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Vijender’s pro debut success could boost boxing market in India

The Olympic medallist is set to fight again on October 30, and the first few opponents chosen for him are unlikely to be unduly tough as the promoters seek to market his fights in India.

other sports Updated: Oct 12, 2015 12:58 IST
Amanpreet Singh
Amanpreet Singh
Hindustan Times
Vijender Singh professional boxing debut,Sonny Whiting,Floyd Mayweather
Indian boxer Vijender Singh celebrates after winning his professional boxing debut bout against England's Sonny Whiting at Manchester Arena, on October 10, 2015.(PTI Photo)

As Vijender Singh’s victory over the unfancied Sonny Whiting on his professional debut creates hope and hype, boxing could eye an opportunity in an Indian market that is embracing franchise sports leagues and tapping into the country’s vast TV audience. The Olympic medallist is set to fight again on October 30, and the first few opponents chosen for him are unlikely to be unduly tough as the promoters seek to market his fights in India.

The boxer understands this and appears ready to do the hard yards before the tougher contests begin. “I am very happy for this win. It’s just a beginning as I have to go a long way. I will work harder and have to be a professional champion one day,” Vijender said after his victory at the Manchester Arena on Saturday night.

“I never got nervous during the bout. My punches have replied to Sonny Whiting in the ring,” he added, referring to the Briton’s trash talk of vowing to put him ‘through absolute hell’ — a facet of build-ups to professional fights.

Read | Vijender’s pro debut opponent promises to put him ‘through hell’

But semantic improprieties are the least of the sport’s problems globally. The big-ticket Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao showdown notwithstanding, boxing has been losing its fan base worldwide to MMA (mixed martial arts), struggling to connect with a younger audience amid a scarcity of top talent.

The Money-PacMan clash reportedly netted close to $300 million for winner Mayweather and Pacquiao, motivating Vijender to turn pro than bide his post-amateur time as a music video protagonist and showbiz wannabe. However, the average fighter makes less money than he would in a good day job, with things made worse by lack of insurance options and high costs of diet and training.

A more fundamental reason behind fans switching loyalty to other combat sports is that there are few fighters now to inspire awe like Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Tyson, etc. The heavyweight division is listless. Mayweather, boxing’s biggest draw, is himself is a defensive genius trying to outwit opponents.

India has struggled to produce athletes who can succeed at the highest echelons of professional sport and the going is likely to get tough for Vijender. However, it would be unfair to dismiss his chances. On his way to the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Vijender beat the current WBC super-middleweight champion Badou Jack, who now fights under the banner of Mayweather’s promotion company.

One of Vijender’s big challenges will be switch technique. In amateur boxing, it is more about scoring points while in the pro ranks landing those big blows, ability to take punishment and stamina will all be crucial.

First Published: Oct 12, 2015 12:10 IST