Vijender Singh was too good for his opponent. Read into it what you will. On Saturday, just about everything that could go right for Indian pro boxing’s poster boy did. Vijender didn’t lose a single round, retained his WBO super middleweight Asia Pacific and Oriental titles and took his unbeaten streak to 10-0 with a unanimous 100-90 win over Ghana’s Ernest Amuzu.
His opponent too played the role he was expected to. The untested, unknown, uni-dimensional Amuzu was ripe for the picking. The 2008 Olympic bronze-medallist took roughly a minute to take measure of his opponent, and spent the next twenty-nine cutting him down to size. Amuzu threw the fight’s first punch, a lunging overhead right shielded by Vijender. Mindlessly then, the Ghanaian went for the same punch several times, telegraphing his movements in the process. Vijender would first negate the right hand by initiating a clinch, and soon started countering with uppercuts, slips and rights of his own.
Amuzu later attempted variations, switching levels and taking shots at the body. But by failing to force the proceedings initially, he allowed Vijender to come out of his shell and let loose. Vijender has invariably been the aggressor in all but one of his professional fights. In China’s Zulipikaer Maimaitiali, the Indian found his toughest opponent, one who would walk through the punches and land his own. After being pushed to the brink in his last fight, Vijender came out on Saturday with the guard firmly up. But after quickly realising that Amuzu didn’t deserve a lot of respect in the ring, Vijender teed off, putting on a show of pressure fighting and volume punching.
Amuzu left with his record of never suffering a knockout intact, but not for lack of trying on Vijender’s part. In the latter rounds, Vijender pushed Amuzu into the corner and against the ropes with a flurry of punches. The biggest positive of the night was Vijender’s conditioning. The 32-year-old gassed against Maimaitiali in August, hadn’t fought since and, by his own admission, struggled with the weight-cutting coming into a fight arranged at a three-week notice. On Saturday, he threw a volume of punches and looked none too worse for the wear. That he was largely untroubled though was a factor.
Lot to be desired
The one headscratcher for Vijender’s fourth home fight remained the venue of choice. The 2,000-capacity Sawai Man Singh indoor stadium was the smallest venue Vijender has ever fought at, smaller than Dublin’s National Stadium.
From his multiple pre-fight interviews, it seemed that the only reason for Vijender to fight in Jaipur was his time spent in the city as a ticket collector for the Railways. The rhetoric will undoubtedly make for a heart-touching sequence in the inevitable biopic, but it was apparent on Saturday that professional boxing needs a lot more TCs if it is to sell out venues outside of the metros and make up for ground lost to an indigenous sport like kabaddi.
The stadium has acquired a reputation for electric atmosphere when the Pink Panthers come visiting. However on Saturday, with no boxer from the city, let alone the state, on the card, the crowd had little incentive to turn up for anything other than the main event, resulting in the earlier bouts being fought in front of empty seats save for the sections filled by those wearing the sponsors’ t-shirts. AC/DC’s ‘TNT’ and ‘Thunderstruck’ were swiftly taken off the playlist in favour of Diljit Dosanjh’s ‘5 Taara’ and ‘Patiala Peg’, an age-old ploy which provided occasional respite.
The failproof ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ chant too lacked the usual punch, given how the event had an all-Indian undercard. When Olympians Akhil Kumar and Jitendra Kumar made their professional debuts against nobodies from Australia and Thailand in August, there was intrigue, and a narrative of of us versus them. On Saturday, it was mostly who versus who.
Which is not to say that there was a shortage of talent or action on the night, which saw bruised noses, knockout wins, split decisions and majority draws. Those in attendance came alive for the main event, lopsided mismatch be damned. One hopes Saturday was exactly what it was supposed to be, a stop-gap to take Vijender’s streak to double digits and reinstate the aura of invincibility. But with venues getting progressively smaller and opponents weaker, Vijender needs to leave the comfort zone of home and pick up a fight with someone his own size.