Seven years after winning the historic middleweight bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, ace boxer Vijender Singh turned professional in 2015. Since then the poster boy of Indian boxing has fought — and won — 12 professional bouts. His next bout is against Russian Artysh Lopsan on March 19 in Goa.
The last pro bout of Vijender, 35, was in November 2019. But before that he had taken a plunge in politics. He contested – and lost – for the South Delhi Parliamentary seat on a Congress party ticket. But even at the time he had insisted that he would never leave boxing. Then, Covid-19 pandemic stopped all sporting activities in almost the entire last year; it also shrunk resources, says Vijender.
In 2015, when Vijender — a 2009 World Championships bronze winner and 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games gold medallist — signed a deal with a London based professional boxing firm, he had the luxury of having a team of experts to chalk out his plans, ranging from his training to his diet. But he could not get his support team to India due to the pandemic situation in England.
And since neither Vijender could go overseas for training, he has largely been dependent on a talented pool of boxers from Haryana as his sparring partners. He even engaged his long-standing friend and training partner, Jai Bhagwan, a two-time Asian Championships medallist and the 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze winner, as coach.
Excerpts from the exclusive interview with Gourav Sharma, Assistant Editor, The Correspondent
How have you been training for the March 19 bout?
It is an eight-round bout. So, I trained for 10 rounds in one session. Moreover, we changed sparring partners after two or three rounds to have a fresh opponent that could test my skills.
You said there is some injury problem. Could you elaborate?
I hurt my nose during training. Initially it was bad. Now it’s better.
You have just one week to go for big match. Is the injury a worrying factor?
No. I’m doing icing. It should be fine.
Your opponent (Artysh Lopsan) is taller than you at 6-foot-four-inch. You are six-foot tall. How do you plan to tackle him?
I did sparring sessions with boxers taller than me to build up muscle memory. One of them was a Youth Asian medal winner from Jhajjar in Haryana. He wasn’t as strong as senior the athlete, but technically it helps to learn how to stay out of the reach of your rival, and go inside to score.
Any advantage you have over your rival from Russia?
I guess I’m more experienced than him. I have played 12 bouts and trained in America and England. My last bout was in Dubai (November 2019). All that will play a vital role in winning.
What will be your main strategy against Lopsan?
I don’t want to reveal the details. In the first round, I will be able to observe him and then I will plan for the remaining seven rounds.
What is your main strength?
I believe in power packed punches. Endurance is the other weapon I rely on. I like to stay calm even if my opponent is aggressive.
What was the reason for engaging Jai Bhagwan as your coach/trainer?
He was the best choice under the given circumstances. We know each other and he knows how to push me beyond the limits.
Since your training sessions were quite strenuous, did you follow any specific diet plan?
As an athlete, I have good eating habits. I stick to it. But when I was training in England in 2015, there were a lot of emphasis on nutrition.
How challenging has it been to stay fit in times of the pandemic?
It was a different kind of experience to cope with. I have learned a lot to do with limited resources. There were issues of niggling injuries in the build up to the main event. All I can say is it was an uphill task to get back into top fitness.
During lockdown it was difficult to train. Did you put on weight?
Not much. I’m close to 79kg. I should be able to reduce at least three kilograms in the coming week.
For some time you have been seen in different roles. Like supporting farmers’ agitation and training at the same time?
Whatever I do I do with my heart. I try to go all out.
What have you learnt for the farmer’s agitation?
Every day is a new learning experience. I’ve desire to learn more.
What about your plans of setting up a boxing academy in Haryana?
The plans are still there but I haven’t got the land from the government.
Could you share your experience on the professional circuit?
It is very simple. You have to be super strong to survive in the pro circuit.