The 30-odd trainees at the boxing centre at the Sports Authority of India,Sonepat,are busy landing blows on punching bags as the evening session commences. But the continuity of the regimen is broken when Vijender Singh arrives at the boxing hall. Some of the junior boxers stop their drill and wait for Vijender to pass.
Bhai,do continue training. You do your training and I will do mine, Vijender advises a distracted boxer.
Shortly after Vijender starts skipping,he is joined by fellow boxers Jai Bhagwan,Praveen Kumar and coach Kutappa. The absence of Dinesh Kumar Sangwan,who is in the Indian team for the Asian Boxing Championship,has meant that Vijender will train along with +91kg boxer Praveen Kumar.
Once he stops skipping,Vijender takes a look at his reflection in the mirror. What he would have seen is a boxer who is not at his peak.
Vijender began training in May after being on the sidelines for over three months since his name figured in relation to a drug haul in March. When Vijender decided to stay away from the National camp at Patiala and join the camp at Sonepat last month,coach Kutappa was the first to notice the drop in fitness. I clearly told him that he was unfit. He had not played in any tournament since the London Olympics and he has to work on his fitness. He knows that he needs to work on his endurance, says Kutappa while also admitting that Vijender has a sore back and a strained hamstring that need to be handled carefully.
Apart from the obvious disadvantage of not having followed a regular fitness regimen,Vijender will also have to grapple with other changes. The boxer is contemplating moving to a higher weight category,from the 75 kg to the 81 kg,a move perhaps to cover for his weight gain. It could also be because the competition in the 75kg category has gone up a notch,with the likes of World Championship bronze medalist Vikas Yadav and Sumit Sangwan in the fray.
There is also the influx of professional boxers into the Olympic fold that Vijender will have to contend with. The world boxing body has been on a drive to professionalise boxing they have even advised national federations to drop amateur from their names and close to 40 percent of the quota for 2016 Rio Olympics will be through the AIBA professional boxing (APB) and also the World Series of Boxing.
This would mean that Vijender may have to contemplate a shift in strategy,and perhaps also in technique,to help him cope with the new rules. Vijender will either have to take the APB plunge or train in such a manner as to make him competitive (no headgears,for example) in the new environment.
He will know where he stands in his first major event of his comeback,the World Championship in Kazakhstan this October.
I have not taken a decision on APB. Things will get clear after World championships and if that would be the best scenario for me,I would join the APB, said Vijender.
APB would see boxers competing as professionals and fighting for ten rounds in a new format (12 rounds in title fights). Jasveer Ahlavat,currently in the national camp in the 91 Kg category,played for the Mumbai franchise in the 2011 season of World Series of Boxing and believes that Vijender will need to change his training style completely.
Whatever chances I got while with the Mumbai Fighters,I realised that its completely different. There were five rounds and the focus was on stamina and endurance. But there is always a concern about injury. I had to get five stitches after a bout and Jeetinder got 11 stitches. One has to be mentally strong for such a format, shares Ahlavat.
The odds seem to be stacked against a glorious comeback,but there are a few Vijender-minders who think it may not be all that difficult.
Former world number four heavyweight boxer and Indias first professional boxer Raj Kumar Sangwan believes that Vijenders speed will be suited to the new 10-round format.
Vijender definitely has the speed advantage. Boxers,who move from lower to heavier weight categories always do well and his height is good too. He should give himself time and target the Olympics and not CWG and Asian Games, says Sangwan. He also has one more piece of advice for Vijender. Even if he does not get into APB,he should work on his advantages. If he wants to get into the 81kg category,he should maintain his weight around 85 kgs. There is no point in playing in 81kg if his weight is close to 81-82kgs. Secondly,we have to remember that APB boxers compete over 12 rounds. And it will be difficult for them to adjust to the three-round format of the Olympics. It will be like a marathon runner competing in a 400m or 800m race, says Sangwan.
Coach Kutappa is working on improving a few things but also feels Vijenders experience and motivation will help him pull through.
One of the positives about him is his motivation. He has a good technique but needs to be more aggressive. During training,our focus is on combination punches and not hitting 1-2s. He has a good memory and remembers his opponents and often maps out strategies, Kutappa said.
First up though,Vijender will have to put his immediate past behind
Its like a new start for me and I am happy to be back in the ring, Vijender said as he heads for the ring for a sparring session. Recalling the time when his name was involved in a drugs haul case which also involved a fellow boxer,Vijender says it helped put things in perspective.
It was a difficult phase for me but I have put it behind. People still talk about it but my job is to box and that is what I am doing. A friend suggested I train here in Sonepat and yes,I do miss the national camp but I wanted a change. Maybe,in two months time,I will be back to the national camp in NIS, Vijender said.
The only way he can cope with criticism,Vijender says,is in the ring.
The same thing happened after 2010 CWG when I lost in the semifinals. People were criticizing me. But I won the Asian Games title. I have still a lot of boxing left in me. What people forget is that I am a boxer. And I will continue boxing till my body allows.