New Delhi: Undefeated in his fast-rising professional career, Indian boxing star Vijender Singh is all set to face the toughest test of his fledgling career when he takes on the experienced Kerry Hope of Australia for the WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight championship title here on Saturday.
The Beijing Olympics bronze medallist has won all his six fights so far, but Hope has more experience and is a better calibre fighter than Vijender's previous opponents.
The 34-year-old has been a professional boxer for 12 years and has been involved in 30 fights overs that period with a record of 23-7. That, along with the fact that he is a left-hander -- a distinct advantage in most sports -- makes the Australian of Welsh origin a dangerous opponent.
Incidentally, one of the biggest defeats of Vijender's amateur career was against the left-handed Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan in the quarter-finals of the 2012 London Olympics.
Hailing from Merthyr Tydfil, a town in Wales, Hope has an impressive record. He won his first 11 bouts and has the experience of winning titles in the past. He defeated American pugilist Caleb Truax in 2009 to win the World Boxing Federation super middleweight title. He also defeated the higher rated Grzegorz Proksa twice to win the European Boxing Union middleweight title in 2012.
He also won the World Boxing Council Asian Boxing Council middleweight title last year, defeating Poomrase Yoohanngoh.
The Australian will however be wary of Vijender's power as the Bhiwani lad has the ability to unsettle opponents with the weight of his punches. The Indian, a former middleweight World No.1 in the amateur ranks, also enjoys the height advantage.
If his opponent's pedigree worries Vijender, he was not showing it on the eve of the fight.
Asserting that Saturday's fight will be a decisive one for Indian boxing, the former Commonwealth Games champion asserted that he was looking forward to win in front of his home crowd.
"This fight will surely decide the future of pro-boxing in the country. It is a step ahead and I am very hopeful that there will be many more such fights in the future. I hope we succeed in this new endeavour," Vijender told reporters in the pre-bout press conference here on Friday.
With just 24 hours to go before the bout, the mind games have already started as Hope challenged Singh, saying "He doesn't look like he is training as hard as I am."
In return Vijender retaliated, "I will show him (Hope) tomorrow how much I have been training. It will be a great fight night."
"This time its going to be a little difficult, but I will make it happen, I have been training very hard and I am pretty confident of my win against Hope. This could be my seventh knockout and what better way to celebrate than to play in your own country."
Vijender, who last played at home during the Commonwealth Games in 2010 said he is very excited to be boxing in front of his home crowd. He also cracked a joke at Delhi's old habit of asking for free passes and urged people to buy tickets for the bout.
"Its been a long long time since the CWG, I feel really very excited to be back home and box in front of my home crowd. Its difficult to express the kind of enthusiasm and excitement...its going to be a great night," he said.
Saturday's winner will get an entry into the top 15 and the duo can't wait to outpunch each other. Vijender feels that the real test will begin after being in the top 15 to which Hope replied, "He will have to wait for a long time for that."
Commenting on the hot weather conditions in the city, Haryana-born Vijender, who spent almost an year training in Manchester, said he feels at home in Delhi.
"Its hot in Delhi, but we are used to the heat here. I trained almost an year in Manchester, it was like a vacation in England but its home conditions for me".
(With IANS inputs)