We are on the 13th floor of a high-rise in the heart of Manchester. It’s cloudy and windy outside, but it is warm enough inside the huge apartment. The host for the evening, Vijender Singh, takes special efforts to make you feel at home. He offers tea, biscuits and some Indian snacks.
For the last couple of weeks, the Indian boxing ace has been training in the city to get back in shape ahead of his next professional bout. During a sparring session in the US in March, the 2008 Olympics middleweight bronze medallist sustained an injury which required six stitches on his left eyebrow. The boxer admits the injury has made him conscious of his appearance. “But such things happen in sport. Boxing kiye toh punch toh lagega hi na …” he says with a smile.
After returning from the US, Vijender contested the Lok Sabha elections on an Indian National Congress ticket. Though he lost from the South Delhi constituency, Vijender still has hopes. “I want to serve the people,” he says.
Excerpts from an exclusive chat…
How is your training coming along?
It’s all good. It is two weeks since I am training here in Manchester, gearing up for my next fight – which will happen very soon. I started sparring and I'm presently undergoing hardcore training sessions with my team under the watchful eyes of trainer Lee Beard. It feels good to be back.
In March, you suffered an injury. Does it make you conscious? How careful are you these days?
I told my coach that I suffered an injury and he asked me to apply a lot of petroleum jelly so that things get better. We have done eight rounds of sparring and this week we will do two more sessions. Before the fight, there will be 10-15 sparring sessions. It’s part of the training programme. Sometimes you get injured, but it’s okay. Boxing kiye toh punch toh lagega hi na … (If you are into boxing, you are bound to get punched).
You can get injured in every sport, be it football or boxing. But the most important fact is you need to have patience to recover. You have to realise that some things are beyond your control and you have to deal with it. Sometimes it takes a week to heal; at times it takes much more than that, but you have to come to terms with it. I had to take two months rest and now it's all okay. I consult the doctors and they say things are all good, but I need to be careful and apply more petroleum jelly on the injured eyebrow before entering the ring. I am glad that I am back in the ring and getting back the old touch.
From the US to the UK, it has been a busy few months. You also had a stint in politics. How was the experience of contesting the Lok Sabha elections?
In life, I want to do everything that comes my way. So, when the opportunity to contest the polls came, I took up the challenge. It was a great learning experience. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't, but in the process you end up knowing a lot of things. So, I will do it again.
What did campaigning for the elections teach you?
I came back from the US on April 18-19, and they (Indian National Congress) confirmed my ticket on 25-26th. So, we got only two weeks, but we worked hard. You may ask why did I take up the offer? It’s because I wanted to serve people. I come from a very small town in Haryana and my dad is a driver, so no one in my family had any political connection. I got a chance to become a member of Parliament, so I thought, why not? I wanted to serve my people. That’s how it started and I am happy about it.
Yes. I know that I started from nowhere and came so far. I can talk to people, inspire them. I want to work for the people and I will do that.
Many sports personalities have even tried their luck in sports administration. Do you have any such plans?
I am game, but it’s not in my hands. They (the boxing federation) did not consult me on anything, then how can I step in? Of course, I am open to enter (sports administration). Why not? If you get a chance to work for the betterment (of the sport) and the people involved with it, then definitely you should do it.
It’s been four years since you quit amateur boxing. But in India, you are still considered the poster boy of boxing. Do you think in these years, India has failed to develop its second line-up?
They are trying very hard and are doing well. Amit Panghal has done brilliantly; so has Shiva Thapa. There is enough talent and the youngsters are trying to achieve something. Hopefully, one day we will get another Vijender Singh.
Do you think it is possible to get another Vijender Singh?
You can try, right? I can create another Vijender Singh if I get proper support from the administration.
That means you are open to coaching?
Yeah, why not, yaar ! Itna sikha life mein , of course you should pass it on to the next generation. Otherwise, things will go waste. I want to play a mentor to the youngsters and teach everything I learnt in my career. That’s what I want.
How do you plan to go about it?
Abhi toh boxing kar raha hoon (I am still boxing now). I definitely have plans. But it has to be two-way traffic. Even the people who run the sport in the country should be keen on involving me in the process. If they don’t approach you, then what do you do? I am ready to help youngsters any time. On my personal capacity, I am starting a Vijender Singh Fan Club in New Delhi soon, where kids can come and train under the supervision of professional coaches for free. Whenever I am around, I will also have sessions with them. I also plan to popularise the game among the women pugilists. I will start the process after my fight gets over.
You haven’t fought for a year and a half. How challenging or depressing is it for a boxer to stay out of the ring for so long?
It’s not depressing. True that it has been a year and a half, but I will fight very soon. I am training very hard, so I know what’s happening behind the scene. We were supposed to have a few more fights, but that did not happen. But you can’t think too much about it. People still want me to be in the ring and they will see me soon.
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