As he enters the ring on Wednesday after a year away from the professional boxing scene, renowned Indian fighter Vijender Singh says, "I always fight like it's my first." Up until this March, Vijender had an impressive 12-0 record since becoming pro in 2015, including eight knockouts.
But all changed in March of last year when Russia's Artysh Lopsan used a technical knockout in Goa to put an unceremonious stop to his winning streak. "Record toh bante hi tutne ke liye hain. (Records are meant to be broken) It is all part of the game," an upbeat Vijender told PTI.
Vijender has a straightforward mantra as he prepares for his upcoming fight against Ghana's Eliasu Sulley, the current national champion of the West Africa Boxing Union, on August 17.
"I always fight like it's my first fight. When I start training I'm just like a blank slate, I learn everything again. I listen to what my coaches tell me and start over," the 2008 Beijing Olympics bronze medallist said.
Vijender had scheduled the contest with Lopsan because he was dissatisfied with the lack of opposition and COVID-19 limitations. He was forced to compete without his squad, which included trainer Lee Beard, for the first time in 16 months.
Since the beginning of his professional career, Vijender has been under the instruction of British boxing trainer Ricky Hatton, who has taught elite athletes like Ricky Hatton. The Haryana youngster won the WBO Asia Pacific and Oriental super middle-weight belts while training with him.
However, because of COVID-19 travel limitations, Lee was unable to visit India. In retrospect, Vijender, who won the men's boxing gold at the 2008 and 2009 Olympic Games and the men's world championships, believes that competing without his squad was a major gamble that ultimately cost him dearly.
"I learned an important lesson from that bout. In the future, if somebody asks me for advice, I will tell them 'pro boxing is a serious business, don't ever go (to a fight) without your team. If you are absolutely sure then only go, otherwise don't take the risk.'"
The 36-year-old was horrified by his own effort when the referee ruled him the loser one minute and nine seconds into the fifth round.
"Not at all, I was very confident then (before the fight). But when I saw my bout, I was shocked by my performance. I felt 'how did I do that? That is not Vijender Singh.'"
For the muscular six-footer, all of it is already in the past, and he appears certain to earn his 13th victory.
"Yes, pressure is there (to not slip to another loss) but I'm confident because I have my team around me.”
"We have done a lot of sparring in UK and been through tough sessions and training. This time, I don't think there will be any type of problem or difficulty, and if there is a problem my team is there to solve it."
Sulley has an impressive 8-0 record with a 100% knockout rate, but the gold medalist Indian from the 2010 Asian Games is up for the battle.
"We have a plan against him. We have the strategy to counter him. We have analyzed his fights and discussed what can be done. We will take him no problem," said Vijender, oozing confidence.
Every time Vijender connects with new and future boxers in India, one can be sure to hear "Vijender bhaiya inspired us." Vijender is a sports icon.
"Whenever boxers ask for advice I tell them 'whatever chance you get, grab it. There is only one life, there should not be regret'. In my life I have done everything whether it is politics, tv, movie etc."
Will Vijender thus run for office again? "Why not, I never quit. There's a saying 'Jab tak jeetega nahi, tab tak chodega nahi'. (Keep trying until you win)
I'll be doing that as well going forward (try till you succeed) "said Vijender, a South Delhi candidate running on the Congress platform who lost the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Vijender's upcoming fight, which will be broadcast on Voot, will take place at the Balbir Singh Juneja Stadium in Raipur in an effort to bring professional boxing to every region of the nation.