With chiselled good looks, a disarming smile and ferocious talent to back it up, Vijender Singh has been a knockout both in and out of the boxing ring. For every 100 heads that he has turned with his looks, he has knocked one right out with his unrelenting right fist, and is arguably the global face of Indian boxing. Singh captured the country’s imagination as the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal, when he won bronze at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. With ramp shows and a Bollywood debut, Singh further enhanced his marketability, and though his recent decision to turn pro invited criticism, with two wins in his first two bouts, he’s again proved why he remains India’s most famous boxer.
Hailing from Bhiwani in Haryana, Singh rose through the amateur boxing ranks with strong performances at national level competitions. He won bronze at the Asian games in Doha in 2006 and in 2009, following his stellar performance in Beijing, the International Boxing Association declared Singh as the top-ranked boxer in its annual middleweight category.
However, earlier this year in June, Singh raised several eyebrows when he decided to turn professional. He signed a multi-year agreement with Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions through IOS Sports and Entertainment, and teamed up with trainer Lee Beard. This decision effectively ruled him out of the 2016 Olympics, as he is no longer eligible to represent India, a decision that did not receive universal approval. “Some people were critical, some said good things, but I know there is a lot of responsibility because if I do well then people will follow in my path,” Singh told Sky Sports. “It could have a huge impact and could really boost the popularity of the sport back home, but it takes time to create that environment and culture.”
So far, Singh has taken all the right steps to ensure his critics remain silent, by emphatically winning his first two pro matches. In his debut bout against Sonny Whiting in the Manchester Arena on October 10, Singh won with a few seconds left in the third of the four-round bout via Technical Knockout, as he had Whiting on the ropes with a fearsome four-punch combination. Strolling out to the beats of a Punjabi song, Singh showed no nerves against an opponent who had said he would put Singh “through hell”. Light on his feet, Singh never allowed Whiting any momentum, with a rapid combination of jabs and uppercuts. “I never got nervous during the bout,” Singh said after his win. “My punches have replied to Sonny Whiting in the ring. It’s new for me, but I have been working hard. It’s going well. I want to win, win and win.”
Singh followed up his great debut with a first round victory over Dean Gillen at the National Stadium in Dublin, on November 7. Having won his first two bouts, the Englishman was expected to provide stiff competition to Singh, but he had no answers for the nimble-footed Indian, who was precise with his punches and sent Gillen crashing to the canvas with a brutal blow to the jaw. Even the referee was not spared, with Singh mistakenly jabbing him with his elbow.
“I have learnt a lot from Lee Beard,” he told the Times of India, “and he is successfully changing me from amateur to professional. My technique is changing, my ways of defence are changing as there is no headgear in professional bouts.” His next goal? An Asian title bout. “Right now I am fighting four-round contests,” Singh told PTI, “and I will gradually move ahead and increase the rounds to six and 10 and challenge for the Asian title in six months time. Before that, I want to fight on home turf in front of my people. Hopefully my fourth or fifth bout will be in India.”
- Photograph by Tarun Khiwal