‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,’ may not be the ultimate mantra for him. But every time Vijender Singh is involved in a bout, he makes it a point to lord over the rings.
That’s something he has maintained for a little more than a decade — first as an amateur, then as a professional boxer.
While he is fun-loving and sporting, Vijender turns into a completely different man in the ring. The cordiality makes way for grit, and the easy-going attitude turns into aggression.
Is the mix enough to blow away an opponent? Ask him about that and the Bhiwani boy laughs. He politely conveys that such thoughts haven’t actually crossed his mind.
“My idea is simple: Just keep on fighting,” he says.
Perhaps, this mantra has worked well for Vijender, who is still considered the poster boy of Indian boxing — even three years after becoming a professional. “I have enjoyed all my moments. I have tasted success, I know the feeling,” he says, quickly adding: “I also know how challenging it is to deliver in the pro-boxing circuit.”
For the last few weeks, he has been working out in Manchester, under the watchful eyes of his trainer, Lee Beard — the Britisher, who has been his guide ever since he took the professional plunge, three years ago.
From the time he has landed on foreign shores, Vijender’s routine has changed immensely. His day starts early, and ends pretty late. Most of the time is gone in training and strategising for the next bout against Lee Markham at the York Hall in London on July 13. And at times, when he is not training, the 32-year-old is still thinking about boxing.
“This time, I will have to fight for 12 rounds and that’s not an easy thing. It needs a lot of hard work, a lot of sparring,” he says. Chasing the Commonwealth Super Middleweight belt, Vijender knows there is no room for complacency. Statistically, his opponent appears superior to him. From 22 bouts, Markham has won 17. Vijender, on his part, has 10 winning outings.
The last time he took the ring was in December last year, against Ghana’s Ernest Amuzu in Jaipur. While the bout ended on a winning note for Vijender, he could not be seen in the ring for the next six months.
Vijender, however, looks at it differently. “When you fight for 12 rounds, you have to wait and prepare accordingly. That’s how it is. People think that Vijender should fight every day, but that’s not possible. Come on, this is pro-boxing,” he reminds one.
Vijender is also quick to point out that legends like Manny Pacquiao too take time in between fights. “ Aise hi hota hai, yaar (That’s how it is, buddy),” he says.
To sustain the 12 rounds, Vijender has been working on his fitness and endurance — two things that, he believes, will be important during a long fight. “I have been undergoing long training sessions. There is sparring with three different guys. It is tough and I am working on endurance and skill. It is a bit tiring initially, but I will overcome it all,” he says confidently.
And it is this positive attitude that would be the key to success for the Indian ace. When he turned a pro-boxer, three summers back, Vijender had left behind a strong legacy in the amateur circuit. Walking into the unknown and a tougher world wasn’t easy, but even then, he has always been open to exploring a whole new territory.
Vijender, however, says that it was time to look beyond amateur boxing at that point of time. “You had to make way for youngsters. As a senior, you could not afford to hold back for years,” he says. “I have had all the fun in the amateur circuit. It was time that we passed on the baton to the youngsters.”
But then, there are times when he actually misses the national ‘coaches and the team-mates.’
Perhaps, this is what the three years in professional boxing have taught him. It has made him stronger, both physically and mentally.
While he admits that the challenge has never been easy, Vijender also dreams of producing more Indian boxers in the professional circuit. “We have a population of 1.32 billion, and out of that, only a few get a chance to represent the nation in the pro-ring,” he says. “There are boxers, who are good in amateur. That’s okay, but it needs to be seen if he is good in pro, and whether he can make a mark. People say, cricket is famous, tennis is growing. Hopefully we can take boxing to that level someday. That’s my dream,” Vijender adds.
On the personal front, he has had a good start so far — winning all 10 outings — and Vijender firmly believes that his success would certainly inspire more young guns.
Interestingly, after Vijender turned professional, the boxing circuit became abuzz with more and more turning pros. Many organisations mushroomed, but most of them bombed. Despite all this, Vijender has been able to maintain his brand. While his Indian promoters, IOS Sports, has ensured that he got enough fights, it has also reunited with the legendary Frank Warren. And that’s a move, the boxing fraternity believes, will improve Vijender’s chances again.
Vijender wants a large turnout for his next bout in London. “I am inviting all of India. This being summer, many people are in London, so it would be great if they come and support me,” he says. In the last few fights back home, many Indian cricketers had attended the bouts. Now that the Indian team too is touring England, will they be invited as well? Vijender, an ardent cricket fan, laughs. “I will invite all,” he says.
After six long months, the focus is back on Indian boxing and the nation’s poster boy is eagerly waiting to live his London dreams and recreate the magic in the ring.
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