Vijender Singh had given up his dreams of another Olympic medal when he turned professional last year.
The International Boxing Association did the pugilist a ‘favour‘ by approving the participation of pro boxers at the Olympics early this month. The sport was one of the last bastions of amateurism at the Games.
The ace boxer is scheduled to fight Australian Kerry Hope for the WBO Asia title in New Delhi on July 16. Pros can qualify for the Olympics by participating in a tournament to held in Venezuela in early July.
Vijender Singh blew cold and then hot when questioned whether he’s like to represent India at the Games.
When AIBA’s decision was first announced, Vijender said:
“It won’t make much difference to me. As of now, I am focused on my fight on July 16. I have been hearing about this proposal from the start of this year. It’s strange that you take a decision with such little time to go before the Olympics.
First of all I wouldn’t even know how to go about pursuing this task. I would probably have to go through a federation and no one really knows what the status of the federation in India really is. It’s really difficult to prepare for a tournament at such short notice. It will probably be the same for other professionals as well. If you are a boxer who is starting his career, or even someone who has fights lined up for the future, then it will be almost impossible to get ready in time for this tournament.
You have to understand that professional and amateur boxing are two different things. It’s not that one is better than the other, but the two are very different.
Everything changes. In the amateur you only box for three rounds while in professional, you have to fight for 10 or twelve rounds. So the kind of endurance you need is much more. In the amateur game you don’t really have to pace yourself. Even your movements are different.
In amateur boxing, you are preparing to fight several bouts over many days. So your recovery between bouts is important because you have to make weight every day. In professional boxing, you are only focusing on one bout at a time with several weeks to prepare. When you make weight it is only for that fight. So it will not be easy to fight several bouts one after the other.
I feel this proposal will have a bigger impact on boxers for the next Olympics. For Rio, I don’t know if a lot of professionals will want to participate without fully knowing the risks. Things would be a lot more clearer for the next games. At that point if professional boxers know when the tournament they will have a better idea how to prepare themselves for it.
I really don’t see myself competing in the Olympics again. In four years, I hope I will be in a position where I can compete at the world level but in the professional circuit.”
The Haryanvi changed his tune a few days later claiming that he would love to represent the country once more at the Olympics.
“I will try to go to Rio. The last qualification is in Venezuela (from July 3 to 8) and I would love to be a part of it. It is a matter of pride to represent your country at the Olympics and when I am getting a chance now, why not?”
His promoter Francis Warren, however, would not entertain any such talk.
“It’s not possible for him. He has got a championship fight on July 16 and, for that, he will be training in Manchester. He will be training to excel in his professional career. If he keeps on thinking about Olympics, then I’ll be bad guy here.
The timing (Venezuela qualifiers and Asia Pacific bout) doesn’t allow him to concentrate on Rio. I won’t be comfortable with the idea. It would be a backward step for Vijender if he wants to box as an amateur boxer.
What will happen if he gets a cut or injures himself during the qualifiers? He won’t be able to fight on July 16. Who’s going to reimburse me for holding this press conference in Delhi? Who will reimburse for seven months and so much amount of money I have invested in Vijender to make him a world-class professional boxer? The effort was for Asian title, not some Rio Olympics.”
Vijender rebutted Warren saying:
“The promoters will take the decision, that’s true. But they are not the only ones to decide as they have to also consider my wish. If we keep the contract and WBO title fight aside, then I’ll have every right to discuss the matter with them. Olympics is a dream and I’ll definitely love to go to Rio.
My promoters are saying that they have spent so much money on me. Tell me, if I am not happy, then what’s the use of that money? They can’t take the decision alone.”
Notwithstanding the war of words, Vijender was well aware when he made the decision to turn pro that he could forego any chance of appearing for the country in the Olympics. He may have second thoughts right now but it’s unlikely that the contract he has signed with Queensberry Promotions will allow him to participate without their explicit permission.
Also, it’s not as though there aren’t any other real contenders waiting in line to take his amateur place.
Vikas Krishnan is vying for a spot in the 75 kg category as well and hopes to qualify via AIBA’s final qualifier to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan from June 16 to 25.
