Tokyo Olympics 2020: Back in amateur boxing 'game', Vikas Krishan Yadav recalibrating his style to stake claim to 69kg spot

  • In the few months that boxer Vikas Krishan Yadav has been in India, he reckons he has hardly gone home to visit his wife and children

  • The first test of Vikas Krishan Yadav will be at the South Asian Games in Nepal, where he will be part of a new-look Indian boxing contingent

  • Having competed at Rio Olympics in the 75kg category, Yadav will go back to the 69kg category, where he used to box at the start of his career

In the few months that Vikas Krishan Yadav has been in India, he reckons he has hardly gone home to visit his wife and children. He has unfinished business to tend to before he can turn a family man.

 Tokyo Olympics 2020: Back in amateur boxing game, Vikas Krishan Yadav recalibrating his style to stake claim to 69kg spot

File image of Vikas Krishan Yadav. Getty Images

Aapko ek baat bataun, mujhe life main kuch prove karna hai (I want to prove something in life). Great achievements require great sacrifice. When I think I cannot make sacrifices, I will go home! If I cannot give my 100 percent, then I will go home and enjoy my time with my family,” Yadav, who has spent the past couple of months between Inspire Institute of Sport in Bellary and National Institute of Sport in Patiala, tells Firstpost.

Yadav is more than accustomed to not spending time with his family. Since turning pro in November 2018, he’s lived by himself in Newark (in New Jersey, USA) working to carve out a successful career as a professional boxer.

Living in Newark, without the comfort of a team to take care of the logistics, has also made him a better person, believes Yadav.

“I think I have become a better man thanks to the pro boxing stint. I had to do everything by myself. If I was hungry, I cooked for myself. When I wanted to get to a training session, I ferried myself there. In professional boxing, you are an individual and you don't have a team to do everything for you. I became mentally tougher thanks to the stint. In India I always had friends who I could talk to all the time at any given point. But in America I was all by myself and had very limited interaction with people so that toughened me a little bit,” he says.

When Yadav turned pro, he set himself two targets. One: competing for India at Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Two: throwing 10 lakh jabs in training.

Yadav’s first target is hardly surprising. He has unfinished business with the Olympics. In 2012, then 20, Yadav had won his preliminary bout against USA’s Errol Spence only to see the result being overturned in a few hours. Four years later in Rio de Janeiro, he fell one step away from winning a medal.

Achieving the second target, Yadav believes, will make him invincible as a pro boxer.

Ask him how many months it will take him to throw 10 lakh jabs, and he splutters, “Months? It’ll take me years to do this. But when I had turned pro, I wanted to perfect my jab. That’s why I decided on the number. I believe if I can throw 10 lakh jabs, it will be perfect. No one in the world will be able to stop me.”

Yadav says he threw around 2,000 jabs a day when training by himself in Newark.

“My punches have become much harder now. They carry considerable power. Even if I want to throw an easy punch I wouldn't be able to do it."

“I was working on my jab by myself, besides my regular training sessions. I would throw maybe 2,000 jabs a day. I was careful not to overdo it because I didn’t want to tire myself out. As you know the training regimen for professional boxing is way tougher than amateur boxing.”

The past year has seen him fight twice and win both bouts easily.

“Not just the training, the fights in pro boxing are also much harder and not to mention risky. The gloves that boxers use in professional boxing are very small and the padding in them is minimal. It's essentially like a bare-handed brawl with rules,” Yadav says before adding, “If amateur boxing is a game, professional boxing is a sport.”

Having seen him train after returning from his pro boxing stint, both Santiago Nieva (the High Performance Director of Indian boxing team), and Ronald Simms (who worked with Yadav at the Inspire Institute of Sport for nearly a month recently) concur that they have never seen Yadav this focussed.

“After the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Vikas needed to try something else. He needed to test himself. It’s good he switched over to pro boxing instead of doing the same thing over and over again,” says Nieva. “He really needed a change of environment. And now that he’s spent a year in USA, I can see that it has done him good.”

