SportsCafe Exclusive with Vijender Singh - They love Mike Tyson but if an Indian boxer turns professional, they question him [Part II]

SportsCafe Exclusive with Vijender Singh - They love Mike Tyson but if an Indian boxer turns professional, they question him [Part II]

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In a candid interview, Vijender Singh speaks to us on topics ranging from the negativity surrounding his move to pro boxing, to what is wrong with boxing in India and the life lessons he has learnt in the ring.

Vijender has been the poster boy of boxing in this nation for a long time. He voluntarily took up a role in the Haryana police department, made numerous on-screen appearances in reality shows on television, made his Bollywood debut in 2014, apart from providing the nation with its first Olympic medal in boxing. So when he, eventually, made the switch to pro boxing last year, it seemed like a natural progression for someone like him into a sport which celebrates stardom and show-stoppers like few others.

Indian boxing was in need of a superstar, a national icon, who would inspire future generations to take up the sport. Every boxing icon India has had in the past, belonged in amateur boxing, while pro boxing still remained a less-traveled path. In fact, when Vijender Singh announced his decision to move to professional boxing a lot of eyebrows were raised, and some even questioned his patriotism.

“Yes. There was a lot of negativity surrounding it. You know, it happens all the time in India. If someone tries something new, a lot of people will try to chain him down. Back then a lot of controversies were going on. They used to ask, “Why are you doing that?” and “Why are you not going to the Olympics?”. The thing about Olympics is that people think it like some district level championship. Just go there, play and comeback. Olympics is the biggest thing. I have played three of them.

They love to see Mike Tyson. But if an Indian boxer goes there, they start asking, “why are you going there?” and “what is the problem with you?”

“They love to see the big fights, you know. They love to see Mike Tyson. But if an Indian boxer goes there, they start asking, “why are you going there?” and “what is the problem with you?”. That is the only issue. They should change their mindset. You should support them. It is a new thing. A guy from a village in India is going to London to make a career. You should support that guy.

“It is okay, actually. I do not care about them. I am going on with my life. I am going on with my pro boxing here. It is almost a year now. Everybody is in favour of me. Everybody is praising me. Sometimes it is a good day. Sometimes it is a bad day. Things like that happen,” Vijender said.

However, just before the Rio Olympics earlier this year, it seemed like Vijender might still have chance to represent India at the Games with the AIBA discussing the possibility of letting pro boxers compete with the amateurs.

“Almost a month before the Rio Olympics, they announced that pro boxers can participate in the Games. The decision came from the AIBA. It was a month before, I still remember the date. They were saying that pro boxers can participate. So, I was preparing for my title fight. I was training for 10 rounds, and suddenly, I had to train for 3 rounds for the amateur boxing. It is not possible. My whole schedule would have been ruined if I had gone for the Olympics. Had they announced it 3-4 months before the Olympics, then I can yes I am happy to do that. And nobody was going to go from pro boxing to play in the Olympics. Lot of people say that I would love to do that and all, but in the end, nobody wanted to,” Vijender added.

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The Rio Olympics started memorably for the nation as they sent their largest Olympic contingent ever. However, that contingent was only able to win two medals as India’s campaign ended in a whimper. It is easy to assume that India might have added one more medal to their tally had Vijender been allowed to compete, but as the boxer points out, things are never that easy.

“No, I cannot say that. I cannot say that I could have won a medal had I gone to Rio. It is not that easy. It depends on so many things. It depends on the draw. It depends on performances. It depends on the environment. So, there are so many things you are up against. Thanks to girls, especially PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik, India won a couple of medals. They saved our izzat. We have more than 100 million people in India, and we hardly get like 2 or 3 medals. So thanks to them the whole nation was celebrating. But now everyone has forgotten that. Now they will once again resume 3 or 4 months before the 2020 Olympics, and then once again the same thing will happen.

“They are not interested in what is happening in the grassroot level, what is happening in the state level. Nobody cares about that,” Vijender added with a tinge of frustration in his voice.

If one looks beyond the recent achievement of Vijender Singh, at the core, Indian boxing is in shambles at the moment. Mary Kom had recently expressed her grief about being unable to compete under the Indian flag due to the mess the boxing federation was in. So when we asked Vijender how this mess could be fixed, and the promising sport of boxing can be taken to the next level, the Haryana-born pugilist did not have an optimistic answer.

