Vijender Singh won India’s first medal in boxing — a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He turned pro in 2015, and now, just before the biggest fight of his career — for the WBO Asia-Pacific Super Middleweight title — against Australian Kerry Hope, we’ve got some facts about Vijender you never knew:
1. The first sport Vijender tried was gymnastics. He was about ten years old, and was fascinated by the athleticism of gymnasts at the Sports Authority of India training centre in Bhiwani, near his village. The fascination lasted for a week or so—Vijender could not do the handstand, the most basic exercise in gymnastics, and left in frustration.
2. In 2008, after he won his quarter-final fight at the Beijing Olympics and was assured of a bronze medal, Vijender celebrated by doing a photoshoot with his friend and Beijing roommate, the Jharkhand boxer Anthresh Lakra. Lakra was interested in photography and had carried a lot of photographic equipment to Beijing.
3. Vijender has recently picked up a new hobby: cooking. He spends his weekends cooking for his wife. He loves making meat dishes, but his wife is vegetarian.
4. When they were very young, Vijender and his brother Manoj, who was also a boxer, made a punching bag at home with a canvas bag filled with sand, soil, and discarded wood chips that they had collected from a furniture shop.
5. Vijender’s late grandfather Dariyaj Singh, a subedar in the army, introduced him to boxing. Dariyaj brought a pair of boxing gloves home for Vijender when he was seven years old. He gave one glove to Vijender, and one to a cousin of Vijender’s and taught them some basics. Since the two boys were only allowed to throw punches with the gloved hand, and both were right handed, they would fight about who gets to wear the right-hand glove.
6. Vijender met his wife Archana while applying for a visa to go to a tournament in Germany. Archana, a software engineer, was working in an IT company and had also come to apply for a visa. They started talking. Vijender’s first question to her was, “Where are you going?” “I still laugh when I think about how stupid that was,” he says. “Obviously, she was going to Germany.”
7. Badou Jack, a Swedish/Gambian boxer who was beaten in the first round of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by Vijender, is now the World Boxing Council (WBC) Super Middleweight world champion. Vijender hopes to challenge him one day for the title.
8. Vijender’s favourite way to pass time is to go on long, aimless walks. He says that sometimes he can keep walking for as long as three hours. He also likes to explore new food and new restaurants on his walk.
9. Vijender may get to fight a revenge match against the British boxer Anthony Ogogo, who has won all 10 of his fights since turning pro in 2013. Ogogo had beaten Vijender controversially in a semi-final match at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. Vijender was the world No.1 then, and was leading 3-0 in the final round when the referee penalized him twice. Ogogo won the match 4-3 without landing a single scoring punch, and then incited booing, partisan crowd.
10. Vijender decided to turn pro while watching the build-up to the Floyd Mayweather Jr – Manny Pacquiao fight – billed as the ‘fight of the century’ on 2 May, 2015. He had considered turning pro after winning his Olympic medal in 2008, but did not because he hoped to win another medal in 2012.