NE Rhinos, riding on determined efforts by skipper Nikhat Zareen and Mandeep Jangra, registered a hard-fought 4-3 victory over Bombay Bullets in their penultimate league match in the Big Bout Indian Boxing League at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on Saturday night.

Teenage debutant Ambeshori Devi Huidram (youth women’s 57kg) and Argentina’s Francisco Veron (75kg) earned crucial points for NE Rhinos in a match that had seen the teams tied for the fourth place with 11 points each at the start of the match on Saturday. They were looking to get into the final set of matches next week with at least a slight advantage.

The women’s 51kg battle between the captains Nikhat Zareen (NE Rhinos) and Olympic bronze medallist Ingrit Lorena Valencia and the 69kg bout between Mandeep Jangra (Rhinos) and Naveen Bora (Bullets), who had both won each of their three bouts thus far, both brought the fans to the edge of their seats.

Nikhat Zareen, who rested during NE Rhinos’ narrow win against Odisha Warriors, earned a unanimous points verdict against the Spaniard who looked jaded when fighting her fourth successive bout and went down to her second loss. The Indian star cast her nervousness aside and found a rhythm with her quick combinations to score a big win.

Mandeep Jangra, an Akhil Kumar protégé, had to stay focussed against the unconventional no-guard and teasing approach that 20-year-old Naveen Boora brought to the ring. The seasoned boxer, now on a comeback trail, took some time to find a method to beat Naveen Boora.

He used dodges and effective jabs to gain an edge over the younger boxer in a split 3-2 verdict.

Earlier, Ambeshori Devi Huidram, National Junior Champion, made a winning debut for NE Rhinos with a come-from-behind victory over Priya Kushwaha in the youth women’s 57kg bout at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium here today. The 16-year-old who learnt her ropes at the Sarita Devi Academy, overcame a sluggish start to turn the bout on its head with her calm approach.

The Rhinos’ fourth win came from the Argentine Francisco Veron who carried too many guns for southpaw Prayag Chauhan after the Bullets’ boxer seemed to be level pegging in the first round. Like Nikhat (three wins) and Mandeep Jangra (four), Francisco Veron has shown himself up as a reliable fighter for the Rhinos with his third win in as many starts.

Bombay Bullets’ Cuban-born Spanish star Emmanuel Reyas gave Ergashev Timur no chance at all in the 91kg bout, Kavinder Singh Bisht put the Bullets ahead 2-1 with a 4-1 points verdict over the energetic debutant Sehran Sandhu in a contest between boxers with root in Uttarakhand while Ananta Chopade pulled a point back in the final bout with a win over rookie Govind Kumar Sahini.

Earlier, Bombay Bullets skipper Ingrit Lorena Valencia won the toss and had no hesitation in blocking the women’s 60k bout. Their Spanish import Melissa Neomi Gonzalez had lost all three bouts so far and would have been up against the recently-crowned 64kg National Champion Pwilao Basumatary tonight.

The Bullets made no changes to their line-up, unlike NE Rhinos who decided to rope in Govind Kumar Sahini, Sehran Sandhu and Ambeshari Devi Huidram. Interestingly, the Bullets have preferred the same line-up in each of their four matches while the Rhinos used a total of 16 boxers in their four matches.

In their final league matches, the Bombay Bullets will face Odisha Warriors (11 points) while NE Rhinos have the tougher Punjab Panthers (15 points) to deal with. In the other match in the climactic round, table toppers Gujarat Giants (17 points) will take on the Bengaluru Brawlers (10 points). The top four sides will move into the semifinals.