Updated: September 1, 2019 9:16:18 am
Twelve years after winning India’s first boxing medal at the Olympics, Vijender Singh could again line up in Tokyo next year after the Boxing Federation of India’s (BFI) decision to allow professional boxers to compete at the national tournaments.
“Who doesn’t want to participate at the Olympics? This is such great news for professional boxers, after so long. Even right now, I feel the same excitement and same itch to represent my country,” said Vijender, who won a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and has amassed an 11-0 record since turning professional in 2015. “For me, it will be like a fresh start. And whenever I’d step into a camp or training like scenario, I would like to feel that I’m a junior boxer again.”
On Friday, BFI issued a circular allowing professional boxers to compete in state/national or inter-department tournaments, citing world body AIBA’s relaxations on the subject of pros competing at the Olympics. Succeeding at the nationals should merit a boxer the trials for Olympic qualifiers, to be held in February. The move, while welcome, wasn’t exactly surprising since Vikas Krishan’s to-and-fro. Krishan, who won a Commonwealth gold and Asiad bronze last year, turned pro and won two bouts before returning home to rehab with an eye towards the Olympic berth.
Vijender, who like Krishan signed up with Bob Arum’s Top Rank promotions, had his first fight in the US last month, a 4th-round TKO win over Mike Snider. The in-ring transition back to the amateur fold might not be too difficult considering the rule changes in the latter, but the 33-year-old believes it would take some time to switch to the training methods.
“I have been a professional boxer for four years now. All your habits change in such time frame. The camp, the terms and conditions we follow. In professional, everything is on your schedule. The training, the fights we take and the camp is tailored to the boxer. So it will take some time to reacclamatise myself to the amateur scheme of things,” Vijender said. “The best thing is all the young talent, and the chance for me to test myself against them. That’s going to be a challenge.”
Vijender, who has a professional fight scheduled by the end of the year, will gear up for the Olympic qualifiers afterwards, provided he gets through the selection trials.
“The thing is, with such high stakes, only the best should go to represent India. Be it an experienced boxer or somebody up and coming. That’s my main concern. I don’t believe in sitting out the trials. I don’t believe that I am the best, everyone else should step aside. There have been good boxers before, there are good boxers now and in future too we will have talent. I believe anybody who does well for India should go and win the medal.”
Fellow professional boxer Neeraj Goyat, who was ruled out from a fight against unified light-welterweight champion Amir Khan in July, welcomed BFI’s decision.
“Indian amateur boxers are getting good results internationally, and the federation’s support has been instrumental for them,” said Goyat, who was one win away from booking a berth at the Rio Olympics through a qualifying event for professional boxers. “In 2016, we didn’t even have a federation or guidance on such issues. This move means now it gives us a better shot at the Olympics and also raises the competition level for national boxers,” said Goyat, adding that the fight against Khan in November remains in the works.
A top coaching official meanwhile outlined BFI’s selection process for the four continental Olympic qualifers, which will take place in China, Senegal, Argentina and Britain from February to April, followed by a global tournament in Paris in May.
“The World Championship medallist, the national champion, national runner-up and a boxer of our choosing will take part in the trials for the Olympic qualifiers to ensure competition and transparency,” said the official.
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