As you are well aware,
boxing in India is something of an enigma. People laud our amateur boxers and
wish them well at every turn. We tune into the Olympics to see them win medals
and some even gain the status of national icons. But when it
comes to professional boxing, the entire nation seems a bit ‘meh’ about the
whole thing. In fact, in a country with such a huge population and some of the
most incredible athletes, the very fact that there are so few professional
boxers begs the question – will we ever produce a professional world champion?
Amateurs prefer the amateur stage
Let’s take Mary Kom as the shining example of an athlete
who has achieved everything she possibly can in the amateur ranks of her chosen
sport. She is the most successful boxer in the history of the World
Championships and now has a stunning 8 medals and is the only boxer either male
or female to achieve this.
Safe to say that Mary commands a huge deal of respect here in India, but there are many who are left scratching their heads as to why she never turned pro. She’s a bonafide boxing legend and her matches garner interest from all over the world with even the world’s leading wagering markets sometimes offering odds on her matches, particularly at the World Championships.
But Mary herself has said
that she was happier to remain an amateur as turning professional would have
resulted in her having to leave her homeland. The truth is that the standard of
professional boxing in India is so poor that some amateurs such as Mary don’t
see the point in turning pro. A sad state of affairs indeed.
The name Vijender Singh is one that many, but not all,
Indians are familiar with. Singh is the current WBO Asia Pacific Super
Middleweight champion and the WBO Oriental Super Middleweight champion. He’s
also the only Indian to have anything resembling a reputation in the world of
Singh’s achievements are
impressive but in many people’s eyes they still rank below those of Kom. He has
had a hugely successful career. But even with this success behind him, he
failed to impress the voting public in his run for office in 2019.
Is there a lack of respect for pro-boxers?
It could be that the public prefer to follow amateurs as
they represent their country rather than chase personal accolades. While Kom
has won fame as the greatest female amateur boxer of all-time, she has done so
with the Indian flag draped about her shoulders.
Professional boxers, on the
other hand, lose their right to represent their home country and the likes of
Singh can no longer compete at the Olympics or World Championships. It’s
possible that many see this as turning your back on your country to chase a
paycheck. Unfortunately for Singh, his chosen sport is the only one where this
will ever be an issue. For example, cricketers and footballers can earn a good
wage from turning professional while still remaining eligible to represent
their respective national teams. It might seem a little unfair but that’s just
the way of things here in India.
Will there ever be a professional world champion?
Having said all of that, Singh still remains our best
shot at having a world champion in the sport of professional boxing. However,
although he’s our best shot, that doesn’t mean he’ll ever actually get a chance
at a world title fight. Singh will need to work his way through a few ranks
first to earn that right and, while he has had some impressive victories in his
career so far, the real work starts now.
We can only hope that Singh’s foray into professional boxing in the US will encourage more Indians to support him. But much of that depends on his success. Win a few fights and suddenly we may have boys in the street pretending to be Vijender and a new generation of young boxers may enter the sport.
In all honesty, the future of the professional game, or
rather the respect people have for the professional game, all boils down to
Singh’s success. Get a shot at a world title and people will start paying more
attention to the game. Lose a few fights and most will say ‘I told you so’ and
refocus their attention on the amateur game.
So will we have a professional world boxing champion
from India? We certainly hope so and let’s hope that it’s sooner rather than
later. Come on Vijender!