Vijender Singh made his debut in pro boxing with a fight in Manchester in 2015. A fight he won decisively. Ever since, he has grown further as a boxer—training under the best coaches, winning international titles and taking down formidable opponents. He speaks to Swati Singh.
Q. Having completed a recent stint of 10 fights across India and the United Kingdom, you are all set to make your US debut in the coming weeks. How does that feel?
A. I am excited about the US debut because it was my dream to fight in America. I am working with the world’s top promoter, Bob Arum, for this. There is nothing bigger than Arum’s “Top Ranks” in the world of professional boxing. He is the best, ever since the time of Muhammad Ali, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
I have been in touch with Arum’s team for the last two years. But finishing my earlier contract took some time. He was very excited to meet a boxer from India. He promised to give me the best fight in the US and also, if we so wish, to plan a big fight in India.
I don’t think my world title is too far away, and I am fortunate to get into that league. But every boxer dreams of fighting in the United States, the Mecca of boxing. Mine will come true very soon. I want to do as well there as I have done at home in India or in the United Kingdom. I want to prove that we are the best in the world.
Q. So how are you preparing yourself for your American dream? Which areas have you been working on in your training regimen?
A. I would say that I’ve been working to improve upon everything. Everything is important. Boxing is a combat sport. You have to work on conditioning your technique and your strength… I undergo rigorous training every day by covering each and every aspect of the game: physical, mental and technical. I train for at least 2-3 hours. I follow a strict schedule and a healthy diet to make my body ready for championships.
Q. Could you talk about your first fight as a professional boxer?
A. I won my professional debut fight. It was a good start for me. I started fighting as a professional boxer in Manchester, in 2015. Everything was new to me—an amateur is different from a professional boxer, like how we do face-off and weighing-in. We address the media and one can talk to the opponent as well. The whole platform was different and new to me, with a lot more responsibility and very many people to watch out for.
Q. In the United Kingdom you trained under Lee Beard. How did his guidance and experience help you in your career?
A. Yes, I had amazing experience training under Lee Beard. He is a really hardworking man. Every day I was learning new things, which really boosted my confidence. He has a very vast knowledge about physical and mental training and can turn someone from an amateur to professional in a very short span of time. I think his defensive strategies are really good. The best thing is, he doesn’t tell you to change your style or technique, but rather keeps telling you to watch your back and work on your defence. So that’s something I’ve really liked about him. He always kept a watch on my diet. So boxing is not a one-man show; it’s about teamwork. That’s how you win fights.
Q. What is the biggest challenge that youngsters, who want to become pro boxers, face in India?
A. There are many challenges. In India we don’t have a professional boxing culture. I joined professional boxing just to make this sport famous in my country. When I joined professional boxing, I faced lot of criticism; people who don’t know about the sport started criticising me. People even asked me silly questions, like why I am turning a professional boxer. A few suggested that I shouldn’t do this or should leave the country. Some people even called me a “desh drohi” [laughs]. I don’t know why. But in India people love you when you win against anyone, anywhere in the world. If you are a champion then people love you and respect you. And yes, they now love this sport. People say everybody only loves cricket, but that’s not correct.
We have talent in boxing in India. What’s needed is to show youngsters the right direction. To tell them that nothing is impossible; that if you work hard you can achieve anything.
Q. In your years of struggle what kept you inspired and motivated enough to want to stick to boxing?
A. What motivated me was the thought that tomorrow must be better. I never lost hope. I always kept thinking that there is a tomorrow, which can be better. That’s how I start my day still, thinking that today will be better than yesterday. And I remained focused; I believed in myself that I will become a champion and then everyone will be on my side.
Q. Indian athletes have great potential, but every year we come back with only a handful of medals from international sporting tournaments. Why is that?
A. They are trying to do their best but aren’t getting the right kind of facilities and guidance. Like for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, everyone woke up only 2-3 months before the games. And then they expect us to win at international forums! We have to work on several sectors—like infrastructure, medical facilities and exposure for athletes etc. Indian athletes need that kind of setup.
Q. So it’s due to the lack of infrastructure and exposure that Indian athletes underperform?
A. I think so. Of course, we can do a lot better than this. There are so many Indian athletes but how many medals do we get? So there is obviously a problem; there’s a reason why they aren›t winning enough medals at the Olympics.
Q. Over the course of your career, you have fought against many tough opponents. Does having a strong opponent add to the pressure?
A. No doubt I have faced many tough opponents. But pressure is always part of the game—be it amateur or professional fight. I thrive under such situations. I always work hard and give my best to every fight. Also, I always learn new things with every fight.
Q. Which boxer in the professional circuit has been your toughest opponent so far?
A. Kerry Hope was a tough challenger. He has more experience than me with more bouts under his belt. That bout went on for 10 rounds. I take a lot of confidence from winning against someone like him.
Q. You have also launched a company to encourage new talent in boxing and promote the sport further in India. Could you throw some light on how you plan to make use of this platform?
A. I always ask myself: once my boxing career is done, how can I give back to the community? I wanted to do something for those people who come from rural areas and are not so fortunate to get that kind of access and exposure that’s needed in boxing today. My promotions company solely focuses on developing such budding talent and to give them the right exposure, tools and knowhow.
Q. Tell us about your participation in the welfare event for underprivileged children organised by PokerBaazi and Vidya NGO in Gurgaon.
A. Vidya NGO is really doing a great job. I was invited by PokerBaazi, which is a gaming website, to meet these kids and share the story of my journey with them. Children are the future of our nation. I poured my heart out to these young minds; and I hope my story taught them a thing or two about grit and determination. I’m sure that these students will make the country proud with their own individual contributions to various fields and professions they eventually choose.