As a bloodied and a visibly exhausted Vijender Singh held his arms aloft after being declared the winner of the double title fight against Zulpikar Maimaitiali, the sense of relief in his camp was palpable.
The Indian boxer and his camp had spent the last few days dismissing the Chinese boxer. Vijender himself had boasted of how he would knockout his rival soon before saying that “Chinese products don’t last very long.”
On Saturday, at Mumbai NSCI Stadium, the “Chinese product” lasted the full duration of 10 rounds against Vijender, who is used to winning his bouts in TKOs and KOs.
The judges’ scores 96-93, 95-94, 95-94 reflected just how close the fight was. In fact, the Zulpikar camp would have gone home wondering if the result was fair.
But it is what it is. Vijender, thanks to his ninth victory on the trot, is now the WBO Oriental Super Middleweight Champion along with the WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight Champion.
The fight started with the Indian being circumspect, his guard up. Zulpikar, who Vijender’s trainer Lee Beard had claimed had only one gear, went on the attack from the first round, ducking low and aiming for the belly of the Indian, landing a few. This was to be his strategy for the rest of the bout: stay low and punch at the belly.
Vijender, in return, tried to keep the Chinese at a distance with his left jabs. His devastating right, which has spelt doom for so many rivals when it connects, was being negated as the 23-year-old kept low and out of reach.
With Zulpikar coming at him low, the Indian started to make a habit of grabbing him around the torso to stop the momentum. It was in Round 4 that Vijender finally upset the Chinese boxer’s rhythm. He grabbed the Chinese boxer and flung him down the canvas. This seemed to anger the Chinese and, in the blink of an eye, Vijender landed four quick right ones.
The crowd, containing Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and sports legends like Dhanraj Pillay, played its part, chanting ‘India, India’ when they saw Zulpikar was dominating.
More than once, Zulpikar’s low punches landed below the belt. Unfortunately, he was docked points for only one infringement, much to the chagrin of Vijender’s corner and the boxer himself.
He went on to admit later that those low blows had distracted him.
In the ninth round, Vijender fell on his knees after being struck in the mid-riff. By the 10th round, Vijender was reduced to running around in circles from corner to corner while Zulpikar gave chase.
"I didn't expect the fight to be that good. Aaaj kaafi khoon baha (A lot of blood flowed today) But we won finally,” Vijender said in the post-fight press conference.
The Indian also made a pitch for peace with China in the press conference. "I want to give back this belt to Zulpikar. I hope for peace on the border. The message is about peace. That is most important. I have been seeing on social media all this talk about China. That’s not good.”
Meanwhile, his trainer Lee Beard felt that Zulpikar should have been docked more points for low blows. The Chinese boxer lost just one point from each judge for the infringement.
In the other title fight of the night, Neeraj Goyat beat Allan Tanada of the Phillipines, in a fight that also went the full distance. The 12-round fight ended 119-109, 119-109, 118-110 in favour of the Indian, who retained his WBC Asian Welterweight title. The charismatic Goyat, who danced his way into the ring, became quite the crowd favourite on the night.
His strategy to duck down to waist height and weave from one side to the other bore fruit as Tannada could not connect his punches. At several points during the night, Neeraj raised his arms or kept them flat on the sides goading his opponent to take a shot. Luckily for him, his quick reflexes meant he was able to evade his opponent’s vicious right upper-cuts.
Ahead of the 12 round, he went and embraced his opponent in a rare moment of fraternity, so unusual for a boxing fight. But once they round started, there was hardly any brotherly feeling as he unleashed a flurry of punches before three left hooks in a row had his opponent reeling.
In the other significant fight of the night, Commonwealth Games gold medallist Akhil Kumar began his professional career with victory. However, the win came in bizarre circumstances. Akhil was pummeled by his Australian opponent TY Gilchrist for the first two rounds, to the point where Akhil was left bloodied.
Gilchrist exploited Akhil’s open stance — arms near his belly rather than protecting the face — and landed punch after punch for two rounds.
Then, after the second round ended, he expressed his inability to continue and walked off thereby handing Akhil a victory.
Akhil may not be so lucky each time. If he wants to build a successful career as a pro, he may want to rethink his open stance. After all, at 36, his reflexes are not getting any faster.
Updated Date: Aug 06, 2017 15:24 PM