Hands on his hips in the official face-off ahead of the WBO Asia Pacific title bout, Vijender Singh proclaimed what he was out to achieve against Australian Kerry Hope.
Following his biggest achievement in his short professional career, the iconic Indian boxer struggled to keep his emotions in check. “It is not about me; it is about my nation, my country,” said Vijender, 30, bursting into tears inside the ring. It was his first professional fight at home.
“This has come after a lot of hard work put in by me, my trainer and my team. I thank my coach, my promoter and my team who have done a great job. I also thank all the fans who have watched me today,” he added.
Vijender’s tears were a manifestation of his sense of fulfilment after putting in a prolonged effort to make the bout a success in a country where professional boxing is still nascent. It required meticulous planning by his promoter, IOS Boxing Promotions. Vijender himself did a lot of groundwork, visiting all the celebrities and inviting them — and thereby creating a buzz for the event — apart from sweating it out in the gym with his trainers.
He and his team understood well the importance of marketing a pro boxing bout, and they gave everything towards achieving it. Vijender regularly connected with the fans through social media platforms to create an awareness about his fight. It was a conscious plan to reach out to the common people and it worked. The effort has also created interest for his future bouts. Besides, it has made Vijender more popular as a sportsperson.
When the bout began in front of 10,000 fans at the Thyagaraj Stadium in Delhi, the atmosphere was amazing. Top politicians, film stars and sportspersons attended the bout.
“It was fantastic. I have attended a few pro title fights in Mexico, but Vijender’s has surpassed all those. Only the quality of bouts (including the under-card fights) need improvement,” said Brig. (retd) P. K. M. Raja, the president of the non-profit professional boxing body, Indian Boxing Council (IBC).
That the IBC and the Mary Kom Academy contributed by organising some of the under-card fights in the run-up to Vijender’s title bout was a good sign for the future of professional boxing in India.
“Our boxers and officials have learnt a lot from the event. The overseas pro boxing officials were surprised with the conduct of the event and had encouraging words,” noted Raja.
Vijender, who had won medals in the Worlds and Olympics as an amateur, fought the longest bout of his career. The manner in which the Bhiwani boy went through 10 rounds in defeating Hope proved that he was ready to embrace bigger challenges. Vijender’s fabulous performance — his first bout at home after the Commonwealth Games six years ago — ensured that he remained undefeated in his seventh successive bout and entered the top-15 of the super middleweight category.
Now that he has won the WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight title, Vijender has to feature in a fight every 120 days and box against a mandatory challenger once a year to retain his crown. He can even challenge any title-holder if he aspires for bigger glory.
“The countdown has just begun,” asserted Vijender, hinting at his ambition of making it big in the pro circuit.
Since turning professional a year ago, Vijender has always hoped that his entry into pro boxing would inspire other Indian boxers to follow his example, thereby making the sport popular in the country. After his successful campaign at home, Vijender should be all the more confident about the future of pro boxing in India.
The IBC has already taken baby steps in its effort to promote pro boxing in every nook and corner of the country. It is hopeful of spreading the buzz created by Vijender all over the country.
“There were several people who were ready to support the IBC in its promotion of pro boxing in India — I will take this with a pinch of salt, but even if some of them come forward it will be great for the future of the sport. We would like to make that happen. A few months down the line you may see some lesser-known but talented boxers being handed out contracts and getting big money,” said Raja.
“Once professional boxing gets popular, you can see all the big names coming to India and performing. We are seriously working towards this,” he added.
As pro boxing is taking its early strides, it is only befitting that it is taking the help of Vijender, who had earlier made the Tricolour proud with his path-breaking achievements at the amateur level, to make a mark in India. A bunch of fine pugilists, backed by efficient promotion, can help the sport carve a niche for itself in India.