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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Mary Kom vs Nikhat Zareen: Finally, the gloves to do the talking

On the first day of selection trials, Nikhat and Mary — nation's two best women flyweights — defeated Jyoti Gulia and Ritu Grewal — on paper, the nation's best women flyweights

Written by Gaurav Bhatt |
Updated: December 28, 2019 8:56:24 am
Mary Kom celebrates after defeating Ritu Grewal. (Source: PTI)

The time for talking is over. After months of put-downs, complaints, outbursts and tweets, Mary Kom and Nikhat Zareen will fight in the ring, in a year-ending headliner at the IG Stadium on Saturday. At stake is a berth in February’s Olympic qualifiers, and a lot more.

On Saturday, it’s on Mary to underline the sense of superiority that has prompted the six-time World Champion to discredit a younger rival. For Nikhat, it’s the fair fight she has clamoured for, and the chance to put in a defining performance against a legend.

On the first day of selection trials, Nikhat and Mary — nation’s two best women flyweights — defeated Jyoti Gulia and Ritu Grewal — on paper, the nation’s best women flyweights. Jyoti and Ritu were the 51kg finalists at the senior nationals in Kannur earlier this month, while Nikhat and Mary featured in the first edition of the boxing league.

Nikhat began the day’s proceedings against national champion Jyoti, buoyed by her family’s presence in the audience. With the stonefaced gaze of Mary fixed on the action in the ring, Nikhat stayed in range and countered her way to a unanimous win. But it was a bout won in a largly unremarkable manner. Against the Olympic bronze-medallist Mary, the 23-year-old’s conservative approach might not be enough to get the nod of the ten judges presiding over the contests.

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Going all out against the veteran however isn’t without perils, as Ritu found out later. The 24-year-old from Haryana is tough and likes to dirty it up a bit. On Friday, she took the contest to Mary, trying to bully her with relentless attacks, clinching and grappling; twice the boxers went to the ground. Mary was visibly frustrated, eyeballing the boxer after the second-round bell.

“She is very experienced, and I knew I would have to be a little more attacking. Throw more punches. But I should have focused on countering as well,” Ritu said.

It was a grind, but Mary survived. The two exchanged shots, but the 37-year-old’s were cleaner. “Height difference played a part. Mary is shorter, so my right wasn’t connecting properly downward with full force. Her experience comes into play because people are able to see her punches clearly. It was a tough fight. I can beat everyone in 51kg,” Ritu said, and with a pause added: “Except Mary.”

Mary has made her name taking down taller, bigger opponents. On Friday though, she looked particularly smaller, and slower. Mary has slowed down, even compared to last year’s Worlds gold-winning run at the same venue. In the early goings and against passive opponents, she is able to mask it by hanging back and being evasive. But forced to trade and throw rapid counters, Mary’s punches lacked the usual crispness. On several occasions, her leading right finished inches away from her side-stepping opponent. The ring generalship however was enough to get her an unanimous win.

Ritu might have failed, but Nikhat’s best bet remains to swarm Mary. In their previous meeting in the India Open final this May, a respectful Nikhat often let Mary rush in, connect and disengage. On Saturday, a clinical, measured performance wouldn’t be enough to sway the scorers. Getting to this moment has been a battle in itself, and Nikhat would have to bite down and seize it.

“I am just waiting for tomorrow’s bout. There is no pressure on me right on because I wanted the fight to happen for a long time and I am excited,” Nikhat said. “I just want to give my best. At last I got an opportunity to face (Mary) and I will make sure that it turns out to be a memorable bout. I will make sure that it’s a clean bout tomorrow without any clinching and wrestling. I will play fairly and clean and beautiful boxing.” Mary didn’t have much to add. “No talking from me. I’ll only talk tomorrow after the bout.”

Results: 51 kg: Nikhat bt Jyoti 10-0, Mary bt Ritu 10-0; 57 kg: Sakshi bt Manisha 7-3, Sonia Lather bt Sonia Chahal 7-3; 60 kg: Simranjit bt Pavitra 10-0, Sarita Devi bt Shashi Chopra 9-1; 69 kg: Lalita bt Meena Rani 9-1, Lovlina bt Anjali 10-0; 75 kg: Pooja Rani bt Indraja 10-0, Nupur bt Saweeta 9-1

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