Kom vs Zareen: The Indian boxing rivals fighting for a shot at Tokyo 2020
If they win their opening bouts at the event, we'll see a final battle between the old guard and the new hope of women's boxing in India.
Zareen - a junior world champion - is 13 years younger, and determined to create her own Olympic legacy rather than follow in Kom’s footsteps.
It may only be a 51kg flyweight bout, but this would be a fight with heavyweight consequences.
Kom vs Zareen: A developing rivalry
Zareen had feared she would not get her chance at qualifying for Tokyo 2020.
Boxing Federation of India (BFI) had indicated that any gold or silver medallists at the 2019 Worlds would go straight to February’s qualifiers.
Kom won bronze at the World Championships in Ulan-Ude, but BFI president Ajay Singh suggested they may tweak the rules to fast-track her to the qualifiers.
Zareen objected, posting an open letter to India's Minister for Sports on her social media account.
The BFI soon backtracked, stating Kom would have to face the 23-year-old in December’s trial.
It prompted a goading response from the more experienced fighter.
“Who is Nikhat Zareen, I don’t know her." - Mary Kom
“I am really shocked by all this," Kom added, per Hindustan Times. "Let the Boxing Federation of India decide whom they want. How can she cry like this?”
The pair were also set to meet in BFI’s Big Bout League, a team-based tournament which takes place across numerous Indian cities.
Zareen, representing the North East Rhinos, was supposed to face Kom earlier in December.
However, Kom’s Punjab Panthers pulled her from the contest, citing a back injury, a day before the fight.
"I got to know yesterday night only that she is not fighting. I was ready. It was a good opportunity for me. Now I will face her in the trials only,” Zareen told IANS.
"If she is not willing to play, I can't force her. It's her choice. My bad that now she is not playing.” - Nikhat Zareen
This cancelled bout has added even more gravitas to Kom and Zareen’s potential meeting.
If number two ranked Nikhat can get past Jyoti Gulia, and top seed Kom beats Ritu Grewal, India fight fans will get the long-awaited final that decides which of them takes the next step towards Tokyo 2020.
Kom claimed she did not know who Zareen was. She should find out in the ring on December 27.
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