Seven years after winning the historic middleweight bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, ace boxer Vijender Singh turned professional in 2015. Since then the poster boy of Indian boxing has fought — and won — 12 professional bouts. His next bout is against Russian Artysh Lopsan on March 19 in Goa.
The last pro bout of Vijender, 35, was in November 2019. But before that he had taken a plunge in politics. He contested – and lost – for the South Delhi Parliamentary seat on a Congress party ticket. But even at the time he had insisted that he would never leave boxing. Then, Covid-19 pandemic stopped all sporting activities in almost the entire last year; it also shrunk resources, says Vijender.
In 2015, when Vijender — a 2009 World Championships bronze winner and 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games gold medallist — signed a deal with a London based professional boxing firm, he had the luxury of having a team of experts to chalk out his plans, ranging from his training to his diet. But he could not get his support team to India due to the pandemic situation in England.
And since neither Vijender could go overseas for training, he has largely been dependent on a talented pool of boxers from Haryana as his sparring partners. He even engaged his long-standing friend and training partner, Jai Bhagwan, a two-time Asian Championships medallist and the 2010 Commonwealth Games bronze winner, as coach.
Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Q: How have you been training for the March 19 bout?
A: It is an eight-round bout. So, I trained for 10 rounds in one session. Moreover, we changed sparring partners after two or three rounds to have a fresh opponent that could test my skills.
Q: You said there is some injury problem. Could you elaborate?
A: I hurt my nose during training. Initially it was bad. Now it’s better.
Q: You have just one week to go for big match. Is the injury a worrying factor?
A: No. I’m doing icing. It should be fine.
Q: Your opponent (Artysh Lopsan) is taller than you at 6-foot-four-inch. You are six-foot tall. How do you plan to tackle him?
A: I did sparring sessions with boxers taller than me to build up muscle memory. One of them was a Youth Asian medal winner from Jhajjar in Haryana. He wasn’t as strong as senior the athlete, but technically it helps to learn how to stay out of the reach of your rival, and go inside to score.
Q: Any advantage you have over your rival from Russia?
A: I guess I’m more experienced than him. I have played 12 bouts and trained in America and England. My last bout was in Dubai (November 2019). All that will play a vital role in winning.
Q: What will be your main strategy against Lopsan?
A: I don’t want to reveal the details. In the first round, I will be able to observe him and then I will plan for the remaining seven rounds.
Q: What is your main strength?
A: I believe in power packed punches. Endurance is the other weapon I rely on. I like to stay calm even if my opponent is aggressive.
Q: What was the reason for engaging Jai Bhagwan as your coach/trainer?
A: He was the best choice under the given circumstances. We know each other and he knows how to push me beyond the limits.
Q: Since your training sessions were quite strenuous, did you follow any specific diet plan?
A: As an athlete, I have good eating habits. I stick to it. But when I was training in England in 2015, there were a lot of emphasis on nutrition.
Q: How challenging has it been to stay fit in times of the pandemic?
A: It was a different kind of experience to cope with. I have learned a lot to do with limited resources. There were issues of niggling injuries in the build up to the main event. All I can say is it was an uphill task to get back into top fitness.
Q: During lockdown it was difficult to train. Did you put on weight?
A: Not much. I’m close to 79kg. I should be able to reduce at least three kilograms in the coming week.
Q: For some time you have been seen in different roles. Like supporting farmers’ agitation and training at the same time?
A: Whatever I do I do with my heart. I try to go all out.
Q: What have you learnt for the farmer’s agitation?
A: Every day is a new learning experience. I’ve desire to learn more.
Q: What about your plans of setting up a boxing academy in Haryana?
A: The plans are still there but I haven’t got the land from the government.
Q: Could you share your experience on the professional circuit?
A: It is very simple. You have to be super strong to survive in the pro circuit.
Focus on Prithvi Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav’s departure to England
Prithvi Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav’s departure from Sri Lanka to join the Indian Test squad in England may be delayed after they were sent into isolation for being in close contact with Krunal Pandya, who has tested positive for Covid-19 in the island nation.
The two were expected to leave immediately after the culmination of the white ball series in Sri Lanka. The series ends after Thursday night’s third T20I.
“They will travel to England when the formalities are completed,” an official told IANS.
