Vijender Singh has taken a risky decision, but, from the looks of it, he seems to have made a winning choice.
Who doesn’t love a good boxing movie? Vijender Singh certainly does. India’s only Olympic boxing medallist, and now professional prizefighter, has often said he is a fan of the Rocky franchise. Perhaps part of the reason is the reassuring certainties the movies provide. Real life doesn’t have the benefit of scriptwriters, however. Vijender’s own journey in the world of professional prizefighting, which began when he signed on with Queensberry Promotions in July last year, is still being charted. Each Saturday, since last year, he faces pro trainer Lee Beard’s version of the Philly sprint — rain, sleet or snow, Vijender races along a course that comprises a series of steep steps down and up a hill to a river, then around a field and back the steps once again. “Your legs turn to jelly, your heart feels like it’s gonna explode. Many boxers quit,” says Beard. Not Vijender, although in his first attempt, he barely completed the course.
Balboa at least had a world title fight waiting for him at the end of his training montage. In the real world, Vijender is a long way from that possibility. On the other hand, naysayers claim that he has sold out his country and the prospect of fighting at his fourth Olympics for the lure and lucre of professional boxing. And the potential pitfalls are truly plentiful. There isn’t any lucre to begin with. Vijender stays in a small apartment in Manchester. Used to being the big fish in India, he had to get used to being in the bottom of the undercard, boxing before the crowds gathered for the big names. Also, middleweight — Vijender’s weight class — in the amateurs is 75 kg. So, he had to cut an additional 2.5 kg to make weight. Unlike the cartoonishly padded gloves used in the amateurs, professional mitts are two ounces lighter. It makes for faster fists and more knockouts, but also largely negates the gloves up defense common in the amateurs.
So, over the last 9 months, Vijender has been fighting the equivalent of pawns. So far, his six opponents have steadily tested certain aspects of his game, but faced a similar fate. All have been stopped by Vijender, who has spent a total of about 51 minutes in the ring. While the numbers will undoubtedly put a smile on promoter Warren’s face, the speed with which Vijender has remodelled his technique of nearly two decades is equally impressive. Instead of flashy, glancing strikes, Vijender now punches through his target.
Old skills have carried through, too. “He turns at his waist, which is very correct technique. Every punch is thrown with accuracy,” says boxing commentator Barry Jones. He has discovered new skills as well. Working behind the classic left hand lead, his right was known to be dangerous. Now, his left jab isn’t just a tool to create distance — there’s ridiculous power behind it.
Vijender will finally get a chance to bid for his first title in July. It’s for a WBO Asia Pacific title. If he wins, he will get a ranking on the WBO list. That will get him a shot at potentially fighting for a world title at some stage, but that’s a long way. If his professional career was indeed a movie, Vijender is currently at the intermission stage. And while the path ahead is hard, he knows it is up to him to script the ending.