Boxing Worlds: Nikhat Zareen one step away from glory after counter-attacking perfection in semis

Nikhat Zareen celebrates her world championship victory BFI

Nikhat Zareen took a step closer away to winning her second IBA Women's Boxing World Championships title as she defeated Columbia's Ingrit Valencia in the 50kg semifinal on Thursday.

Nikhat, who won gold in the 52kg category last year, will face Vietnam's two-time Asian champion, Nguyen Thi Tam, in the final.

Going into the bout, this seemed like an even contest on paper: Nikhat, the home favourite and reigning champion against Valencia, a former Olympic bronze medallist and a silver medal-winner at the 2022 Worlds.

The bout was also laced with a bit of history: Valencia was the boxer who had eliminated Mary Kom from the Tokyo Olympics. And Nikhat...we know her equation with Mary.

Not that Nikhat's credentials don't back it up [Strandja Memorial, World Championships and Commonwealth Games golds last year], but this bout was a chance for Nikhat to prove that she really belongs there... the space that Mary once used to rule.

Round 1: Valencia darted at Nikhat with a three-punch combo and remained the aggressor, maintaining a low guard and banking on her reflexes. Nikhat took advantage of the low guard as she attacked with a flurry of combination punches, combining her powerful left hooks with right straight punches.

Nikhat's left hooks are a thing of beauty - a full extension of the arm was followed by a full-momentum swing that finished with the left fist ramming into Valencia's left cheek. Nikhat did enough to win the opening round 4:1.

Round 2: Nikhat showed no signs of slowing down - she was quick on her feet and shuffled around the ring. Valencia, thinking she had Nikhat in a spot of bother, chased her into the ropes...but it was all part of Nikhat's plan. She counter-attacked with a round of solid left-right combinations, eventually forcing Valencia to adopt a higher guard.

Nikhat made merry with her counter-attacks, effortlessly shifting her weight from the backfoot to the front and connecting with many a thumping punch to pocket the second round by a 4:1 margin.

Round 3: Round three was a replay of the earlier round - Nikhat let Valencia push her into the corner before countering her and coming back to the centre. Valencia was running out of options and Nikhat stuck to what she did best: counter-attack. Nikhat raised both her fists in celebration as soon as the final round ended and claimed the win. Valencia, too, looked confident that she had done enough to beat Nikhat.

As the referee held both their hands before the winner was announced, both boxers had one hand raised to suggest they had won.

Go back a year and four months and the frame was the exact same: Valencia and her Indian opponent both raised their arms at the end of the bout to claim the win after their pre-quarterfinal at the Olympics.

The difference, however, was the Indian boxer's hand was raised this time. Her name? Nikhat Zareen.