Simms went a step ahead. “He’s in the best condition of his life at the moment. His punches are more effective, quicker, and seem to carry more weight!” said the American boxing coach.

The switch from professional boxing to amateur boxing has hardly been easy for Yadav.

While professional boxing is the glamorous, slicker version of the sport they call the sweet science, Yadav notes that switching back to amateur boxing has proven as tough, if not tougher, than becoming a pro.

“I’ve been working so hard on my jabs. But in amateur boxing, the jab does not carry too much meaning,” he says.

He points out that given how professional bouts are between six to 12 rounds, he had to get used to taking his time in the ring, measuring his opponent, and strategising how to beat him.

“Most importantly, it was about not getting hit! But since the gloves are so small in professional boxing, no matter how good your defence is, you will get punched. That’s why I worked a lot on my movement in the ring. If your guard cannot stop punches, better to evade punches altogether,” he says.

The three-round format of amateur boxing, however, does not allow a pugilist the comfort of taking his time in the ring to measure his opponent. It’s an all-out street brawl from the minute you step into the ring. This has led Yadav to recaliberate his boxing style again.

“I’m trying to re-adjust to amateur boxing. This is all I have been doing for the last two-three months. As a professional, I made changes to my technique which is making life slightly difficult for me now in amateur boxing. The boxing style in amateurs is very different as you have just three rounds. If you lose the first round there is a lot of pressure on you to win the second since otherwise there is no chance of you winning the bout. In professionals, you will have between six to 12 rounds. So you can plan your strategy and take your time in the ring. You can actually finish your fight with one hard punch. The knockout percentage in professional boxing is so high since the padding of the gloves is too little.”

Given how small the gloves in pro boxing are, they also make it difficult to block your opponent’s punches.

“In professional boxing, you will get hit. That’s why I realised that the only way to defend was to improve my body movement in the ring. Avoid getting punched. Since I started boxing, I could block very well. In amateur boxing, no boxer could get their punches past my guard. I could block all of their punches. But I really struggled to block the punches from professionals."

“In amateurs, because there is so limited time, boxers usually throw combinations of eight to 10 punches at a time. Then it’s very difficult to escape getting hit even with exceptional body movement. That’s why I am re-learning how to keep my guard up in amateur boxing. I’d given up on that since turning pro, but now I have to keep my guard up.”

“When he returned to India, he seemed to be a little slow for amateur boxing,” says Nieva, “It took Yadav some time to get used to the pace of amateur boxing. He did struggle at the start. But he’s picked up pace.”

The first test of Yadav will be at the South Asian Games in Nepal, where he will be part of a new-look Indian boxing contingent. But arguably, the bigger test will be the boxing trials for the Asian Olympic qualifiers to be held at the end of December.

Having competed at the Rio Olympics in the 75kg weight class, Yadav will go back to the 69kg category, where he used to box at the start of his career.

“The welterweight category in India is very competitive. Either Vikas adapts fast to the demands of that weight class, or there are three-four boxers waiting to take his spot. There’s Duryodhan Singh Negi, who went to the World Championships this year. Then there’s two-time Olympian Manoj Kumar and Naveen Boora, who is the national champion. Vikas has to prove himself,” says Nieva.

The Swedish coach points out that the fact that Yadav has dropped down to the 69kg weight class could work to his advantage.

“He was slightly undersized for the 75kg weight class. But he will be a big, powerful contender in the 69kg. I can see that he’s slimmed down now thanks to his pro boxing stint. He can definitely do well in this category,” says Nieva.

The road to a medal in Tokyo 2020 is a long, winding one for Yadav. But one that he is determined to traverse.

“In all of our lives, there’s always something unfinished. Something incomplete. No one’s life is perfect. An athlete who has won an Olympic medal, will start chasing an Olympic gold. An athlete winning Olympic gold, will want more Olympics golds. If I win a medal at the Olympics, I will think then about becoming a world champion in professional boxing.”

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Updated Date: Dec 02, 2019 10:44:34 IST