Into a brave new world

Vijender Singh…“When I do well (as a professional), I would do as an Indian.”-PICS:PTI Vijender Singh…“When I do well (as a professional), I would do as an Indian.”

Vijender Singh’s decision to switch to professional boxing is in keeping with his spirit to be different, to be an achiever, writes Vijay Lokapally.

He is more of a model than a boxer. It was difficult to understand the spirit behind the comment about Vijender Singh, made by a young trainee at the Sonepat Sports Complex. Vijender had just begun training after a break, and he was the star attraction at the boxing hall, as some aspirants mobbed him while a few others admired him from a distance, aping his style. The boxer had not fully recovered from an injury. Besides, he was also caught up in an unfortunate controversy pertaining to a drug case. It was a tough period for the Beijing Olympics bronze medal winner.

Vijender described that difficult period in 2013 as, ‘A Lesson from God’. India’s first ever medal winner in boxing at the Olympics had fallen victim to his newfound fame. This was not what he had dreamt of though.

However, Vijender’s recent decision to switch to professional boxing is in keeping with his spirit to be different, to be an achiever. The middleweight boxer has always backed himself, and now having signed the contract, he obviously is going to find himself under intense scrutiny.

The world of boxing can be harsh. You not only pound your opponent, but are pounded too. The respect for each other is mutual, but the journey is tortuous for all. The body takes a hammering, but then the strong ones are prepared for the ordeal. “Boxing makes you mentally strong too,” was Vijender’s calm response.

Boxers such as Venkatesan Devarajan, Dharmender Singh Yadav, Gurcharan Singh and Rajkumar Sangwan had also turned professional to make the most of their talent. Technically adept boxers all, they served as an inspiration for Vijender, who had toyed with the idea for more than five years. When the offer came, he was quick to grab it. After having competed in three Olympics, it was clear the 29-year-old pugilist was looking for a change. His multi-year contract with Queensberry Promotions, through IOS Sports and Entertainment, requires him to fight six bouts in one year.

“I’m excited to turn pro and I’m looking forward to the new chapter in my life. I want to train hard and perform for my country at the global level. IOS will be managing my pro boxing career along with Queensbury Promotions and broadcaster BoxNation. My immediate goal is to work hard and make a good boxing record in the next year or so,” Vijender said in London after signing the contract.

Vijender turning professional heralds a new era in Indian boxing. The internal wrangling in the Indian Boxing Federation could lead to many talented youngsters turning professional.

Devarajan believes it would not be a “good” move. How this would impact the government funding of gifted boxers remains to be seen. However, as Devarajan fears, it would attract youngsters to professional boxing and that certainly would have a negative influence on all government plans to promote young boxing talent in the country.

Turning pro... Olympic medal-winning boxer Vijender Singh signs a multi-year agreement with Queensberry Promotions at a press conference in London. The contract requires him to fight six bouts in one year.-

Boxing promoter Francis Warren, who is promoting Vijender, said: “After spending the past week with him in Manchester, there is no doubt in my mind that he has what it takes to be a very successful professional boxer, not only due to his undoubted natural talent but also due to his drive and focus. He has a clear idea of what he wants to achieve.”

The decision to turn professional means Vijender cannot represent India anymore at the Olympics and other major events. He had set his eyes on the 2016 Rio Olympics, but then, as Vijender said, it was a decision prompted by his desire to take Indian boxing forward. The iconic boxer has always believed in taking the lead, and here too he has sent a strong message to the youth of the country. That chasing sporting dreams need not be restricted to representing the nation. “When I do well (as a professional), I would do as an Indian,” was how Vijender put it.

The move by Vijender has had a positive effect. The launch of the Indian Boxing Council (IBC) is seen as a welcome move by the boxing fraternity. The IBC would facilitate deals for boxers wanting to become professionals. Vijender for long had talked of a platform that would help the Indian boxers move into the international circuit, and the IBC has come as a huge boost.

Vijender earned support and praise from Mary Kom. “I respect whatever he is doing,” she said. She may have echoed the sentiments of the young boxers in the country.

Vijender’s performance in his first year as a professional is bound to influence the boxing fraternity in India. No doubt, this is an arena very different from amateur boxing that Vijender is used to, but he has the resolve and determination to make a mark in professional boxing.