The interlude between bouts had been long for Vijender Singh. His 10th bout as a professional boxer came back on December 23, 2017, and there was always an unspoken fear that a lack of match practice might steal his momentum. But he was mentally prepared for it, and showed no signs of rustiness when he did finally get back into the ring for the 11th time. “It’s show time,” he says, explaining what his first thought was when he stepped into the ring.
On Saturday night in New Jersey, the holder of the Super Middleweight Oriental and Asia Pacific titles entered a fight for the first time in 567 days. It was an eight-round tie against American Mike Snider, but Vijender finished it off in four – winning through a technical knockout.
“I was focused and should have ended this in three rounds,” he explains. “The rules in the US are a bit different. In the third round, I punched (Snider) and he was shaking, so I turned around and walked to my corner. In England, the referee would have started the count there. But here he told me that I could continue. By the time I realised the bell had rung. So I finished it in the next round.”
Plans of taking his professional career to the United States were still in the developing stages when India’s first Olympic medal-winning boxer found a new endeavour to keep him occupied during the long, unintentional hiatus from the sport; politics. Ahead of the general elections in April, the 33-year-old was handed a ticket to contest for the Congress party. It was a short lived experience but one that he cherishes.
“It was a good experience because I wanted to serve my people,” he says. “As an Olympian, people used to come to me earlier to ask help in getting better facilities. ‘Bhaiya boxing sikhado’ younger players would keep saying. I always felt those responsibilities to help. So when I was approached for the elections, I thought why not.”
But as the dust settled on his political campaign, Vijender returned to the ring – the place he feels most loved in. Now he finds himself in a crucial juncture in his professional career. His 11th bout marked his entry into the USA.
Mecca of boxing
“This is the Mecca of boxing,” he added. “There have been so many famous boxers from the US, and all the best come here. It’s a tough place but this is a big opportunity for me. This is also a chance for me to see what kind of potential I have.” Ever since Vijender turned professional in 2015, he’d been training and residing in Manchester. On the way he picked up an unbeaten 10-0 record (now 11-0) and two titles.
“There seems to be a much larger Indian community here and pretty much everyone is an engineer from IIT ,” he explains. “People had flown in from Washington DC and San Francisco to watch my fight. There were so many Indians it felt a bit like home.” Getting back to the ring after over a year-and-a-half though meant that he had find some rhythm during training.
“I know I have the experience and patience to (make changes), but the main thing I had to do was just get back to the basics because I was starting back from zero,” he adds. “When the fight was on I just kept listening to my coach about what jabs and movement. It all worked very well.” That skill and experience was well compensated for his lack of match time when he came up against the 38-year-old pro boxer who had previously fought 22 bouts, won 13 of them including eight knockouts, drawn three and lost five.
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