It’s been 20 months since Vijender Singh fought, and won his first ever bout as a professional boxer. Since then his undefeated record has gone up to eight wins – seven as knockouts. He stands as the holder of the WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight title, and in his next fight, there’s a chance to also win the WBO Oriental Super Middleweight belt, when he takes on Zulipikaer Maimaitiali of China. Rather, he’s expected to do so. But for all the 31-year-old’s experience – albeit as an amateur – and his storming start in the pro stream, there is still a while to go before he can be ready for a world title bout.
“He’s still five or six fights away from a world title (match),” says Neerav Tomar, head of IOS Boxing Promotions that handles the pugilist. “So there will be more interesting fights for Vijender on the way.”
Despite Vijender’s popularity in India, garnered by the bronze medal he won at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the veteran is still considered a beginner in the professional stream. It’s a tag that hasn’t given him the liberty of competing against the bigger names in the sport. Instead he’s had to fight against relatively low profile athletes – whom he’d pummel through with relative ease.
“There’s nobody in the division who Vijender can’t beat, because he’s at that high level now,” says Lee Beard, who has coached the Indian since he turned professional in 2015. “But there’s no point rushing into that position (world title bout) and losing it because of lack of experience. You can’t just go into professional boxing and start jumping into opponents of a certain level. Everybody has a progression way of going forward.”
In Maimaitiali, Vijender will fight an undefeated boxer who has fought nine bouts, winning eight and drawing one. The journey in the professional stream has been one that has needed Vijender to be far more patient compared to what was needed of him when he was an amateur boxer. “I didn’t expect that it will be that long (to get to the top),” he says.
Shortly after bursting onto the scene, starting with a silver at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, he raked up another runner-up finish at the World Championships a year later. Then came the bronze in Beijing – making him the first Indian pugilist to win an Olympic medal.
Still, the Haryana lad asserts he’s in no rush to push forward. “I’ve got no deadline for when I want to be fighting for the world title. I don’t see myself being a world champion in the next two years. I’m taking it one by one. I’ll play this Chinese guy, then maybe my ranking will go up and I’ll try for another title,” he says. “I’m not looking for a world title yet. I don’t know when it will happen though.”
Time, in fact, does come in handy when it comes to the professional stream. As an amateur, the dates for major events are fixed, be it the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or the Olympics. But in a pro fight, the boxers can compete when both feel ready. “If you get injured before the bout, the fight can be pushed to another month so you can recover. The power to decide is with the boxer because it’s about putting up a good show,” he says. “And winning,” he adds as an afterthought.
Which is what makes Vijender’s cautious approach all the more important. Especially since he’s 31 and competing in a sport that is heavily populated with younger talent. So much so that while a loss for Maimaitiali will see him lose his title, the 23-year-old is not too concerned about the result.
“If I lose the fight, I still have the chance to learn the lesson and try again. But Vijender, he’s almost 10 years older than me, he will not have the chance to recover,” says Maimaitiali. There’s over a month before Vijender takes on his Chinese opponent for a chance of winning a second title. But it’s been a near-two-year journey that will go on for a while before he gets the chance of reaching the higher annals of the sport. When asked how the journey has been, Vijender offers: “Haan yaar, so far theek hai. Everything is alright. Bas chalta rahe aise he.”