After years of flirting with the idea, Vikas Krishan finally stepped into the professional ring in the early hours of Saturday morning. But he wasn’t just out there at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York for a first impression. Sporting a neat side trim and trunks with ‘#IndianTank’ emblazoned across it, the savvy Krishan was out there to build a brand. After making short work of his outmatched opponent, he tweeted the hashtag along with a clip from the bout. And if the number of tweets following his performance are any indication, the nickname just might catch on.
2019, the year for Indian pros
Top Rank promotions, of legendary promoter Bob Arum, signed Vikas Krishan and Vijender Singh late last year in a 'low risk, high reward' strategy. Arum, whose promotion has a contract with ESPN, is banking on the parent company Disney's ties with Star and the boxers' popularity in India. ESPN is looking to sell its subscription-based model in India, an alluring market. Krishan’s solid start spells good news for Top Rank. And with Vijender supposed to fight in February or March, 2019 could be a year Indian boxers catch USA's fancy.
A second-round stoppage of American Steven Andrade in the six-round super welterweight contest meant Krishan’s win was the quickest on a Top Rank-promoted card littered with prospects and headlined by Oscar Rivas’s 12th-round upset over Bryant Jennings. And with his opponent coming in at 3-3 and on a three-fight losing streak, Krishan could have had a shorter night’s work if not for some early recalibrations.
“The difference was the gloves. They were a little smaller than he’s used to,” says Santiago Nieva, national high-performance director, who spoke with the boxer shortly after his win. “Vikas realised that after throwing a couple of punches. So he had to be a little careful in the first round and wasn’t trying to force the stoppage. But he was very happy with the quick stoppage.”
Krishan set the tone quickly, utilising angles and finding range against his orthodox opponent. Several straight lefts to the face opened Andrade for stinging right hooks, but it was the bodywork that dealt the punishment. Andrade looked exhausted to begin the second round, and lost his mouthpiece breathing from the mouth. Krishan further knocked the wind out of him, pounding away with body shots.
“Ponche de higado,” laughs Nieva. “Or simply, ‘liver punch’. In America and Latin America, that’s the bread and butter for boxers. When I arrived in India, that was one of the things to work on because of the country’s amateur pedigree, where it has mostly been about punching the head. But Vikas is adept at bodywork.”
Case in point the stoppage of seasoned Irishman Steven Donnelly with a liver punch en route to the gold at last year’s Commonwealth Games.
“A punch to the body rattles your insides,” says Jagdish Singh, founder of the Bhiwani Boxing Club which produced Krishan and Olympic bronze-medallist Vijender Singh. “Aapka khaana tak ulat pulat ho jaata hai. Vikas uses it well to set up combinations up top. But the best thing about his boxing is his game sense. Vikas understands the tempo and flows with the ups and downs of a fight. Dhairya bana ke rakhta hai, aur jab maarna ho toh maarta hai.”
On Saturday, he showed acute ring generalship in finishing his opponent. After a particularly vicious flurry to the gut buckled Andrade’s knees, the referee shoved Krishan away and started the standing eight-count. With the referee at seven, Krishan started jogging towards Andrade and swarmed him as soon as the count ended. The fight was over ten seconds later, and Andrade was battered to the point that he stayed slumped in the Indian’s corner.
“His win makes me really happy. Vikas had been talking about turning pro for a long time, and he knew that in professional, there are fewer, but heavier shots,” says Jagdish. “I never discouraged any amateur boxer from turning professional. Because everybody, from Ali to Mayweather, did it. Honestly, if you need daulat and shauharat, you have to turn pro.”
But Vikas needs neither. Asked ahead of his debut on what makes him want to go pro, Vikas told The Indian Express: “Glamour har jagah mil jaata hai. That doesn’t tempt me much. I just don’t want to spend 6-8 months in the camp, away from my family. I have three kids and I want to spend as much time as possible with them at this young age. Other than that, even in pro fights, I am representing my country. The aim is still Olympics.”
Krishan opted out of the national camp currently being held at Patiala, but Nieva assures that performances like Saturday’s would help him keep his place.
“It’s all about merit. Firstly, we don’t have a lot of competition in his weight category. If a talent rises and challenges his place, Vikas would have to prove his place,” says Nieva. “But at the end of the day, we want the best boxers to represent India in World Championships and Olympics. Vikas is a proven boxer. And if he keeps up performances like these in professional bouts, he will always have a strong claim.”