While the world of professional sports is replete with some of the most legendary team rivalries such as Barcelona-Real Madrid in football, India and Pakistan in Cricket, Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics in the NBA, there have also been some iconic individual rivalries. Over the years, we have witnessed some truly legendary and incredible battles between sportspersons in a bid to be identified as the best in their field.
In the recent history of Indian boxing, there hasn’t been any feud that has garnered as many headlines as Mary Kom vs Nikhat Zareen fight did. In December of 2019, the six-time world champion Mary came out on top of a budding boxer demanding fair trial as she beat Nikhat 9-1 to claim her spot in the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers.
However, the intense bout between the two female boxers was preceded by an out-of-the-ring war of words duel. It all started in August 2019 when the 36-year-old Mary was selected without any trials in the 51-kg category to represent India at the women’s world boxing championships.
Nikhat, 23, had a breakthrough year winning medals at key tournaments including, a bronze at the Asian Championships in April. Meanwhile, Mary’ switch from 48kg to 51kg to be able to compete at the Tokyo Olympics won a bronze in the category at the 2019 World Championships in October in Russia. Nikhat was hoping to challenge Mary in the 51-kg trials and the former champions’ probable selection for the tournament without a trial prompted her to protest.
The young boxer’s ire further intensified after an announcement by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) that only gold and silver medalists were to be exempted from the qualification. Nikhat then strongly demanded a fair trial against the veteran to decide the fate of who would represent India in the Olympic qualifiers. Nikhat also shot into the spotlight as she penned a letter to Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijuju demanding ‘fair trails’. The minister was swift in his response as he assured her that the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) would take a fair decision.
When Nikhat alleged that the former world champion was being ‘favoured’. In response, Mary didn’t mince her words and it ensued in war-of-words between the two. She questioned Nikhat’s trial demand and mentioned that she’s won eight World Championship medals, including six gold. Citing her reason based on BFI’s decision to send her as the representative, she further said that “how can she cry like this?”. The veteran said that Nikhat cannot lobby to get a place in the Indian team and “this is not done”.
Despite all the build-up, the Nikhat Zareen vs MC Mary Kom bout turned out to be a one-sided affair. Here the youngster’s inexperience was her undoing as Mary triumphed to take home the title.