Four days to go for his much-anticipated debut in professional boxing on October 10, Vijender Singh lets out a yawn that can be heard over a phone call from Manchester. “I’m pretty tired,” admits the 29-year old. It’s not that trainer Lee Beard is putting him under a particularly taxing routine. “Training is the easy part. What is difficult is the amount of the public relation work that has to be done before the bout,” says Vijender.
Vijender is going through his first fight week. The countdown to a bout – fight week – is an unavoidable and indeed sacrosanct aspect of professional boxing. As a big fight nears, trainers reduce the workload on the boxer’s body to get him as relaxed as possible. Much of his time is now diverted in promoting the upcoming fight to sell as many tickets and make their promoters as much money as possible. And with 21,000 seats – some costing as much as 500 pounds each, at the Manchester Arena to fill, Vijender’s task is cut out.
Over the last few days, Vijender has been shuttling between studios, giving TV and radio interviews and meeting sponsors, former boxing legends like Ricky Hatton and Nasim Hamed, and other celebrities. Tuesday morning saw him take part in a media workout — a training session done in front of reporters and TV cameras.
Frankly the entire shindig isn’t something new to him. Back in India, he would have to do the same round of TV studios and promotional events at the behest of sponsors ahead of major amateur events as well. “It’s not something that I haven’t done before. And there isn’t anything difficult to answer. Its usually the same questions . ‘What’s your background? How is Manchester treating you?’ That sort of stuff.” he says.
The flip side
Though Vijender says the Northern English city is treating him wonderfully, there are difficulties that he has undeniably to deal with. “Because I am the first boxer from India to seriously attempt a professional career, there are challenges I wasn’t expecting. The beginning is always the hardest part,” he says.
Vijender says he misses the support of that the amateur team setup provided.”You feel a bit homesick. Its a bit difficult because when I was part of the Indian squad and trained in Patiala, after a session I always had someone to talk to especially after a hard days work. So I definitely miss my teammates from India,” he says.
The loneliness will continue even upto his fight with Steve Whiting. “I am the only Indian boxer training here. In amateur boxing there were like 2-3 boxers with me in the changing room all the time but right now I am all alone with my trainers so there is a difference,” he says.
Vijender says he hopes to bring his family over at some point next year, but for now he simply wants to grit it out. “I have to deal with these things by myself right now. But it doesn’t matter because these things usually make you tougher,” he says.
In the meantime, Vijender says he tries to make do. His mother has couriered him several kilos of desi ghee from India but the high fat comfort food is strictly off limits as he tries to maintain weight.
A couple of times a week, Vijender though admits going out to an Indian restaurant. Its not just for some familiar tastes and the opportunity to do a bit of promotion among the Brit-Asian community. “Logon ki zuban alag hai yahan. (The language here is different). When I go to an Indian or Pakistani restaurant, the food is nice but it is a good feeling to speak to someone in Punjabi for a change,” he says.
But Vijender is adamant that the loneliness and the promotional work is only a minor distraction from his main target. “I’ll do what has to be done but my main goal is on boxing hard,” he says. He is concious of the challenges he faces.
“Everything is different between the amateur and professional boxing. I’m learning something new everyday. It helps that I am training alongside champion boxers like Jack Catteral and I keep picking up little things from them. I know that I am just starting out, so I am very open in trying out new techniques,” he says.
Having only trained for a little more than a month before his debut bout, Vijender is confident about his prospects. “Faltu cheezen pe hi dhyan nahi reh sakti. (I can’t be focussed on irrelevant things)I am very satisfied with how I have trained for my bout,” he says.