Weight or wait: After world title, dilemma awaits Nitu Ghanghas

What does the future hold for Nitu Ghanghas? BFI

Nitu Ghanghas' gold medal in the 48kg category at the IBA Women's World Boxing Championships means she is now the world champion, Commonwealth Games champion and a two-time youth world champion. And she's only 22.

She should have a clear pathway to boxing greatness - including the ultimate prize, an Olympic medal. However, the future is uncertain and she may have to wait five years, when she'll be 27, to box in the Olympics.

The reason: Nitu's weight category (48kg) doesn't feature either in this year's Asian Games or next year's Paris Olympics. And her route to the immediate higher weight category (50/51kg) is effectively blocked, because that's Nikhat Zareen's domain.

The Asian Games will have five weight categories -- 51kg, 57kg, 60kg, 69kg and 75kg -- while the Olympics has six: 50kg, 54kg, 57kg, 60kg, 66kg and 75kg.

Moving to the 50kg/51kg category is pretty much ruled out; Nikhat is India's top boxer and won the World title in that weight category on Sunday. And it's very unlikely the Boxing Federation of India will make Nikhat change her weight class or disrupt anything in her existing plan. Moving Nitu to the 57kg weight category for the Asian Games is out of the question: that's a 9kg jump with less than six months to go.

Nitu's only option, it seems, is to move up to the 54kg category, for the Paris Olympics. But that's not going to be an easy shift to make. Nitu's game revolves largely around her quick footwork and speed punching. If she were to move to 54kg, her style of boxing would completely change.

That's just the technical part, but there's a physical side to it: Nitu will have to put on six kg just to be eligible to compete in the 54kg category within the domestic circuit. And then if she beats her competition - the #1 boxer right now is Preeti - she needs to compete in continental events and world events before becoming eligible to represent India in the 54kg category at the Olympics.

Former India boxer V Devarajan, till recently part of the BFI's selection committee, feels Nitu can put on 2-3kgs from her current weight category to compete in the 50/51kg but putting on six kilograms is not ideal. "It will change the way she fights and may do more harm than good," he told ESPN.

The solution, for him, is the BFI conducting a trial between Nikhat and Nitu. "Trials are the best option. Let it be an open competition, whoever wins in the ring should represent the country. Boxing against someone like Nikhat will be a learning experience for the youngsters and it will help them grow. If she (Nitu) wins, then she should play and if she loses then it serves as valuable experience," he said.

He points to the example of Nikhat trialling against Mary Kom several times. "That gave her great exposure. If the Federation had decided only Mary would compete in that weight category, then would Nikhat have reached where she is today? She's doing so well today because she took on athletes like Mary and learnt from those experiences."

The BFI, however, seems certain to not conduct any trials in Nikhat and Lovlina's weight categories. Their spots are sealed until Paris.

The feeling within the Indian boxing contingent, ESPN understands, is that Nitu needs more time to mature as a boxer and that the 2023 Asian Games and 2024 Olympics are too early in her career. This, a well-placed source in the camp said, is just the start of Nitu's career; there are other championships in which she can fight in her current weight category, to prepare for an Olympic category in the future.

"We plan to prepare her in a manner that no matter the weight category, she remains the #1 boxer and nothing less than that," the source said. "Like she has done in the 48kg category, where she has been the top boxer throughout. That is our aim."

So the target for Nitu shifts from the 2024 Olympics to the 2028 Olympics, by which time she will be 27. Mary Kom, India's most successful woman boxer, made her Olympics debut at the 2012 Games when she was 30 (which was when women's boxing was introduced at the Olympics) but was a top-flight boxer from the age of 20 and got plenty of exposure to world-level competitions.

Nitu making her Olympics debut at 27 appears a tad late, but the coaching think-tank feels "she needs to mature in all aspects to reach that level."