A couple of days before his third fight as a professional boxer, Vijender Singh coughed as he discussed his bout to be over phone from the UK. Any illness before a contest is no small matter for a sportsperson but Vijender insists there is nothing to it. “The weather isn’t great here. This is just something I have to get used to. I have a bit of a cough but I can’t expect my promoters to postpone the bout because of that,” he said from Manchester.
This isn’t to say that Vijender was feeling particularly nervous about his bout against Samet Hyuseinov of Bulgaria on Saturday evening. Vijender’s Bulgarian opponent has done his share of trash talk before the fight. Hyuseinov has vowed to send Vijender back to India “beaten and broken”. Hyuseinov, who will be Vijender’s most experienced opponent with 14 fights (the Indian’s first two opponents – Sonny Whiting and Dean Gillen — had fought only two prior fights each), has also missed no opportunity to harp on being the more experienced of the two and has gone to the extent of calling Vijender a “play-actor boxer”, taking a dig at the Indian’s movie appearance.
The Indian for his part has insisted he is expecting to add to his 2-0 record, citing Hyuseinov’s lack of success despite his experience. “He has seven wins out of fourteen fights so I don’t think he is someone I should be worried about,” he says.
Indeed Vijender will likely see the Bulgarian as just another stepping stone to professional success. This desire to do well as a prizefighter would be more pronounced when he considers the fact that he will yet be an undercard on fight card headlined by WBO World Middleweight Champion Andy Lee, putting his world title on the line against rival Billy Joe Saunders. Six other titles are on the line on Saturday and Vijender will likely hope his time to fight for one comes soon as well.
“It feels good when I sat for the press conference alongside all these boxers who have won or will be fighting for belts at the World and European level. It makes me even more motivated to achieve my goals,” he said.
For the moment though he will have to focus on his bout with Hyuseinov, which will be his first six-rounder. Having boxed only three rounds as an amateur and four rounds in his first two professional fights, this will be a step up in terms of stamina for the Indian.
“When you fight for three and four rounds, you can attack all the time. But the moment the fight lasts longer, you have to pace yourself. Your strategy changes with each round. If you attack for some time, then you also have to slow down so you don’t exhaust yourself. I will have to think a lot more now,” Vijender said.
But Vijender has had time to prepare for the change. “In my first couple of fights I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare because I had just turned professional. So my coach Lee Beard didn’t try out a lot of new things with me,” he says.
This time around Vijender has had almost a month to work on ironing out chinks in his game. “I am still working on my defense. Usually the guard is up when you are defending, but that means you aren’t throwing any punches yourself. Right now I am trying to counter while on the defense,” he says.
To improve his endurance, Vijender has been doing a lot more sparring sessions against bigger and stronger opponents. “I am sparring a lot more than I used to in my first couple of months. I am also fighting heavier boxers for six, eight and ten rounds,” he says. This doesn’t mean Vijender expects to have to fight all that long. Indeed he believes he can get his third straight stoppage. “I don’t want the fight to last six rounds. Ideally I want to get it over with quickly but if it does go to six rounds, I will not have any trouble with my stamina,” he says.