Who is Nitu Ghanghas: Feisty Bhiwani boxer, a true successor to Mary Kom?

Indian boxer Nitu Ghanghas, a two-time youth world champion and Commonwealth Games gold medallist, is often compared to boxing legend Mary Kom - her idol.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by EDDIE KEOGH

Indian boxer Nitu Ghanghas is often dubbed as the ‘next Mary Kom’ and it’s not difficult to see why.

Like her idol Mary Kom, Nitu Ghanghas is a southpaw and the Haryana boxer’s power and speed in the ring is reminiscent of a young Mary. But her ruthless aggression and unwavering will to win are perhaps the two qualities which liken Nitu to the Manipuri legend.

Only in her early 20s, Nitu Ghanghas still has a long way to go to match up to Mary Kom’s legacy but the youngster has been making all the right noises and has been steadily sweeping her own haul of medals and accomplishments.

Here’s a closer look at the highlights of Nitu Ghangas’ short yet eventful boxing career.

Where is Nitu Ghanghas from?

Born on October 19, 2000, in the Dhanana village of Haryana’s Bhiwani district, Nitu Ghanghas’ encounter with boxing was inevitable. Bhiwani, after all, is a hotbed of Indian boxing and has produced several global stars, including Olympic medallist Vijender Singh.

Nitu Ghanghas’ father, Jai Bhagwan, was an employee at the Haryana Rajya Sabha in Chandigarh. Her mother’s name is Mukesh Devi and Nitu has a younger brother named Akshit Kumar. 

According to Mukesh Devi, Nitu was a ‘naughty child’ and would often get into fights with her siblings and at school. Her father introduced Nitu to boxing to find a constructive way to channel the energy.

Nitu Ghanghas started to formally train by the time she was 12 but she failed to make any inroads in the first couple of years.

Frustrated by her lack of progress, Nitu Ghanghas decided to give up on the sport but her father intervened.

In what was a drastic step for a family of modest means, Jai Bhagwan took a three-year-long unpaid leave from his job to help his daughter realise her dreams of becoming a boxer.

Jai Bhagwan did some farming on a small stretch of land he owned and also took a loan of about six lakh rupees (about US$7500) to take care of the costs. He also oversaw Nitu’s training and diet personally.

During the period, Nitu Ghanghas was noticed by renowned coach Jagdish Singh, the founder of the renowned Bhiwani Boxing Club and one of the mentors of Vijender Singh.

Nitu, a BA student at the Sri Guru Gobind Singh College, joined the Bhiwani Boxing Club and used to travel 40 kms every day on her father’s scooter to train.

Soon enough, Nitu Ghanghas’ efforts started paying off.

Nitu Ghanghas’ medals and youth titles

Nitu Ghangas won a medal for Haryana in a state-level competition in 2015 but soon a pelvic injury threatened to cut her career short. Jai Bhagwan, again, played an integral part in keeping his daughter on track.

The Haryana pugilist came back stronger in 2016 to win the bronze medal at the youth nationals and kicked it up a notch further the following year, winning a gold medal at the Balkan Youth International Boxing Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The highlight of her youth career, however, was the twin world championships gold medals she won in 2017 at Guwahati and in 2018 at Budapest, Hungary.

The southpaw also became both the Asian and Indian youth champion in 2018.

Injuries in her shoulder and wrists kept Nitu sidelined for a while after that and then COVID-19 disrupted the sporting calendar.

The youngster, however, stormed back into the limelight in 2021, as she clinched the senior national title for the first time.

In February 2022, Nitu Ghangas got her first taste of international success at the senior level, clinching a gold in the women’s 48kg division at the Strandja Memorial - Europe’s oldest boxing tournament in Sofia.

Nitu Ghanghas made her senior world championships debut a few months later and narrowly lost out on a medal after being edged out by eventual silver medallist Alua Balkibekova of Kazakhstan in the quarter-finals.

With her pedigree growing with every passing tournament, Nitu Ghanghas was called up for the Commonwealth Games 2022 boxing trials and her first hurdle came in the form of none other than her idol Mary Kom in the semi-finals.

Mary Kom vs Nitu Ghanghas in the boxing selection trials for the Commonwealth Games 2022.
Picture by Boxing Federation of India

The much-anticipated showdown, however, ended unceremoniously as Mary Kom, then the reigning Commonwealth Games champion in the division, suffered a knee injury one minute into the fight and had to concede the bout by RSCI (Referee Stops Contest - Injury).

Though it counted as a win on paper, it left Nitu disappointed because she desperately wanted to put herself to the test against her idol.

“I wanted to play a whole match with Mary Kom and show her everything I worked so hard for in so many years. I had the opportunity but that did not happen,” Nitu Ghanghas said.

In the finals, Nitu outpunched former world championships silver medallist Manju Rani via a 5-2 split decision to seal her place in the Indian boxing contingent for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022.

Despite the win, questions lingered whether the youngster was ready for the big stage and there were suggestions that she was only on the plane to Birmingham because of Mary Kom’s unfortunate injury in the trials.

At Birmingham, though, Nitu Ghanghas put all doubts to rest in the most emphatic fashion possible.

Northern Ireland’s Nicole Clyde, Nitu’s quarter-final opponent, had to abandon her fight in the second round after failing to stand up to a battering from the Indian.

In the semis against Canada’s Priyanka Dhillon, the referee had to intervene in round three to call the fight in Nitu’s favour.

England’s Demie-Jade Resztan, a former world championships bronze medallist, did manage to last all three rounds against Nitu in the final but lost 5-0.

“Resztan was strong and she was a very worthy opponent. She told me afterwards that I deserved to win the gold medal, and that means a lot to me,” Nitu said after her win.

Though she has already achieved a lot at her age, Nitu Ghanghas still has miles to go before she can be deemed worthy of the title of Mary Kom’s true successor.

Her next big test will be the Paris 2024 Olympic cycle. With the ageing Mary Kom having played her final Olympics at Tokyo 2020, there will be an intense competition to take up the 50kg spot at Paris.

To do that, however, Nitu Ghaghas will need to move up a weight category from her pet 48kg and it will directly pit her against senior compatriot Nikhat Zareen, the 2022 world champion in the division and the Commonwealth Games 2022 gold medallist in the women’s 52kg.

Old rival Manju Rani will also be in the mix, which makes the division highly competitive.

The young Nitu, however, remains unfazed by the prospect of facing the likes of Nikhat Zareen and seems to be relishing the challenge.

“I am ready for Nikhat’s challenge. I know that we will soon meet as I will have to move up to the 50kg for the Asian Games and the Paris 2024 Olympics. But I fear no opponent,” Nitu Ghanghas said.

Nitu Ghaghas achievements

  • Youth Women’s Nationals 2016 - bronze medal
  • Balkan Youth International Boxing Championships 2017 - gold medal
  • Youth Women's World Boxing Championships 2017 - gold medal
  • Asian Youth Championships 2018 - gold medal
  • Youth Women’s Nationals 2018 - gold medal
  • Golden Glove of Vojvodina Youth Tournament 2018 - gold medal
  • Youth Women's World Boxing Championships 2018 - gold medal
  • Women’s Nationals 2021 - gold medal
  • Strandja Memorial Boxing Tournament 2022 - gold medal
  • Women’s World Boxing Championships 2022 - quarter-finalist
  • Commonwealth Games 2022 - gold medal

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