Asian Games, boxing: Nikhat Zareen’s long winning streak ends with bronze as Thailand’s Chuthamat Raksat neutralises her attacking weapons

A long winning streak, that made Nikhat Zareen feel almost invincible in the 50kg weight category at one point, came to an end on Sunday when the two-time World Champion finished on the wrong side of a 2-3 decision against Thailand’s Chuthamat Raksat at the Hangzhou Asian Games.

Though Zareen finished with a bronze medal, the overriding feeling would be of a gold lost.

Coming into this Olympic qualifying tournament, Zareen was the clear favourite for the gold having won two back-to-back World Championships. But on Sunday, she fell prey to an opponent she had barely escaped from in New Delhi during the Worlds earlier this year.

Raksat is crafty, to say the least. One may not get pulsating combinations from her but she’s quick enough to land that first jab and then clinch immediately. It’s something that she did routinely at the World Championships in New Delhi. The score then read 3-2 in Zareen’s favour before an evaluator and observer felt that the home favourite deserved to go through to the next round, so a 5-2 margin was the final result.

Nikhat Hangzhou: India’s Nikhat Zareen (blue) and Thailand’s Chuthamat Raksat during the 45kg-50kg category semifinal boxing match at the 19th Asian Games, in Hangzhou, China, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (PTI Photo/Gurinder Osan)

However, the International Boxing Association’s rules don’t apply at the Asian Games. In Hangzhou, there is no provision of two outside judges also putting their scores in. In fact, it was the first round itself where the scoring started to feel amiss as Zareen, who wasn’t being clinched up as much by Raksat and had managed to get many of her punches to land, was only given the round by three out of the five judges. This was despite a cagey start punctuated by the Indian landing more shots than her Thai opponent in the limited exchanges they had.

Freedom Sale

Raksat continued to employ the tactic of landing the first punch and then using the momentum of that strike to quickly lock Zareen’s arms up.

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This is not the first time Zareen has had to go through these tactics. Many boxers domestically, who don’t often want to stand and trade punches with her, often use similar ways to ensure that the judges would have to really think before pulling the trigger on a decision. Now one of the top 50kg boxers in the world and with enough footage of Zareen’s matches rolling around, it’s obvious that similar methods will be employed internationally, especially in big-ticket events like the Asian Games.

Whether it was a matter of Zareen and her corner simply not realising that not allowing her to mount any semblance of offence or momentum was part of the plan, or it was an inability on the 26-year-old’s part to come up with a solution, this has to be the main concern for Zareen going forward, especially with the Paris Olympics less than a year away. One of the judges even scored the contest 30-27 in the favour of Ruksat, not even giving a round to the Indian.

Simply put, figuring out how to beat opponents that respect the weapons she brings to a bout, and then effectively neutralise those weapons, has to be the focus for Zareen. While an Asian Games bronze on her debut is a worthy achievement, the Olympic quota earned means that now is when the real work towards the Olympic podium begins.

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