It’s close to noon on Sunday and Vijender Singh says he is sleeping in late at his Manchester apartment. There’s no training and anyway, Singh has just come off his debut professional boxing fight.
And while he isn’t tired physically – he only needed three rounds out of a scheduled four to stop his opponent Sonny Whiting – Vijender still wants to take things a bit easy. “In a while I’ll go down to an Indian restaurant, get a big meal and then sleep some more,” he says.
A relaxed Sunday is the closest the Indian is going to get to a celebration. The previous evening, he says he headed back home soon after his fight. His post fight ritual was the same as he has done for nearly the last two decades. “I just went home, and had a bath,” he says. In order to cause punches to slip, cutmen in the boxers corner usually slather a layer of petroleum jelly. “I don’t like the feeling of Vaseline on my skin so I have to get it off . Then I had a glass of hot milk and went to sleep,” he says.
For Vijender there is little reason to celebrate his win. He doesn’t see it in terms of catharsis for proving doubters wrong or as a riposte to those who questioned his intentions in leaving the amateur setup. He’s already looking far ahead. “I don’t think there is anything to celebrate. I just won a single bout, it’s not like I am a champion yet.”
There was a bit of uncertainty, he admits, when he took his first steps towards that journey. Although to all observers he appeared calm and collected as he entered the ring at the Manchester Arena, Vijender says he was nervous. “I wasn’t worried about my opponent or anything. It was simply because I hadn’t boxed in a ring for a really long time. I had last boxed at the Commonwealth Games, and after that I had been doing my police training and then I had some film and TV commitments,” he says.
And while he had taken part in several full contact sparring sessions while training for the bout, he says he wasn’t completely sure. All that changed when the bell sounded. “The moment I got into the ring and came forward, I felt I would be all right,” he says.
Although he is satisfied with his performance, Vijender says he knows he didn’t have anywhere close to a perfect fight. “I know there are so many areas that I have to work on. My defense has to get better, and I need to throw many more jabs to the body. In the amateurs you focus on punching the head so was doing that initially,” he says.
He also acknowledges the moment close to the end when after connecting with a punishing right hand, he raised his glove as if to tell the judges they needed to award him a point. “These are old habits. They’re also bad habits so they won’t go away that easily. But I’m working on it,” he says.
But Vijender also felt he was constantly improving. “When Lee (Beard) kept advising, I was able to perform like he said. So that was a good feeling. I know I’ll get better.
There were also areas he felt good about. “I had worked a lot on my footwork during my time with Lee, so I’m happy about how I moved,” he says.
Vijender recalls a moment where he felt he knew he was home. “After the first round Lee told me to land punches to the body. And in the second round and I hit Whiting with a right to his side. At that moment I knew that I had got him. I punched and then I saw that physically he was going down down down.”
Proving a point
Besides proving a point to himself, Vijender feels he did the same to the crowd, many of whom were cheering for the Rochester based Sonny. “It wasn’t something new. I’ve boxed in so many countries and the reaction is the same. Nobody wants to see a local lose. But after a while, when the spectators could see that I knew how to box, they began supporting me as well,” he says.
Vijender may even have won a fan in Whiting who had promised to put the Indian ‘through hell’ prior to the bout. “After the fight, Sonny asked me for a picture. I told him that he needed to come to India sometime, because he had probably become very popular there,” Vijender says.
In a few days another opponent will be named for Vijender’s second bout on October 30. He too will likely trash talk the Indian. And from Monday, Vijender will hit the gym and look to hone his game further so his fists can do the talking. But for now at least, he’ll just be getting some sleep.