12 Indian boxers will be competing in the Women's World Championships that gets underway in New Delhi on 16 March and among them is 26-year-old Nikhat Zareen, the only defending champion in the contingent.
Not only does Nikhat headline the Indian line-up, she's also emerged as one of the biggest names in world boxing over the last year when she finally became the India number one in her 52kg category and competed at the World Championships in Turkey and then the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham - winning gold at both events.
The World Championship gold last year is when the world got to know about you so how does it feel now, coming into this home World Championship, as the gold medal favourite?
Life has changed in a good way since my win last year. I'm really happy I get to represent my country at the World Championship that India is hosting. I'm looking forward to defend my title, but in a new weight category. Just want to perform well in front of my home crowd.
You’re moving down to the 50kg category from your regular 52kg since that is now the Olympic qualification category near your weight. Are there apprehensions on being able to perform as well?
I am confident I will be going in the ring and perform as I used to perform but if anything happens, fingers crossed nothing does, I’ll take this as a lesson. There’s still time for the Paris Olympics. My main target is the Asian Games because that’s the Olympic qualification event. I hope whatever mistakes I make here in this category I can understand them and then work on them so I don’t make the same mistake at the Asian Games and can bag that qualification spot. My biggest target is to win a gold at the Paris Olympics.
You mentioned Olympic qualification. In any other sport, a World Championship a year before the Olympics would be a qualification event but because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not recognise the International Boxing Association (IBA) this World Championship isn’t one. Does that in a way take some sheen off the event?
Our preparation has gone really well. If this was an Olympic qualifier then it will be great, a bonus, and if its not then that’s fine as well. Our one motive is to just win a gold medal at this World Championship as well.
Nikhat opens her campaign on Thursday, 16 March, against Azerbaijan’s Anakhanim Ismayilova in a Round of 64 fixture with Rio Olympics bronze medallist Ingrit Valencia and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Japan’s Tsukimi Namiki likely to face her later in the tournament.