Will India ever produce a professional boxing champion?

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Mary kom
Photo by Boxing AIBA / CC BY-ND 2.0 Caption – The legendary Mary Kom in Rio 2016

Photo by Boxing AIBA / CC BY-ND 2.0

Caption – The legendary Mary Kom in Rio 2016

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 exception

Vijender Singh
Photo by Bollywodd Hungama / CC BY 3.0 Vijender Singh

Photo by Bollywodd Hungama / CC BY 3.0

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 professional boxing.

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!