WHEN NEWS broke on Wednesday that AIBA, the world body for amateur boxing, would allow professional boxers to participate at the Olympic Games in Rio, it seemed that Vijender Singh, India’s only Olympic boxing medalist-turned unbeaten professional could theoretically compete in his fourth Olympics. Singh though quickly puts that proposal to rest.
The AIBA proposal to permit professionals calls for them to qualify in a tournament to be held in Venezuela in early July. That will possibly clash with the date of Vijender’s seventh professional bout, likely for an WBO Asia Pacific title belt. “It won’t make much difference to me. As of now, I am focused on my fight on July 16,” says Vijender speaking about the contest to be held in New Delhi next month. According to him, the timing of the decision, just around ten weeks before the Rio Olympics is a poor one. “I have been hearing about this proposal from the start of this year. It’s strange that you take a decision with such little time to go before the Olympics,” he says.
Even if he was interested in participating in the qualification tournament, Vijender says he simply wouldn’t have enough time to prepare for such a tournament. “First of all I wouldn’t even know how to go about pursuing this task. I would probably have to go through a federation and no one really knows what the status of the federation in India really is. It’s really difficult to prepare for a tournament at such short notice. It will probably be the same for other professionals as well. If you are a boxer who is starting his career, or even someone who has fights lined up for the future, then it will be almost impossible to get ready in time for this tournament,” he adds.
And while the AIBA proposal throws open the prospect of some intriguing clashes in boxing, Vijender isn’t sure how the two styles of boxing will match up. “You have to understand that professional and amateur boxing are two different things. It’s not that one is better than the other, but the two are very different,” the 30-year-old explains.
“Everything changes. In the amateur you only box for three rounds while in professional, you have to fight for 10 or twelve rounds. So the kind of endurance you need is much more. In the amateur game you don’t really have to pace yourself. Even your movements are different,” he says.
There are differences even in how boxers prepare for the two styles, says Vijender who has been professional for just a little under a year after a nearly two decade long career in the amateurs. “In amateur boxing, you are preparing to fight several bouts over many days. So your recovery between bouts is important because you have to make weight every day. In professional boxing, you are only focusing on one bout at a time with several weeks to prepare. When you make weight it is only for that fight. So it will not be easy to fight several bouts one after the other,” says Vijender.
He reckons the true outcome of the rule change would come at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. “I feel this proposal will have a bigger impact on boxers for the next Olympics. For Rio, I don’t know if a lot of professionals will want to participate without fully knowing the risks. Things would be a lot more clearer for the next games. At that point if professional boxers know when the tournament they will have a better idea how to prepare themselves for it,” he says.
As for himself, Vijender is reasonably sure he won’t become a fourth time Olympian any time in the future. “I really don’t see myself competing in the Olympics again. In four years, I hope I will be in a position where I can compete at the world level but in the professional circuit,” he concludes.