World boxing: Nitu Ghanghas, Saweety Boora land first titles for India
The young 48kg boxer capped a brilliant run with a unanimous verdict while the seasoned Saweety saw off a late fightback by her Chinese rival in the 81kg final
Nitu Ghanghas has been phenomenal all week, seeming to be in a hurry to land the world title. With her rare blend of aggression and excellent tactics, the 22-year-old from Bhiwani, Haryana has defeated her rival with astonishing ease at the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships in New Delhi.
On Saturday, Nitu soaked in the pressure that comes with fighting before an expectant home crowd and put up an exhilarating show to beat Lutsaikhan Altantsetseg of Mongolia by a unanimous decision to become the world champion in the 48kg category.
The other Indian in the first day of finals also delivered.
The seasoned Saweety Boora produced a performance for the ages with a 4-3 victory over Lina Wang of China, a three-time world championships medallist in the 81kg division. The 30-year-old became India’s first world champion in the light-heavy category and made up for her disappointment in 2014 when she lost in the final.
India can match their best-ever haul of victories from one world championships on Sunday with Nikhat Zareen, the 52kg world champion from the last edition who is competing in 50kg category, and Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Lovlina Borgohain in 75kg, are strong contenders to win their respective finals.
Also Read | ‘Nikhat, Lovlina will get direct Asian Games berths’
Nerves were playing up as Nitu took the ring at nearly packed KD Jadhav hall in the Indira Gandhi Stadium. The two-time world youth champion has taken flight in international boxing and victory at last year’s Commonwealth Games is testimony to her growing stature. The lowest weight class is synonymous with her idol MC Mary Kom, a six-time world champion and Olympic bronze medallist. After Mary Kom, no Indian has won the world title in 48kg with Manju Rani coming closest in 2019, losing in the final.
Egged on by the vociferous crowd, Nitu started at an attacking tempo. She landed her trademark left punch – more of a hook – and a right cross to make intentions clear. However, with Altantsetseg, the 2022 Asian Championships bronze medallist, and Nitu pushing and clinching, the fight soon became a slugfest. The taller Nitu used her reach and landed accurate punches, taking the first round 5-0. The Mongolian boxer executed better from close range in second, leading to some intense exchanges.
Nitu showed good defence to block Altantsetseg’s lethal hook and unleashed her own combination punches. The Indian won the second round 3-2 and the final round was riveting with Altantsetseg going all out. Nitu took some meaty blows but also succeeded in evading some punches and counter attack. As her hand was raised by the referee, the raucous cheers from the stands brought the roof down. Bhiwani’s first boxing hero, 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Vijender Singh, was present and rushed to congratulate Nitu.
“I feel very proud. It is the result of the hard work that I have put in since starting boxing in 2012. Today I am very proud of myself, my coaches and my family. My parents were here,” said Nitu, her eyes moist. “This money ( ₹80 lakh prize money) will help me pay the loans my father (Jai Bhagwan) took for my boxing career.”
The attack-minded Nitu had to box smartly. “The strategy was to be aggressive from the start, but during the bout I was told by coaches to counter-attack,” she said.
It was the culmination of a terrific run by the 22-year-old whose first three wins were by RSC (Referee Stopped Contest). Only in the semis was Nitu challenged, by Kazakhstan’s Asian champion Alua Balkibekova, who beat her in the last four at last year’s worlds. This time, Nitu was tactically brilliant.
Nitu’s father Jai Bhagwan, her brother and other family members were present. To ensure that his daughter got the best facilities, Jai Bhagwan took loans and the Haryana Vidhan Sabha employee also went on unpaid leave to travel with his daughter. All that effort bore fruit.
Nitu’s selection also had stirred a controversy after Manju Rani, the 2019 worlds silver medallist and national champion, petitioned Delhi high court against her omission without selection trials. Nitu settled that by proving herself in the ring.
There was lot to prove for Saweety Boora too despite having dominated the light heavyweight category at home for long. Since her 2014 world silver, it has been a roller-coaster ride for the 30-year-old in internationals. She is enjoying a second wind, having made a strong comeback with an Asian Championships title last year.
At the worlds in New Delhi, she did not put a foot wrong in the first three bouts and reserved her best against Lina. The Chinese boxer is a fast counter-attacker but Saweety, a tad shorter, stayed low and was quick to move in and out of her range. Using all her experience, she was able to find her range and controlled the distance effectively, defending Lina’s attacks well.
With a good left hook and right cross, Saweety was striking clean and stepping back. She also unsettled Lina by sometimes rushing towards her when the Chinese attacked. She won the first two rounds 3-2 and it all came to the third. Both stepped up their attacks in a close finish, but Saweety sailed through with the result settled after a bout review.
In 2006, India won four gold as first-time world championships hosts. Whether India can repeat that show will be eagerly awaited on Sunday.
Anthem faux pas
A wrong anthem was played as Russian Anastasiia Demurchian, who won the 70kg gold beating Australia’s Scott Kaye Frances, stood on the podium looking clueless. A Tchaikovsky tune that was used by the International Olympic Committee during the Tokyo Olympics with Russia competing as neutral athletes, was played. The announcer apologised and called her again, this time playing the right anthem as she stood alone on the podium. Russia and Belarus are competing under their own flag for the first time since the 2019 edition.