Ace Indian boxer Vijender Singh is making his professional debut against Englishman Sonny Whiting in Manchester. It's a bitter-sweet moment for Indian fans. As a pro, he won't be able to represent India in competitions like the Olympics any more. But it is a big step forward for Vijender and his supporters are eagerly looking forward to his new avatar.
Vijender has prepared for the bout under the supervision of experienced trainer Lee Beard, who is all praise for the Indian. "In my analysis, Vijender is technically a very very talented boxer. You rarely see a natural talent like him," he said.
"All in all, I rate him as a brilliant boxer and I have very high hopes from him," added Beard. Here are some interesting facts about the 29-year-old pugilist.
Vijender was born in a town synonymous with boxing. Bhiwani in Haryana is known as Little Cuba because it has produced so many top boxers. Four of the five boxers who represented India in the 2008 Beijing Olympics were from this small town. All of them trained at the Bhiwani Boxing Club. Jitender Kumar and Akhil Kumar reached the quarterfinals but Vijender went one better.
He is the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal. In the quarterfinals of the 75 kg event at the 2008 Olympics, he defeated Ecuadorian Carlos Gongora 9-4 to guarantee an Olympic medal. He had to be satisfied with a bronze after losing to Cuban Emilio Correa 5-8 in the semis.
Vijender is an Asian Games gold medalist. Vijender did however bag a gold in the Asian Games two years later. He thumped the two time world champion Abbos Atoev of Uzbekistan 7-0 in the final. Atoev, however, eliminated Vijender in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics to end his hopes of winning a second Olympic medal.
He is a former World No 1. Vijender was ranked No.1 in the world in the middleweight (75 kg) category in 2009 by the International Boxing Association.
Vijender works for the Haryana Police. He is a DSP and applied for a year's leave to take part in the professional boxing circuit. But his employers refused to grant permission and sat on his application. Vijender even hinted that he would quit his job but the issue was resolved after the Chief Minister of Haryana intervened.
He is also an actor according to his Twitter bio. If you wonder when that happened, it was just last year. Vijender made his Bollywood debut with the film Fugly co-produced by Akshay Kumar. Vijender is a good friend of Akshay. "Woh mere bahut kareebi dost hain aur mujhe hamesha encourage karte rehte hain," he said in an interview.
Vijender made several TV appearances before his Bollywood entry. He shook a leg with Bipasha Basu in Nach Baliye in 2008. He also appeared in the reality game show 10 Ka Dum, hosted by Salman Khan in 2009. He even entered the Bigg Boss house in 2013, not as a contestant but to meet wrestler Sangram Singh.
If he hadn't become a boxer, he would be a soldier. Vijender's elder brother Manoj is a former boxer who decided to leave the sport and join the Indian Army. Vijender has said that he would have definitely followed in his brother's footsteps if he hadn't been so good in his sport.
Vijender was cleared of allegations that he used drugs. Vijender's career faced a crisis in 2013 when the Punjab Police alleged that he had bought heroin from an NRI on multiple occasions. Vijender denied the charges and came out clean after he was tested by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA).
He is the only male Indian boxer to win the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna. He was honoured with India's highest sporting award in the same year as Mary Kom, who is of course the only female Indian boxer to win the Khel Ratna. Will there be a biopic on Vijender too one day? If his professional career is a success, don't bet against it.