Vijender, the game changer

Vijender Singh’s victory against Francis Cheka enhanced the World and Olympic medallist’s image and projected him as a boxer destined for bigger things in the professional circuit.

Francis Cheka takes a beating. "I was thrashing him for fun. I could have hammered him in the second round after that right to the chin, but I wanted to have revenge for all that he had said about me before the fight. He had called me a kid but I showed him the reality with my boxing,” said Vijender Singh.   -  AFP

Vijender Singh celebrated Christmas and New Year early by knocking out Francis Cheka of Tanzania and defending his first professional title, the WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight crown, in style on December 17.

Thanks to the rhetoric-laden onslaught by Cheka, a former World and Inter-continental champion with a record of 32 wins in 43 bouts, in the build-up to the fight followed by Vijender’s antics inside the ring, this contest has to be the most dramatic one for the Indian boxer in his short eight-bout professional career. In sharp contrast to his aggressive posturing prior to the bout, Cheka appeared too cautious and faint-hearted inside the ring. Delivering a jaw-clattering right in the second round and then crossing his legs and locking his hands behind, a smiling Vijender gave indications of ending his title defence early. Moving with the finesse of a dancer, the Indian unleashed a few more punches on Cheka in the third before the referee stopped the contest within nine minutes of the round.

“I was thrashing him for fun. I could have hammered him in the second round after that right to the chin, but I wanted to have revenge for all that he had said about me before the fight. He had called me a kid but I showed him the reality with my boxing,” said Vijender, showing he has now learned how to speak apart from delivering punches.

“Two months of training and hard work in Manchester has done me good. He was talking big but I believed in punch-power. I am happy the title is still with me,” said Vijender, who dedicated his victory to the Indian soldiers, who laid their lives for the country.

More than the title defence, the victory — Vijender’s seventh knockout in eight fights — enhanced the World and Olympic medallist’s image and projected him as a boxer destined for bigger things in the professional circuit.

If professional boxing has to do well in the Indian market, then it must promote Vijender as a larger-than-life icon. The title defence had the ingredients to put him in that direction.

The 31-year-old boxer’s two fights, including his victory against Kerry Hope of Australia for the Asia Pacific crown in July in Delhi, have achieved the primary objective of giving the Indian fans a taste of pro boxing and making the sport a little popular in the country.

The congregation of celebrities, including Olympic medallists Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, Mary Kom and a host of Bollywood stars, added colour to the fight. The Thyagaraj Stadium might not have the appeal of Madison Square Garden, but it is definitely the place where the foundation stone of pro boxing in the country has been successfully laid.

The event would have gained more attention had Olympians Akhil Kumar and Jitender Kumar got the clearance from their employer, Haryana Police, and fought their first professional bouts on the same day.

Nevertheless, now that Vijender has retained his Asia Pacific title, he can aspire to go for a Commonwealth, European or Oriental title before having a go at the coveted World crown. His promoters, IOS and Queensberry Promotions, have been guiding him well, going systematically with the bouts.

Surely, Vijender is not going to have all his fights in India with the backing of his vociferous home fans. Tougher opponents in different countries will push Vijender harder, and he should be mentally prepared to go the distance to establish himself as a well-known name in professional boxing. Vijender’s promoters have said that he might have his fights in the UK, China or Dubai next year.

Thanks to Vijender’s well-marketed fights, the environment is becoming suitable for the growth of professional boxing in India.

The Indian Boxing Council (IBC) has signed a Rs. 100 crore deal with Sporty Solutionz and has been hiring boxers to conduct its bouts next year.

Several reputed boxers, such as former Asian Games silver medallist Manpreet Singh, former Commonwealth Games silver medallist Som Bahadur Pun, former World cadet champion Vipin Kumar, former World Military Games champion Sanjay Kolte and former Asian junior champion Santosh Harijan, have signed up with the IBC after the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) allowed its boxers to turn pro.

The IBC has more surprises in store and is expected to rope in several other big names, including some elite women boxers, in the coming weeks.

Professional boxing, which was a lesser-known sporting activity in India prior to Vijender turning pro, is strengthening its roots because of multiple initiatives.

It looks like making a bigger impact in the country in the next few years.