Vijender Singh showed no nerves as he jogged on to the ring at the Manchester Arena in his professional boxing debut against Sonny Whiting on Saturday. He probably had a point to prove against many. To the naysayers back home who had criticised his decision to end his India career. Those who believed that the 29-year-old’s technique, built over nearly two decades in the amateur template, would be unable to withstand the rigours of the prizefighting style. Perhaps even to his opponent Whiting, who said he would put the Olympic bronze medalist ‘through hell’.
When it came down to it, Vijender Singh had to put his best foot forward. He did so quite literally.
Boxing is usually seen from a waist up perspective. This is natural as flying fists and weaving torso’s are what usually catches the eye. But much of the action happens below. Foot movement sets up a fighter’s punches and will cause an opponent to miss theirs. It’s what separates good boxers from brawlers.
And so as soon as Vijender got into his orthodox stance at the start of the four round contest, the difference in class between the two boxers was obvious. Throughout the bout Vijender had his left foot leading into Whiting. It made him a small target and also ensured he was directing Whiting to whichever area of the ring he wanted.
Whiting’s squared up stance presented a big target and also left him constantly on the retreat. While the Indian showed discipline, staying behind a hard left jab, Whiting’s technique was not conducive for accuracy. His punches often were thrown while looking in a separate direction. He connected one marginally clear punch three rounds into the contest.But much of that was simply due to Vijender’s movement. On the basis of the foot movement Whiting would expect the punches to come from an particular angle. A simple drop of the right shoulder would have the unwelcome effect of bringing Vijender’s right into action.
The variables were all set in place and while it was clear Vijender was the far superior boxer early on, the Indian didn’t seem to have a lot of power behind his blows. Much of this was likely due to the muscle memory from his amateur days. With even glancing blows scoring, there’s little motivation to take the fight closer and potentially into harms way. It’s only a matter of inches that separates a right hand that’s simply nice to watch and one that delivers an eye-wincingly satisfying crunch.
Eventually Vijender got those few inches. At the end of the first round Vijender’s trainer Lee Beard advised him to get a bit closer to his opponent. He did. At the end of the second, his corner told him to keep throwing jabs. He threw them relentlessly.
Old habits die hard
It was actually possible over the course of the bout to see old habits from the amateurs fade away. It wasn’t all gone, though. Close to the end in the third round after connecting a straight right that snapped Whiting’s head towards the ropes, Vijender raised the scoring glove. It was a throwback to the amateur point scoring era, when boxers would gesture to the judges that they had connected a shot and deserved a point.
But Vijender quickly recovered from that momentary lapse. He probably had realised he could win the fight far more emphatically than a simple points victory. Leading again with the left foot, he backed Whiting into the corner. His torso pivoted just slightly to force Whiting’s desperate delaying jabs to miss.
A straight right hand dropped Whiting like a slab of meat onto the ropes. A left hook dazed him into dropping his hands. The ramrod straight right down the tunnel delivered the coup de grace onto the now defenceless body as the referee threw himself between the two fighters to stop further bloodshed with 47 seconds to go in the third round.
Vijender will certainly face sterner challenges and harder opponents in coming bouts. Unlike Whiting, who was marched on the backfoot and into the ropes at will, they might take fight to the Indian.
Vijender, meanwhile, will look to improve even further when he fights again on October 30. For the moment, though, he was simply willing to savour the win. “I am very happy for this win. It’s just a beginning as I have to go a long way. I will work more hard and have to be Professional champion one day,” Vijender later said. “I never got nervous during the bout. My punches have replied to Sonny Whiting in the ring.”