SportsCafe Exclusive with Vijender Singh - From Mary Kom, to Salman Khan, to why he took up boxing [Part I]
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Vijender Singh took some time out of his busy training schedule to speak to us in one of the most candid interviews of a sportsperson this year. The first part of this interview is mostly a lighthearted conversation on some playful topics.
We caught up with Vijender Singh in the buildup to his big fight against former World Champion Francis Cheka on December 17, where he will defend his WBO Super Middleweight Asia Pacific title. The 31-year-old, who is now 7-0 in his pro boxing career, spoke about topics ranging from what inspires him, why he thinks Mary Kom will beat him in a fight, his experience of the Roadies, to who should play his character in his biopic.
Growing up as a youngster in India, who was your biggest inspiration?
When I started boxing, my main aim was to get a government job. That was my main inspiration. I hoped one day I will become the nation champion, and I will get into the railways, or the army, or postal service. But then during the 2000 Sydney Olympics, I got inspired from the boxers. I saw four boxers featuring in that Olympics from India and everybody was watching them on TV and wishing them good luck. That was the time I realized that the Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, and I wanted to be in that - to be an Olympic medalist, or simply participate in the Games. But when I started out, I never thought of the Olympics. My main inspiration was to get a government job.
Was there any particular person who was an inspiration for you?
No. I cannot say a single name. But those three-four people (who participated in the Sydney Olympics). See, I love to read the history books. History is my favorite subject. I like to read biographies of athletes. What they did in life. How they started. I try to find out, Unhonane kaise kiya? [How did they do it?] How did they reach that level? So that is my thing. I cannot say that there is a single guy I got inspired from.
When you read these biographies, you realise how many sacrifices they have made. Lot of difficulties they have faced. Finally, they reach a place where everyone follows them.
If you were to face Mary Kom in the boxing ring, how do you think it will go?
Yea, I think she will beat me (laughs). I will give you an example. She has like three kids, and I have only one kid right now. That is the thing, women are stronger than men are. She is a strong woman. I respect her. I respect her a lot.
You have dabbled a bit in the Bollywood also. Who would you want to play yourself if a biopic is made on you?
Yea, a lot of people have been approaching me for biopics. But I simply said, “Picture abhi baki hai mere dost” (laughs). I still have so much to do. So one day when I retire, they can make a biopic on me. So there is still time for that.
So, when you retire, which of the current actors should play you?
I think Salman Khan. I have seen Sultan. That was a good movie. I liked it. From the upcoming actors, I would say Ranveer Singh.
You are a huge role model for a lot of youngsters in the nation. How was your experience of judging a show like the Roadies?
Roadies was good. Roadies is all about youth. It is all about what they think, what they do, do they respect women or not. It is all about youth. It is a very interesting show, so yeah, I would love to be part of Roadies again. But now, I have to concentrate on my boxing. They have asked me so many times, but I do not have time now. But, next time I would be a part of it, if I get the chance or have the time to do it.
A lot of the focus in pro boxing is in the buildup of the match where there is war of words between the opponents. We all loved the way you replied with ‘Desi Ghee’ to the ‘Snake blood’ threat!
(Laughs) That was a young guy. He is like 20-21 years old. People say so many things in pro boxing. But that is just part of the buildup. They try to be in the newspaper, or on the TV, or on Twitter and start trending. It happens all the time. Sometimes they will bully each other. In a press conference, they might say bad things about each other. It is all part of the pro-boxing world.
Mein wahan bhi real tha, yahan bhi real hoon. Mein jo hoon, apke samne hoon apse baat kar raha hoon. Wo insan hi keya jo change ho jaye, right?
So how much of that showmanship is the real Vijender and how much of that is the Roadies Vijender?
I am totally real bro. Mein wahan bhi real tha, yahan bhi real hoon. Mein jo hoon, apke samne hoon apse baat kar raha hoon. Wo insan hi keya jo change ho jaye, right? [I was real over there. I am real even now. Whatever I am, I am right in front of you. What kind of person changes?] I do not think people should change. If they change, they are acting. It is not a movie, it is a real world. Roadies is a real show, and pro boxing is also real.
Looking further back, what was your favorite childhood memory?
I am from a village, and proud to be a villager. So, I used to take that cycle and ride to the stadium from my home. That was like 10-12 km everyday. I used to do that in the winter, in the rain, or in the summer. That was the best part. I still remember that.
I have like 4 cars right now, but still, I remember that fondly. That was the moment when I used to think about becoming a national champion or an Olympic medalist while riding my cycle on the road. I used to be alone. There was no traffic. In the day, and in the night. Those were the best moments.
What other things do you miss from that life?
Back then, I had time. I did not have a phone. So, I used to just enjoy with my family and my friends and did so many things. You cannot do that right now. Back then, no one knew me. No one followed me. That was good.
Looking forward, Aamir Khan has been challenging you for sometime...
No. This is all by the media. They asked, “do you wanna fight with Aamir Khan?”. I said, I do not have any problems. Then the media goes on and says how Vijender Singh has challenged Aamir Khan, blah, blah, blah. A lot of people do not understand that our weight categories are different.