Mohammad Jameel, a former footballer and cricketer, wanted one of his four daughters to pick up a sport. The Nizamabad native picked athletics for his third daughter Nikhat Zareen. A young Nikhat emerged state champion in both the sprint events, but took to the boxing ring on the advice of an uncle. At 14, she was crowned the World Youth Boxing Champion and looked destined to be a major force.
But living in the shadow of the legendary Mary Kom meant a patient wait for her 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 flyweight (52 kg) world champion with a unanimous decision win over Jitpong Jutamas of Thailand. Jameel looked back with pride.
“To win a gold in the world championships is something which will act as an inspiration to Muslim girls as well each girl in the country to aim to achieve bigger in life. A kid, where he is boy or girl, has to make their own way and Nikhat has paved her 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 didn’t discourage his daughter from entering a sport which did not see many female boxers competing in Nizamabad or even Hyderabad in the late 2000’s.
ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS ✍️ 🤩
⚔️@nikhat_zareen continues her golden streak (from Nationals 2021) & becomes the only 5️⃣th 🇮🇳woman boxer to win🥇medal at World Championships🔥
— Boxing Federation (@BFI_official) May 19, 2022
With the sport requiring girls to wear shorts and training shirts, it was not easy for the Jameel household. With both her parents including her mother Parveen Sultana supporting her dream, the youngster would become the 2011 world youth champion in Turkey defeating Ulku Demir of Turkey. “I used to work as a sales assistant in Saudi Arabia for 15 years before I decided to shift base to Nizamabad to support my daughter’s studies and sports.
While Nikhat’s two elder sisters are doctors, I had to spend time on Nikhat’s training as well as her younger sister, who plays badminton. When Nikhat told us about her willingness to become a boxer, there was no hesitation in our minds. But sometimes, relatives or friends would tell us that a girl should not play a sport where she has to wear shorts. But we knew that whatever Nikhat wanted, we would support her dream,” Jameel said.
While the youngster would become the world youth champion in 2011, it wasn’t till 2016 that she would burst on the senior level with her maiden senior national title in Haridwar where she defeated Manisha in the final in the flyweight category.
With 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist Mary Kom too competing in the same category, it wasn’t smooth sailing for Nikhat in the senior level. A shoulder injury in 2017 meant that she was out of the national camp for a year. The youngster would return to the ring with a bronze in the senior nationals in 2018 apart from winning the title in the Belgrade international the same year.
The road to @Paris2024 begins⏱
— Nikhat Zareen (@nikhat_zareen) August 8, 2021
Medals in the 2019 Asian Championships and Thailand Open would be sign of the youngsters rise at the senior level but with Mary Kom showing her supremacy in the weight category, it was not an easy phase for Zareen. She didn’t get a break in the Indian team for 2018 CWG and Asian Games but her father Jameel kept her motivated.
“When she won the world youth title, she was 15-year-old and it would take some time for her to understand that the transition to the senior level will be tough.
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 did play on her mind. I would tell her tales of many underprivileged boxers in Nizamabad, who would get happy after winning sub-junior or junior titles and that there is time for everything. After her, two more muslim girls joined the national boxing camp and I would tell her that how she has become an inspiration for others,” Jameel said.
Former SAI coach Emani Chiranjeevi, who has trained Nikhat since 2014, too spent a lot of time with the youngster post her injury as well working on her basics. “Her biggest strength has been her will power and the ability to be a perceptive boxer who understands the game well. Things like when to hit a punch, stop a punch or dodge a punch come naturally to her and her mind is always in thinking mode during the bouts as well. Her ring craft involves intellect, awareness and perception in gauging the opponent and that has helped her throughout her career,” Chiranjeevi said.
During the last three years, Zareen had wins over the likes of former light-flyweight (51kg) world champion Ekaterina Paltceva of Russia and two-time former light fly-weight world champion Nazym Kyzaibay of Kazakhstan. She beat Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Busenaz Cakiroglu of Turkey in the Strandja Memorial prior to the world championships.
While the likes of Rio Olympics flyweight bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia of Columbia and Cakiroglu were competing in the 50 kg category in Turkey, a Paris 2024 weight category, Zareen will be shifting to the higher 54kg weight division post the CWG and Asian Games to get her shot at Olympic glory. “The main challenge in 54kg will be to add more power and speed in her punches. Since she will be adding weight, we have to work on her stamina, which is crucial as we move up in terms of weight.
She has the speed, which only needs to be tuned to that weight and she will have to add strength to her core before focusing on the basics in the new weight category to adjust,” Indian women’s team national coach Bhaskar Chandra Bhatt said.
And the Jameel household will be making the preparations for Nikhat’s return. “For the last 2-3 years, she has missed her favorite biryani and nihari. Once she gets free from the camp, she can have a full for 1-2 days only before she again gets busy,” Jameel added.