A lot of surprise, some skepticism and a few brickbats followed his decision to quit amateur boxing and star Indian pugilist Vijender Singh will look to live up to the unprecedented hype when he makes his eagerly-awaited professional debut against Britain's Sonny Whiting on Saturday.
The 29-year-old, who scripted history as an amateur by becoming India's first Olympic and World Championships medallist, is all set to begin a new chapter in his illustrious boxing career.
In his debut middleweight pro bout, the strapping six-footer faces a cocky opponent in Whiting, who has promised to put him "through hell". The 26-year-old from Rochester is three-bouts old in the circuit and has a 2-1 win-loss record. Despite verbal provocations, Vijender has remained his usual composed self and has promised to answer every threat with his punches in the ring.
"I am totally focused and waiting for the right moment to reply in the ring. I am not at all bothered by his comments. I will reply with my punches," Vijender said on the eve of the bout.
Vijender, who signed up with Queensberry Promotions in July, is not the first Indian to enter the professional arena with the likes of Gurcharan Singh and Pradeep Sihag having been a regular in the circuit earlier. However, never before has an Indian boxer's professional debut generated this kind of hype.
This can largely be attributed to his equally unprecedented success as an amateur boxer, a highlight of which was becoming the world number one in middleweight at one stage. The Haryana-boxer would be walking in to a couple of thumping Punjabi songs - 'Singh is King' and 'Singh is Bling' - and would look to make sure that the music keeps playing at the end of the four round that he will fight Saturday.
"I am looking forward to a winning start. I am not under any pressure, I am taking this as a responsibility. My performance in professional boxing will open new hopes for young Indian boxers. I am eagerly waiting to enter the ring against Sonny. My strategy is to go in and hit very hard," he said.
Whiting, who has a knockout victory to his credit, has virtually derided Vijender's amateur record and has vowed to give him a very rude welcome to the pro arena. "I'm a proud fighter who will go in there and give it everything I've got and I'm not laying down in front of anyone. He's making his debut and I'll give him a hard welcome to the professional game. What he's done as an amateur doesn't count, he's now with the big boys in the pros," he had said.
Vijender is training under renowned trainer Lee Beard, who is mighty impressed with the Indian's technical knowledge and power. He has been training with him for more than a month and has worked on his endurance during this period.
The bout will be telecast live on Sony Six at 10.20 pm (IST) on Saturday.