Nikhat Zareen Dominates Opening Bout in Asian Games Despite Controversial Draw
In a surprising turn of events at the Asian Games, world champion boxer Nikhat Zareen faced off against world silver medallist Thi Tam Nguyen in the opening round of the 50kg category. While Nikhat emerged victorious, the matchup between these two exceptional boxers should never have occurred in the initial round.
Consider this: when was the last time tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal clashed in the first round of a major tournament? Such an occurrence is unheard of, and the Nikhat vs. Nguyen bout was equally perplexing. The draw for the 50kg category, with 18 athletes, featured 16 brackets, and a staggering 14 byes were awarded. Shockingly, only two bouts took place in the opening round, and both featured world medallists. This unusual situation arose because the draws were made by an IOC-OCA task force, as the International Boxing Association (IBA) had been de-recognized by the International Olympic Council (IOC). The fact that the Asian Games also serves as a qualifying event for the Paris Olympics underscores the absurdity of the draw.
Nonetheless, Nikhat Zareen made the most of the situation by delivering a commanding performance against Nguyen. After a cautious opening minute, Nikhat unleashed a barrage of solid jabs, putting Nguyen on the defensive. Nikhat’s thundering five-punch combination left Nguyen dazed, prompting the referee to start the standing eight count. Nguyen attempted to continue, but Nikhat’s stinging left hook led to another eight count.
With a strong start in her favor, Nikhat didn’t let up in the subsequent rounds. She overwhelmed Nguyen with a flurry of punches, resulting in additional standing counts and even the referee asking Nguyen if she was okay. Despite Nguyen’s determination, the judges awarded the second round to Nikhat as well.
The final quarter was a mere formality as Nguyen swung desperately, hoping to land a punch or two. However, Nikhat expertly danced around the ring and heeded her corner’s advice, “maarke nikal [punch and move].” This secured her second victory over Nguyen this year.
Nikhat Zareen has established herself as an unstoppable force in the 50kg weight category. She remains undefeated for two years, clinching the World Championships twice and triumphing at the Commonwealth Games.
After the bout, Nikhat revealed her strategic approach, stating, “I had not expected it to be a one-sided bout, but my plan was to make it one. Competing in another country, I didn’t want to give her any chance. My plan was to win the first two rounds unanimously and then relax in the third. I am focusing on qualification first, and then step by step, I’ll think of the final and gold.”
Earlier in the day, Indian boxer Pooja kicked off India’s boxing campaign on a high note. She secured victory against Jordan’s Silina Alhasanat via RSC (Referee Stops Contest). Pooja is now set to face Kazakhstan’s Zhaina Shekerbekova, a three-time World Championship medallist, in the quarterfinals. Shekerbekova, who won bronze at the 2022 Worlds and holds two Asian championship titles, promises to be a formidable opponent.
Nikhat Zareen’s dominant performance and Pooja’s victorious start have set a promising tone for India’s boxing contingent at the Asian Games. As the competition unfolds, fans eagerly await more electrifying bouts and standout performances from the Indian boxers.