The Indian Test squad in England has already seen three of the players being ruled out. While opener Subman Gill withdrew due to leg injury and has since returned home, off-spin bowling all-rounder Washington Sundar has hurt his finger, and pace bowler Avesh Khan, who was among the standby players, has suffered fracture his left thumb.
As a result, the selectors have pushed Abhimanyu Easwaran into the main squad and have also called up Shaw and Yadav.
The Test series begins on August 4 in Nottingham.
The second Test will be played on August 12-16 at Lord’s, London, the third Test on August 25-29 in Leeds, the fourth Test between September 2 and 6 at the Oval, London, and the fifth and final Test in Manchester from September 10 to 14.
The Indian team had lost the World Test Championship final to New Zealand last month.
After a three-week break, the Indian players moved to Durham for a warm-up match and training.
The team will travel to Nottingham on August 1.
PV Sindhu makes it to knockout round with win over Hong Kong’s Cheung
Rio Olympics silver-medallist in badminton, India’s PV Sindhu entered the women’s singles Round of 16 at the Tokyo Olympic Games on Wednesday, overcoming world No. 34 Cheung Ngan Yi of Hong Kong 21-9, 21-16 in her final Group J tie.
Sindhu’s better court coverage and her use of the angles was the key to her victory against the 28-year old Cheung, who lost her sixth consecutive career match to the tall Indian shuttler.
The sixth-seeded Sindhu raced to an 11-5 lead as Cheung fruitlessly tried to push the 26-year old Indian deep into the corners of the forehand backcourt, ending up pushing the shuttles long.
Sindhu, giving almost nothing in the forecourt with superb net play, soon wrapped up the first game 21-9.
Cheung fought back in the second game, moving Sindhu to the far backhand corner and taking to a 7-6 lead. But as the rallies grew longer, Sindhu’s power came to her rescue on several times.
But Cheung’s relentless onslaught kept her neck-and-neck with the Sindhu, who sent a few shuttles wide in trying to end long rallies.
Cheung’s deception continued to keep her in the match, but Sindhu played an superb down-the-line smash from almost the edge of the backhand corner to make it 15-14.
That charged up the Indian to move decisively ahead as she raised the intensity of her game to quickly set up six match points. Sindhu converted on the third, stepping into the net to smash her way to the top of her group and into the knockouts.
Sindhu had defeated Ksenia Polikarpova of Israel 21-7, 21-10 in her opening group match on July 25.
India’s B Sai Praneeth will take on Mark Caljouw of the Netherlands in his final Group D men’s singles match later today. Praneeth is out of contention for the knockouts, having lost to Israel’s Misha Zilberman in straight games in his first group match.
Nandu Natekar, India’s first overseas badminton champion passes away
Indian badminton icon Nandu Natekar passed away in Pune on Wednesday. Natekar, who was the first Indian badminton player to win an international event back in 1956, was 88.
The six-time national singles champion made his India debut at the age of 20 and successfully shouldered the responsibility of leading India’s challenge in the Thomas Cup men’s team championship for more than a decade from 1951-1963.
Born in Sangli, Maharashtra, in 1933, Natekar dabbled with playing tennis and even reached the junior nationals final against the legendary Ramanathan Krishnan before deciding to focus on his badminton career.
Recipient of the first Arjuna Award in 1961, Natekar was a touch artist who would mesmerise his opponents with his deceptive skills and stroke perfection. He created history for Indian badminton when he clinched the Selangor International crown in Kuala Lumpur in 1956. He and Meena Shah had bagged the mixed doubles crown at Kings Cup International in Bangkok in 1962 and a year later he also won the singles title against all odds at the same event.
The legendary shuttler also won multiple men’s doubles and mixed-doubles national titles during his career spanning 15 years and reached the quarterfinals in his only All England appearance in 1954.
“One of the towering icons of Indian badminton, Nandu Natekar leaves behind a rich legacy that we shall cherish forever. Six-time national champion and first Indian to win an international title in 1956, he shall be remembered fondly for his drives, drops and smashes,” Badminton Association of India (BAI) president Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
“It’s very sad to hear about the demise of Nandu Natekar. He gave Indians a belief that we also can win titles overseas with his win in Kuala Lumpur. Indian badminton will always be grateful for his contribution. The entire badminton community is with his family in this hour of grief and loss,” BAI general secretary Ajay Singhania said.
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