Interview/ Vijender Singh, boxer
What have you learned in your time as a pro boxer?
I have learned a lot. It is a small beginning, I would say. People like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao have had about 50 bouts; I am just six bouts old. I have a long way to go. Everything is new—be it staying in England, the training method, conversations with my coach and fellow boxers. It was difficult in the beginning, but I am getting used to these changes.
How is the world of pro boxing different from amateur boxing?
Be it the Indian Premier League, football or wrestling, people watch sports for entertainment. It is the same with pro boxing; people come to see a good fight. They don’t want to see soft counter-punches. Nobody comes to watch a nice person. They want to see brutal fights and blood.
What are the pressures of pro boxing?
There is money and you have only one fight. You have got to perform. If you lose the fight, your market [value] goes down.
From the first to the latest bout, what difference do you see in yourself?
The first bout was new for me. There was a lot of pressure on me and there were several controversies in India when I turned pro. I was given the necessary permission with great difficulty. I was nervous. I used to tell myself that I am doing this not just for myself, but also for all my boxer friends in India and for upcoming boxers. That is why I think I was able to survive.
There was too much happening. I was very quiet and just observed everything the first time around. Now I am confident, I know what will happen. In the fifth bout, my opponent came up to me, touched my forehead and challenged me. I told him 'Come on man, I am ready!' I don’t mind blood. These things don’t happen in amateur boxing. But there is mazaa (fun) here, too.
How do you prepare for 10 to 12 rounds?
Bohot mushkil hai [It is very difficult]. I have sparred with boxers better than me and they beat you like crazy. [You know] you will get punched a lot. Your energy tank should have a lot in reserve because, if you use it up early, you won't survive beyond the fourth round.
When I first went for training, I went with an empty mind. I started from zero. If I had gone in with the attitude that I am an Asian Games gold-medallist, Olympic and World Championship medallist, I would have not succeeded at all.
Whatever they say, I try to do. I start training at 10am with skipping, then in-ring sparring sessions are a must. If I am preparing for a 10-round bout, I spar for 12 to 14 hours. I rest on Sundays.
You had to move to England to turn pro. How was the adjustment?
My whole crowd is here in India. There, I am slowly meeting people and making new friends. I felt very homesick initially. Then my wife and child joined me. It wasn't easy for them, too. Where could they go? The shopping centre yes, but what next?
How crucial is the WBO Asia Pacific title bout? It will give you a chance at even tougher bouts. How ready are you?
Yes, that is right. I am aware of it, I am ready for it. Maybe tomorrow I will lose, but at least I won't regret that I didn’t try. You don’t get chances again in life. I am 30, I have to go for back-to-back bouts. I don’t have time like, let's say, a 20-year-old, who can afford to play his next bout after a couple of months. I cannot wait for next year for my next bout.
In amateur boxing, you are part of a team of boxers, coaches and sparring partners. How lonely is pro boxing?
Yes, I had read somewhere that pro boxing is a very lonely sport. It's true. Sometimes you are depressed, sometimes not, but you pick yourself up. You have to remain positive and think about the future.
Has your family gotten used to your life as a pro boxer?
Initially, my wife wasn’t happy. She used to ask me why I wanted to turn pro. I told her it is a new chance, let's try. Finally, she was convinced. She used to see the blood and cuts, and would be worried. But she is supportive now. My whole day is spent in the gym and, if you expect me to go out after that, it is not possible. She understands that; it is tough for her, too.
There is a chance that pro boxers can also qualify for Rio Olympics.
Yes, there is, and I would love to go to Rio. But there are also issues about how pro boxers will qualify and how the trials will be conducted. Right now, the amateur boxing scene isn’t great in India. There are issues with the federation—three or four people are running the show.