Asian Games: World champions Nikhat, Lovlina lead Indian boxing's quest for glory

Nikhat Zareen. BFI

Nikhat Zareen and co. will aim to book their 2024 Olympics berth as the Asian Games present Indian boxers their first chance of qualifying for Paris -- the multi-sport event counts as a continental qualification tournament.

It's not often that you can say this, but India go into the Games with two world champions in their roster: Nikhat and Lovlina Borgohain.

Both of them won the World Championships held in New Delhi earlier this year, along with Nitu Ghanghas [48kg] and Saweety Boora [81kg]. However, Nitu and Saweety will miss out on the Asian Games as they compete in non-Olympic weight categories.

Coming to the men's section, defending champion Amit Pangal does not find a place in this squad. He did not make the cut as per the Boxing Federation of India's new selection policy and has been replaced by Deepak Bohra in the 51kg weight category.

Shiva Thapa, a six-time Asian Championships medallist, is India's most experienced male boxer at the 2022 Asian Games.

When does boxing begin at the 2022 Asian Games?

Boxing is one of the first sports to begin. The competition will run from September 24 to October 5.

How does qualification for the Olympics work?

Each boxer who reaches the semifinal of their weight category wins an Olympic quota.

What does India's draw look like?

It's bizarre, to put it mildly. There are strangely no seedings, which means 2023 world champion Nikhat and 2023 world's silver medallist Nguyen Thi Tam will fight in the opening round! While Nikhat should get past Tam, it's far from an ideal first round bout considering they are the top-2 boxers in the 50kg weight category.

Similarly, Arundhati Choudhary (66kg) has a massive challenge in her first match-up as she takes on reigning world champion Yang Liu, while Deepak Bhoira (51kg), who won bronze at the 2023 Worlds, faces 2021 world champion Tomoya Tsuboi in the second round.

Meanwhile, Lovlina has been given a bye directly to the 75kg quarterfinals, while Shiva Thapa's side of the draw also looks relatively easy and he should ease into the last-four in the 63kg.

Who are the medal contenders?

Nikhat's the #1 medal hope. The two-time world champion has been India's most consistent boxer since the Olympics. Such has been her dominance that she has won every single bout she has fought in the last two years.

Lovlina, who endured a lull post her Olympic bronze medal, redeemed herself by winning the Worlds and will be keen to follow it up with a first Asian Games medal.

Parveen Hooda, who won bronze at the Worlds and gold at the Asian Championships is also a good shout for a medal in the 57kg category, as is the Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Jaismine (60kg).

Shiva, a former World Championship bronze-winner, has the advantage of a relatively easy draw in quest of his first Asian Games medal.

Deepak (51kg) is the most promising boxer amongst the men comes into the Games on the high of winning bronze at the World Championships, where he beat Tokyo Olympics bronze medallist Saken Bibossinov, but has a very tough opening bout.

Nishant (71kg), who also bagged bronze in the Worlds, will hope to shine on his Asian Games debut. Sachin (57kg), the 2021 World Youth Champion, is also one to watch out for.

What happened to defending champion Amit Panghal?

Simply put, he just was not good enough. The BFI's new selection policy states that the top three boxers in every weight category are included in the Elite Team Evaluation and Selection Camp and the best-performing boxer goes through. The policy rewards consistency and judges boxers based on their long-term performance. Amit, one of India's most successful male boxers, was pipped to the spot by Deepak owing to the latter's consistent show in the camps.

Amit filed a writ petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the BFI's selection policy, but it did not change his non-selection.

Indian boxing squad for the 2022 Asian Games

Women: Nikhat Zareen (50 kg), Preeti (54 kg), Parveen (57 kg), Jaismine Lamboriya (60 kg), Arundhati Choudhary (66 kg), Lovlina Borgohain (75 kg).

Men: Deepak Bhoria (51 kg), Sachin (57 kg), Shiva Thapa (63.5 kg), Nishant Dev (71 kg), Lakshya Chahar (80 kg), Sanjeet (92 kg) and Narender (+92 kg)