“There are so many things. So many. I do not think we can do it. There are a lot of plans, lot of energy, lot of ideas, but nobody applies those things. It is the same thing everyday. You should be experimenting. You should be doing new things. But if you do new things, people will be like “why are you doing that? Stop! Do not do that”.

“I know what they are doing in the boxing camp in Patiala right now. I know what they are doing today. Today is Thursday. They are doing weight training in the morning. In the evening, there will be 7-8 rounds of sparring. I know what they will do. I know the schedule, because they have been following the same schedule since 2001. I was in the national camp at that time. In 2016, they still follow the same routine. On Friday, they will be sparring. On Saturday, they go on a long run. On Monday, they again go on a long run. On Tuesday, they have weights training. So I know the schedule and what they are doing everyday,” Vijender explained.

Has nothing really changed since the turn of the new millennium?

“Nothing has changed. Not the coach, not the system. Everything is same, same, same. Come on, man! Give chances to the new people, the new coaches, the new physiotherapists. They give you the best things available. But nobody cares.

“You see, I am based in UK. And, UK is not bigger than Haryana or Punjab. But they were no.2 in the Olympics medal tally. That is a great achievement,” he added.

However, despite all these handicaps, India have been producing a lot of promising talents like Shiva Thapa, who Vijender feels is the most promising Indian prospect at the moment. But, Vijender wants them to secure their future before dipping their toes into the world of pro boxing. He said, “It depends on them. We are Indians, right? Our first priority is to get a government job, or any job for that matter. That is the only thing. We are Indians, we think about the future. We do not think about the present. So they can secure their future first, then they can turn towards a pro boxing career. That is my advice to them. First, you get a job, then maybe become a national champion, and then you turn pro. That is good for you, I think.”

When asked about his suggestion for young kids who aspire to be a boxer someday, Vijender’s reply was short and crisp: “Work hard. Do not try shortcuts. Just work hard. That is it.”.

The 31-year-old is now set to defend his WBO Super Middleweight Asia Pacific title against former World Champion Francis Cheka on December 17, who is likely to be the toughest opponent he has faced so far. However, Vijender already has his plans in place to take him down.

“Yea [he will be the toughest opponent I have faced], look at his achievements. He is a former world champion. He is an experienced guy with a long career. He has been in a lot of big fights, and I have seen those on the Youtube. But, we have plans for him. I have discussed with my coach. I am just focusing on that at the moment. What we will do in the ring, we have a plan in mind. Hopefully, that will work in the ring,” he stated.

One way of tackling someone as experienced as Cheka is to keep evolving in the ring. Vijender has stressed the importance of planning and changing tactics for every match. He said, “Yes. You have to be different everytime. If you play the same game, then everyone will figure you out. Everyone will know “Yes, his left punch is good” or “He is doing the jab all the time”. If you do the same thing in the ring everytime, everyone will catch hold of you. So you should be trying new things everytime – in the gym, in the training, in the main fights. If you do not change, you will not survive in the ring.”

However, like most of us, even Vijender Singh harbors regrets. When asked if he would like to change anything from the past he said, “In 2012, I lost in the quarters. If I get a chance, I would like to change that. If I can just go back and beat that Uzbekistan guy. I had beaten him in 2010. So that is the only thing I would love to change in the past.”

The pain is not permanent. The time is not permanent. It goes away. There will be bad times, there will be good times.

Similarly, he regrets not switching to pro boxing much earlier in his career. “I have that regret. But, I believe in God. Like, upar wala jo karta hai, theek karta hai. [Whatever God does, he does it for ones good]”

The ring has been Vijender’s life. He has thrown punches, received them, but most importantly, it has taught him a very important life lesson - “Nothing is permanent”.

“Yes, of course [I have learnt life lessons in the ring]. There is one line which says, “Nothing is permanent”. The pain is not permanent. The time is not permanent. It goes away. There will be bad times, there will be good times. They will come and go. Just be your best in every moment, be it during the good times or the bad times. Nothing is permanent. Everything fades away. I learnt that in the ring. If I get a hard punch, I tell myself “this will go, this will go, just wait for a while”,” he concluded.

The Thyagraj Sports Complex, where Vijender won his maiden pro boxing title earlier this year, is no Madison Square Garden, yet the jam-packed stands in Delhi on that day, in a nation which is barely acquainted with pro boxing, provides hope for the future of this sport. Especially, in a nation which does not even have a boxing federation for its amateur version at this point.

Read the first part of this interview here.

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