeraj Chopra (@Neeraj_chopra1) May 20, 2022
The senior national title in 2016 made her think like a senior boxer before the shoulder injury happened. While she would get chances in international tournaments, missing out on big tournaments played on her mind. I would tell him the stories of many underprivileged boxers in Nizamabad, who would be happy after winning sub-junior or junior titles and there is time for everything. After her, two other Muslim girls joined the national boxing camp and I would tell her that she became an inspiration to others,” Jameel said.
Former SAI coach Emani Chiranjeevi, who has been coaching Nikhat since 2014, also spent a lot of time with the youngster after her injury and worked on her basics. “Her greatest strength has been her will and her ability to be a shrewd boxer who understands the game well. Things like when to punch a punch, stop a punch or dodge a punch come naturally to her and her mind is always in thinking mode during fights as well. Her ring craft involves intellect, awareness and perception to assess the opponent and that has helped her throughout her career,” Chiranjeevi said.
Over the past three years, Zareen has had victories over former world lightweight (51kg) champion Ekaterina Paltceva of Russia and two-time world lightweight flyweight champion Nazym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan. She defeated Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Busenaz Cakiroglu of Turkey at the Strandja Memorial ahead of the world championships.
While Rio Olympics flyweight bronze medalist Ingrit Valencia of Colombia and Cakiroglu competed in the 50kg class in Turkey, a Paris 2024 weight class, Zareen will move up to the top 54kg weight division after the CWG and the Asian Games to get it. headed for Olympic glory. “The main challenge at 54kg will be adding more power and speed to her shots. Since she’s going to gain weight, we need to work on her stamina, which is crucial as we move up in weight.
She has the speed, which only needs to be matched at this weight and she will need to strengthen her core before focusing on the basics in the new weight class to adapt,” the national team coach said. Indian woman, Bhaskar Chandra Bhatt.
And the Jameel family will make preparations for Nikhat’s return. “For 2-3 years, he misses his favorite biryani and nihari. Once she is released from the camp, she can only be sated for 1-2 days before busying herself again,” added Jameel.