India needs another boxing icon. Mary Kom's career is over, Vijender might not be here too long, while Shiva Thapa is too raw at the moment. Vikas Krishan is India's best bet now.
When Vikas Krishan took on Charles Cornwell in his opening match at Rio, it seemed like he was fighting against his older self—a ghost from the past. The 18-year-old from Cleveland, who has been touted as the next best boxer to have come out of the USA, won a gold medal at the Americas Qualifier earlier this year to seal his Olympic berth. Back in his nation, he was hyped up as one of likeliest medal winners from Team USA's boxing contingent, especially, with Michael O'Reilly being disqualified from the Games after failing a dope test. But, a first round exit, in an extremely close bout, means the teenager has returned home with nothing but despair.
That feeling is all too familiar for Vikas Krishan, though. Four years ago, he nearly gave up the sport. Like Cornwell, he traveled to the 2012 London Olympics burdened with the hopes of a million. He was 20 back then, and he had already won a gold medal at the Asian Games in 2010, along with a bronze medal at the World Amateur Boxing Championships in 2011. In London, he faced a young and talented American boxer, Errol Spence, in his first round of the Games, much like he did in Rio.
Initially, Vikas Krishan was declared as the winner. However, in the wee hours of August 4, 2012, Vikas Krishan woke up to a heartache. His opponent Errol Spence had successfully appealed to the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) after claiming the referee had failed to notice Vikas committing fouls and intentionally spitting out his mouthguard. The result was overturned, and Vikas Krishan's Olympic quest was nipped in the bud. India lodged a counter-appeal, but it was turned down as well.
The disappointment was too much for Vikas to endure. Vikas became disillusioned, and he did not see any point in continuing with the sport. After returning home, he got married and joined the Haryana Police. However, almost 18 months after the match in London, Vikas Krishan dusted off his gloves and went back to practice once again. He wanted one last shot at glory, and he announced his return by winning a bronze medal at the Asian Games.
In the build-up to the Rio Olympics, Vikas Krishan said that this will be his last Olympics. His last attempt to win the biggest prize in Amateur boxing, before he joins the big league—pro-boxing.
Back in June, Vikas Krishan made his AIBA pro debut in New Delhi, days before Vijender Singh turned the venue into Madison Square Garden. The southpaw convincingly defeated Kenya's Nickson Abaka 3-0, and it was just a precursor of what expect from him in the near future.
Currently, Vijender Singh is the pinup boy for boxing in India, but soon the nation might have someone else to cheer for in the pro-boxing circuit. Comparisons between Vijender and Vikas Krishan have already begun, and the duo do have a lot of similarities. Both hail from the Bhiwani district in Haryana, both are the prodigies of the famous Bhiwani boxing club, and both are employed in the Haryana Police.
The fact that I will be fighting in the same category in which Vijender Singh had won a bronze, I have a strong feeling that I will also finish third."
Like Vijender Singh, Vikas Krishan also competes in the 75 kg category now, and before traveling to Rio, he said, “The fact that I will be fighting in the same category in which Vijender Singh had won a bronze, I have a strong feeling that I will also finish third. Vijender had won a bronze at the World Championship and so did I, while he had bagged a silver at Asian Championship and I also did the same."
The duo has a lot of similarities in the ring as well. Like Vijender, Vikas Krishan has developed into a counter-puncher. At the start of his career, the 24-year-old was aggressive in the ring, and that often left him open defensively. Of course, he was younger back then, and his speed and agility helped him get away with it. But with age, Vikas Krishan has matured as a boxer. He is a thinker inside the ring, and he always has a plan for his opponents.
After his defeat at the hands of Vikas Krishan in the first round of the Rio Olympics, Charles Cornwell, and his team were left fuming at the judges' decision. Because Conwell was the one moving forward most of the night, he felt like he was the one dictating the fight and controlling the action. But, that is what counter-punchers can do to their opponents.
Vikas Krishan lures his opponent into attacking him, because that is when they are more vulnerable defensively as well. But this manoeuvre also means that Vikas has to take a lot of hits. A few weeks ago, he had admitted that in London, he had known how to throw punches, but now he knows how to take them. Something even Vijender Singh has developed at the later stages of his career.
Krishan's heavy artillery is his left hook, but he uses it sparingly, and he makes sure that it lands on target when he uses it. His defensive game has evolved immensely over the years, and it was on show against the aggressive Conwell. During the match, the American swung a looping right hook at Krishan’s ribs. If Krishan had his old shell guard in place he would have likely taken a crushing body shot. But now, he uses a combination of the low hand guard and the high guard. Krishan dropped his arms, stepped back, and saw Conwell’s gloves swoosh through the air in front of his belly—everything happened in slow motion.
Vijender Singh is slightly taller than Krishan, and enjoys a slightly better reach than him. But Krishan is a better tactician, and controls the distance between him and his opponent beautifully.
He is not the most flamboyant boxer you will meet. Often, he will not do anything particularly memorable or spectacular, but he is adept at scoring points like wily veterans do, especially the left-handed ones. A short hook here, and a chopping left there—nothing to make the crowd go wild—but chipping away at his opponent one blow at a time.
While a lot of people might question his decision to leave amateur boxing, if indeed it proves to be his last Olympics, like they questioned Vijender, especially at the age of 24. But in a way, he is not repeating the mistake Vijender made in his career—he switched to pro-boxing a bit too late. He is into his 30s now, and we are only left to wonder what could have been.
Pro-boxing at 24 is not too early. Errol Spence, the man who defeated Vikas Krishan in London, switched to pro-boxing in the same year, and he already boasts a 20-0 record. India needs another boxing icon. Mary Kom's career is over, Vijender might not be here too long, while Shiva Thapa is too raw at the moment. Vikas Krishan is India's best bet now. The man who is likely to be the long-term replacement of Vijender in the ring.
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