Indian boxers have had unprecedented success since Vijender Singh’s bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the Indian team selected for the Commonwealth Games features boxers who’ve won medals at every single international tournament in the last two years—the Boxing World Championships, Boxing World Cup, Boxing Asian Championships, and the Commonwealth Boxing Championships. Vijender Singh speaks about the team’s preparations for the Games, the men to watch out for, his strategy in the ring and his early years as a boxer. Edited excerpts:
The boxing team has been preparing for a long time—since the beginning of the year, in fact. Do you feel you’re in top form?
Yes, we stayed together at Patiala (Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports) for six-seven months, and I feel that the whole team is in great form. We had a really good training schedule. It has become more scientific in the last couple of years. We have individual attention from coaches, and a lot of trainers to keep everyone on their toes. We focused on strength training and technique three months before the (Commonwealth) Games. Then a month before the Games, the focus shifted to speed and endurance, which also helps us lose weight to get back into our proper weight categories. So there was a lot of running—long distances, fast running; also skipping and punching bags.
Calm under fire: Singh says too much aggression in the ring doesn’t help. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Who are the boxers to look out for in the 10-man team?
Every single boxer in the team has the potential to be a champion, there’s no way you can single anyone out. In the lower weight categories you have Suranjoy Singh, Amandeep Singh, Akhil Kumar; then in the higher weight categories you have Dinesh Kumar, who’s doing really well since 2008, and Jai Bhagwan, who was my training partner when I was growing up, and he’s also in great form.
What will your strategy be in the ring? Do you have any new ideas you want to implement?
I’ve always trained as a defensive fighter and that’s how I will be in the ring. It’s good to develop and use your natural skills. I have the reach and the height, so I’ll always look to use that to maximum benefit. I’ll keep my guard up and save myself and look for openings to counter-attack. I never get too aggressive in the ring, or use too much energy—it doesn’t help me. I keep cool, and keep thinking about getting points. Every second I’m thinking of how to score, it’s my only motive in the ring, because boxing is a scoring game.
You became really famous after your Olympic bronze medal in 2008, you are on TV a lot and there’s talk of you starring in a movie. How do you balance that with your demanding training schedule?
I’ve simply worked hard. I knew that maintaining the success I had at Beijing was crucial, so I worked at it constantly. My focus is entirely on boxing; whatever else I do, I do only if I have free time. Ask anyone in the team and they’ll tell you that I never miss any training sessions or camps. I got a lot of recognition after Beijing, every aspect of my life changed, whether it’s financial, or social, or even boxing, where the expectations are much higher now. I love these changes, they are all good, and this is what I spent my life training for. I know well that boxing is the reason for everything, so I have no trouble balancing other things.
It must be fantastic to get to this position. Did you ever feel that you’ll see so much success when you were growing up?
Not at all. I started in 1999 after seeing my brother Manoj, who’s in the army, training at the Bhiwani Boxing Club. I used to go watch him to pass time, have some fun. Slowly I got sucked in, and entered the ring myself. It’s an easy choice in a place like Bhiwani where boxing is more famous than even cricket. When I first participated in a competition, I was just 36kg! I have fought hundreds of bouts, been to hundreds of competitions. Even though the desire was always to be a famous boxer, there was never any time to think about it. Wherever I fought, the focus was only on win, win, win. Now I’ve got everything. Maybe I should get a helicopter, there’s too much traffic on the road.
What was training like when you were growing up?
It was hard. I was actually quite lazy as a child. So getting up every morning at 4.30 felt like harsh punishment. I’d be often late for training, which meant more punishment. I used to hate running as well, and sometimes our coach would make us run from Bhiwani to another city, which was 35km away. He would be chasing us with a stick, so we had to keep running. I was beaten up a lot by my coaches for being lazy. Now Sandhuji (G.S. Sandhu, Indian boxing team’s chief coach) beats me up. If you know any human rights workers, please report him!