‘Kab tak yeh luka chipi chalegi. We both know that we have to face each other sometime.” That’s what Vikas Krishan Yadav had said after the Asian Games trials last year. Krishan, who until that point had represented India only up to the welterweight (69kg division) was now bidding to qualify in the middleweight category.That however had been the sole domain for many years of Vijender Singh. To be picked for the national squad, Vikas knew he would have to beat Indian boxing’s only Olympic medalist. But whenever the prospect arose of the two fighting each other, the bout would never actually take place. Only a few months before the Asian Games trials, Vikas looked certain to box Vijender but suffered a cut that ruled him out of the remainder of the contest. Vijender would then withdraw from the trials for the Asian Games squad citing injury.
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That bout between the two will now not happen anytime soon. But Singh’s decision to turn professional last month had an unexpected payoff for Vikas. As India’s only other medallist in World Championships, he would be the first choice for the middle-weight category. Indeed, on Tuesday, Vikas was named by Ad-hoc committee as India’s middleweight representative in the 10-member squad for the Asian Championships to be held in Bangkok, Thailand next month. However that tournament will likely be the first of many as Vikas picks up the baton in perhaps Indian boxing’s most talked about weight-category in the last decade.
Over the years, Vikas has taken part in various categories. He turned heads with his exploits in 60 Kg category by first dethroning two-time Asian Championship medallist Jai Bhagwan and later winning the title in 2010 Asian Games in the same division. He shifted to the 69 kg division soon after. Success was rapid once again as he won a world championship bronze. His winning run however, came to an abrupt halt at the 2012 Olympics where he suffered a loss in the prequarterfinals to USA’s Errol Spence. Following his first medalless finish at an senior international tournament, Vikas took a sabbatical for a year. When he returned he had made the shift to middleweight.
Vikas’ first and only tournament till date in the middle-weight category — the Asian Games saw him returning with a medal once again. However unlike in the 2010 edition when he had returned with a gold, he had to be content with a bronze at Incheon in 2014 after losing to world champion Zhanibek Alimkhanuly of Kazakhstan in the semis.
Eager to overcome shortcomings in his game,Vikas along with his coach Jagdeep Hooda then had a training stint for more than a month at Newark, USA where he boxed alongside professionals. The stint came at a time when he was short of quality sparring partners in India and he says the USA experience helped him. “I wanted to train alongside some of the professional heavyweight boxers. It gave me chance to work on areas like weight training and how to maintain my weight,” adds Yadav. Coach Jagdeep, who has trained Vikas from his earliest days believes that the boxer needed to add strength in his armour and the last ten months has seen Yadav doing that. “Vikas has good footwork and quick reflexes. But he needed that extra strength in middle-weight. We emphasised on his shoulder muscles and also did weight training according to the new weight,” shares the 45-year-old coach who is also in the national camp.
The shift in weight category has also meant that there is a change in Yadav’s opponents. Many of the best middleweight division boxers in recent years are from central Asia. The London Olympics were won by Ryoto Murata of Japan while the current world champion is Kazakhstan’s Alimkhanuly. While Murata has turned professional, Alimkhanuly will feature at the Asian Championships. Also competing in Bangkok are last time’s silver medallist Navruz Jafoev of Tajikstan and Sajjad Mehrabi of Iran, who is seventh in the world.
With the Asian Championships also acting as a qualifiers for the World Championships to be held in Qatar in October (which in turn serve as the qualifier for the Rio Olympics) Yadav knows that his task is cut out. “It’s different from 60 Kg and 69 Kg. There is a lot more power in the middleweight division. But coming from a lower weight, I have the advantage of speed and defence. I have not thought about Rio but all my focus is on qualifying for the Rio Olympics. The preparation for the event comes after I qualify,” says the boxer.
And in between the talk, Yadav does mentions Vijender again. Singh competed in middle-weight from 2004 till he made the shift to professional circuit and that’s what Yadav admires. “Vijender knew how to maintain the weight and he did it for so long. I have plans for amateur level at present but I am sure we will meet someday in the ring in the professional circuit. Yeh bat to pakki hai,” he says.