'I was the only Indian boxer in the final and I badly wanted to win gold for my country.'
'When the referee raised my hand and I was declared the winner, I could not stop the tears rolling down.'
Nikhat Zareen is the fifth Indian woman to win a gold medal at the IBA women's World Boxing Championships.
The 25-year-old pugilist from Nizamabad, Telangana, was crowned champion after a unanimous 5-0 verdict over Tokyo Olympian Jutamas Jitpong of Thailand in the 52 kg category in Istanbul on Thursday, May 19.
Nikhat won all her bouts by unanimous decision to be crowned World Champion 11 years after she won gold in the Junior Women's World Cup.
As messages flooded media networks and social platforms, one specific compliment stood out. It was from the legendary MC Mary Kom.
'Congratulations @nikhat_zareen for winning Gold medal. So proud of you on your historic performances and all the best for your future endeavours,' read the tweet.
Mary's message was special not least because it was a show of admiration from a boxer who is best identified with Indian boxing, but also because of the shared history between the two pugilists.
In 2019, Nikhat pleaded for a 'fair trial' against Mary ahead of the Tokyo Olympics after being denied a chance to compete in the trials for the World Championships. Mary had asked then, 'Who is Nikhat Zareen?'
Nikhat eventually lost the bout to Mary in the trials and failed to make it to the Tokyo Games.
Cut to 2022 and Nikhat is a World Champion!
For everything she went through, vindication in the form of a compliment from MC Mary Kom would have surely made Nikhat's day. After all, her journey to the pinnacle of world boxing was filled with obstacles. She punched her way right through them and after years of struggle her moment in the spotlight has arrived.
"I haven't slept a wink. I was reading messages all night. It was very exciting talking to friends and family," India's latest World Champion tells Rediff.com's's Laxmi Negi, revealing that she keeps the gold medal in her pocket.
Why did you break down after the result was announced? What did those tears mean to you?
I was the only Indian boxer in the final and I badly wanted to win gold for my country.
When the referee raised my hand and I was declared the winner I could not stop the tears rolling down.
It really feels good to win a gold medal for my country. After all, the hard work and sacrifices I made in my life it finally paid off. I was really feeling happy and emotional after winning the gold medal.
Were you nervous before the final? Were you listening to songs or heeding Coach Bhaskar Bhat's instructions?
I was nervous; at the same time I was excited for the final. I kept thinking how I would box against my opponent and what combination of punches I should be banking on.
Before every bout I listen to motivational songs; I did the same before the final. Bhaskar sir kept motivating me with his words.
In 2019 Mary Kom asked, 'Who is Nikhat Zareen?' What would you like to tell her now?
I do not want to say anything to anyone. This World Championship gold medal speaks for itself.
How did you celebrate your win?
I celebrated my win with my team and coaches; everyone was happy. I hugged everyone with teary eyes and a smile on my face.
Sir (Head Coach Bhaskar) was happy and suddenly he lifted me on his shoulder and started walking.
What about celebrations back home?
I haven't planned yet, but I'm excited to meet my family and friends back home
Any cheat meal that you want to relish?
Biryani and food prepared by my mom.
Where did you keep your World Championship medal?
It's in my pocket!
There is talk about you boxing in the 50kg category. When will that happen? How are you preparing for it?
Yes, I'm preparing to box in the 50kg category for the Commonwealth Games since 51kg is not there (there is no 51kg category at the Commonwealth Games). I haven't started yet; once I start my training I will prepare accordingly.
Are you nervous about the expectations that are going to follow?
Not really, but it will definitely push me to work harder to achieve my dream.
How would you sum your World Championship campaign? You returned with a gold medal, but, in the ring, were you able to box according to plan? What would you like to include in your armoury to be invincible?
It was an amazing campaign. We trained with boxers from different countries and competed against them.
In order to win a medal for my country I had to win every bout; there was no respite.
Whatever we planned, I managed to implement some of it in the ring. My game is a work in progress. From thereon I plan to get better.
But winning all the bouts unanimously was extremely satisfying.