Elated and exhausted in equal measure after being crowned the WBO Asia Pacific champion, Indian boxing star Vijender Singh says he will savour the triumph for a while before looking at the possibility of a showdown with Pakistan-origin British star Amir Khan, who is keen for a face-off with him.
The 30-year-old dasher clinched his seventh straight win and the Super Middleweight title by outlasting former WBC European champion Kerry Hope in a 10-round contest, cheered vociferously by delirious home fans on Saturday night. The victory propelled him to the 15th spot in the WBO rankings and he will have to defend his title in the next two months.
Dedicating the triumph to the late Muhammad Ali, Vijender got just a few moments to celebrate with his team before being asked “what next”?
“I want to take some rest, may be for a month or so and we will see after that,” was his initial response.
But with no stopping the questions on his future in the post-bout press conference, the star finally listed his options.
“My world ranking will be in the top 15. I will get harder fights now but I am ready for it. I will work with my coaches and my team and we will go for it.
“Mine and Amir’s weight categories are different. So, in case he increases his weight or I decrease mine then we can work it out. We are thinking about it, so let’s see. I hope that when that big fight happens, it happens in India only,” said Vijender, thanking the fans several times during the presser for packing the 5,000-capacity Thyagaraj Stadium last night.
Amir, a former WBA world champion, is primarily a lightweight boxer, who recently tried himself in the middleweight by taking on world champion Saul Canelo Alvarez. However, it ended in disaster for him when he was knocked out in the sixth round.
Amir had expressed a desire to take on Vijender in India before the showdown with Alvarez but it remains to be seen whether he would give it a shot now after moving back to his original weight category.
“In the long term, we will keep an eye on Amir Khan as well. That fight over here will be phenomenal, it will be a massive fight. We have tentatively talked with Amir’s team, I know they want it, I know Vijender wants it,” said Vijender’s British promoter Francis Warren of the Queensberry Promotions.
In the immediate future, however, Vijender could be in for a face-off with the reigning Commonwealth champion Luke Blackledge, who turned down the offer to fight in last night’s event.
“There are a lot of options for Vijender. After this fight, he will have a world ranking of top 15 in the WBO and it is a question whether he will keep climbing the ranking by fighting guys in the top 15 or keep hold of that belt, he has to defend that belt within 120 days or we go after Luke, who is the Commonwealth champion,” Warren said.
“I think that’s a great story and a great fight and I am confident Vijender will win that fight. Luke was supposed to fight here, but he did not fancy coming here so maybe he will fancy it even less now after this great fight,” he quipped.
Vijender, on his part, is savouring the ‘Singh is King’ moment on the first anniversary of his pro career.
“Singh is King, finally I have done it. I have won the title. I am very happy and everybody cheered for me. Thank you all. This belt means a lot of things. It is all about hard work, dedication and it is all about my country. It is just the beginning,” said the affable six-footer from Haryana, who continues to be the biggest name in Indian boxing even after bidding adieu to his amateur career.
“This was the longest fight of my career, finally I completed 10 rounds. I did not expect it but the knockout was not happening so I thought of going for 10 rounds. I want to take good rest. We will see after that,” he added.
Despite the huge significance of last night’s win, Vijender refused to club it alongside or put it above the historic Olympic bronze medal which made him a household name in India.
“It is because of the Olympic medal that I am here. People know Vijender Singh because of the medal, before that no one knew me. That Olympic medal is very special for me, even this belt is special for me but this is different,” he said.
Also in his moment of glory, Vijender did not forget to laud his gritty opponent, Kerry Hope, who did manage to impress the packed stadium by holding his own for 10 rounds.
“He (Hope) is an experienced guy. I respect him. He is a good fighter,” he said.
Vijender’s Indian promoters Infinity Optimal Solutions (IOS) head Neerav Tomar said the phenomenal response to the bout had left him stunned to an extent.
“This is still sinking in, what happened today, it is still giving me goosebumps. We all compare it to cricket but I don’t think cricket can come anywhere close to the atmosphere we had today,” Tomar said.
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