Krishnan has also qualified to take part in Venezuela under AIBA’s APB programme.
He thus has two chances to clinch a place in the Rio-bound squad.
Who will it be? Vikas or Vijender?
Will Vijender be able to convince his employers that he can do both—qualify and win his WBO Asia Title bout?
The story has all the makings of melodrama.
But there’s a feeling that the words bandied around are mere bluster—all smoke and no fire— and simply an exercise in nationalistic posturing. The sentiments expressed by Vijender are noble but impractical—given his commitments.
AIBA’s dragging their feet on the decision to allow professional boxers at the Games has not helped matters either.
Should Krishnan fail to qualify, it’ll truly be a damp squib. Shiva Thapa is the only Indian boxer to qualify so far.
We’ve already had a media circus with Sushil Kumar challenging Narsingh Yadav’s selection for Rio. God knows we don’t need another.
It’s baby steps, all right. That’s how Vijender Singh began his professional career against Sonny Whiting at Manchester Arena, UK last Saturday.
The 2008 Olympic bronze winner was a forerunner throughout the fight making his opponent look decidedly amateurish.
Is it a promise of better things to come?
We shall know soon enough.
The strapping young man has his next bout scheduled for October 30.
Many believed that Vijender had left it too late—turning professional.
The Indian never forgot his homeland, draping himself in a tricolour robe and matching shorts for his first fight.
Vijender admits he was nervous.
“I wasn’t worried about my opponent or anything. It was simply because I hadn’t boxed in a ring for a really long time. I had last boxed at the Commonwealth Games, and after that I had been doing my police training and then I had some film and TV commitments.”
Loneliness is a constant companion.
Moving to a new city, Manchester, and settling down to a regimented life is a sea change from his training days in Patiala.
”You feel a bit homesick. Its a bit difficult because when I was part of the Indian squad and trained in Patiala, after a session I always had someone to talk to especially after a hard days work. So I definitely miss my teammates from India. I am the only Indian boxer training here. In amateur boxing there were like 2-3 boxers with me in the changing room all the time but right now I am all alone with my trainers so there is a difference.I have to deal with these things by myself right now. But it doesn’t matter because these things usually make you tougher.”
Vijender misses his native tongue, Punjabi.
“Logon ki zuban alag hai yahan. (The language here is different). When I go to an Indian or Pakistani restaurant, the food is nice but it is a good feeling to speak to someone in Punjabi for a change.”
The Haryana police officer is not one to rest on his laurels.
He knows he has a long way to go.
“There’s still a long way to go. I have just had one fight and I have won that. I’d absolutely love to fight Floyd (Mayweather) or Manny, they are legendary boxers. They have been in this circuit for a long time and I will take time to reach at their level.”
The man certainly is making the right noises. And he has kept his end up so far.
He is the beacon who can guide Indian boxers to greater heights.
Shine on, Vijender.
It’s said about the Indian monsoon: When it rains, it pours.
Indian sport has been enjoying a monsoon of sorts over the past few years.
It’s been showering leagues.
The mushrooming of leagues in various sports and their live telecast whereby converts to games other than cricket are drawn in can only be good news for Indian sport persons.
The latest entrants into the fray are the Pro Wrestling League and the Indian Boxing Council.
While the Pro Wrestling League is launched under the aegis of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) by Pro Sportify and consists of six city-based franchises each featuring 11 freestyle grapplers, six male and five female, the Indian Boxing Council acts as a licensee for promoters wishing to launch boxing leagues of their own across the country.
The council is, however, not affiliated to the Indian Boxing Federation which means that pugilists wishing to represent the country will stay out until the murkiness around the venture is cleared.
Boxers, who are past their prime, but still fighting fit are enthusiastic about the possibilities. It will add to their meager earnings from the sport.
Boxing and wrestling are sports that attract participants from lower-middle class families. This may just be their ticket out.
These sports are also the country’s best avenues for medals at the Olympic and Asian games.
The better the prospects for aspiring contenders, the better the training facilities offered and the more attractive a career it is.
The world can be their oyster. Can Indian pearls seize their chances?