India's top women boxers will be in action over the next fortnight as the Women's World Boxing Championships get underway in Istanbul, Turkey on Monday.
Olympic bronze-medallist Lovlina Borgohain will spearhead the Indian contingent in Mary Kom's absence. Mary had opted out of the World Championships and now-postponed Asian Games to focus on the Commonwealth Games. Mary, a six-time world champion, is the most successful boxer in the Women's World Championships with six golds, a silver and a bronze.
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- Boxing Federation (@BFI_official) May 5, 2022
Lovlina, 24, will return to competitive boxing for the first time since her podium finish in Tokyo. She will compete in the 70kg category as the 69kg category (in which she won the Olympic bronze) no longer exists in International Boxing Association (IBA) events.
India is fielding a strong 12-member squad that features well-known names such as former World junior champion Nikhat Zareen, 2014 World Championship silver medallist Saweety Boora and two-time Asian champion Pooja Rani. The Indian team comes into the tournament in good stead after bagging multiple medals at the Strandja Memorial in early February and has been training in Istanbul since the third week of April.
All eyes on Lovlina
Lovlina, who is aiming for a maiden World Championships title, has a tough opening encounter against Chinese Taipei's Nien-Chin Chen. Chen won the gold in the 69kg category at the Thailand Open last month, while Lovlina has not had a competition in over eight months.
Lovlina and Chen have a fair bit of history - the Taipei boxer had defeated Lovlina enroute to her World Championship title in New Delhi in 2018, while the Indian got her revenge by claiming a medal-securing win in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics. Lovlina's draw looks tough and she will take on three-time national champion from England Cindy Ngamba if she gets past Chen.
Interestingly, Lovlina will not go up against Olympic champion Busenaz Surmeneli, who beat her in the semis at Tokyo, as the latter has dropped down to the 66kg category.
Lovlina will be keen to pack a punch and establish herself as the best in her weight category as her path to the Women's World Championships was riddled with drama. She was initially handed an automatic berth by the Boxing Federation of India, but youth world champion Arundhati Choudhary took to the Delhi High Court to protest the Federation's decision. The court ruled in her favour and she earned a bout against Lovlina, where the latter came out on top.
Nikhat in rampaging form
Nikhat Zareen (52kg) will begin her title quest with a bout against Herrera Alvarez of Mexico and could face Mongolia's Lutsaikhan Altantsetseg in the round of 16. Altantsetseg had won bronze at the 2021 Asian Championships.
"This one is the more special of the two (medals) as I beat an Olympic medallist (Buse Naz Cakiroglu) in the semifinals. It is a perfect confidence booster when three major events (the world championship, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games) are lined up," she had said.
- Boxing Federation (@BFI_official) May 2, 2022
Debut for Nitu; Pooja on comeback trail
Nitu Ghanghas (48kg) enjoyed a memorable time at the Strandja Memorial as she clinched the gold in her maiden appearance and the 21-year-old will look to ride the momentum in Istanbul.
"I want to take it step by step this year. We have the World Championship and I want to put my full focus on it and win the gold there. I want to prepare and give my best performance there," she was quoted as saying by the Sports Authority of India.
Nitu faces Romanian veteran Steluta Duta, a three-time World Championship silver medallist and three-time European Championship winner. It's interesting to note that Nitu will have to go up against the likes of Mary Kom to earn a berth in India's Commonwealth Games roster. Duta and Mary have been long-term rivals and had beaten the Romanian to win her fifth successive World Boxing Championship gold in 2010.
Pooja Rani (81kg) was forced to miss the Strandja Memorial as she lost her father a few days before the event. One of the most seasoned campaigners in the Indian team, she faces a stern test in her opening bout against Hungary's Timea Nagy, a two-time World Championships bronze medallist.
Manisha Moun (57kg), who won bronze at the 2019 Asian Championships, and Strandja Memorial bronze-winner Nandini (+81kg) are among the four Indians who were awarded byes.
India's record at the Women's World Championships
Indians have had plenty of success at the Women's World Boxing Championships - 36 medals, including nine gold, in the 11 editions thus far. Mary, herself, has won eight of those. Indian boxers clinched one silver (Manju Rani) and three bronze medals (Mary, Lovlina and Jamuna Boro) in the previous edition held in Russia in 2019. India is the third-most successful nation at the event, with Russia (60) and China (50) leading the pack. This edition will see a record 84 countries participating in the competition.
Nitu (48kg), Anamika (50kg), Nikhat Zareen (52kg), Shiksha (54kg), Manisha (57kg), Jaismine (60kg), Parveen (63.5kg), Ankushita Boro (66kg), Lovlina Borgohain (70kg), Saweety Boora (75kg), Pooja Rani (81kg), and Nandini (+81kg).
Where can you watch the Women's World Championships?
The tournament will be streamed on the IBA Women's World Boxing Championships' YouTube channel.