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Vijender is a natural, can go a long way

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Nearly two decades ago, when the famous British boxing promoter Frank Maloney (now Kellie Maloney since his sex change in 2014) came calling, looking for an Asian fighter who could fight Mike Tyson, heavyweight boxer Raj Kumar Sangwan jumped at the offer.

Miffed at being left out of the National camp, the two-time Asian champion was looking to keep himself involved in the ring. “My story was unlike that of Vijender’s,” Sangwan told TOI.

“I was out of the national camp in 1996 and an American TV company was looking for an Asian fighter who could fight with Mike Tyson. It would have captured the Asian market. So I said yes to the offer.”

Sangwan was in the middle of a spurt of Indian boxers turning pro. A few months before Sangwan, boxer Dharmendra Singh Yadav had turned professional. Another boxer V Devarajan joined them. Sangwan, who soon set sail for London, was given extensive training as a professional boxer. “The New York-based company for which I had signed spent huge amount of money on promoting me. They had put posters all around the city for my first fight in London. I still remember that fight. My opponent was Gary Williams, who was more experienced than me. But I won that bout, which was fought over four rounds,” said the bronze medalist from the 1994 Asian Games.

The Arjuna awardee has a piece of advice for Vijender, who like Sangwan also hails from Bhiwani in Haryana. “Vijender can go a long way. He has the skills and boxing sense. He has natural talent. But he needs to have more power and must be ready to be patient. It may take quite some time before he could make a name for himself in the world of professional boxing.”

Sangwan’s professional dream lasted just that one bout. ‘I had signed a contract which barred me from leaving England for two years. Though the training and hospitality were excellent, it was difficult to adjust to the new life of a professional boxer. It was very different and more difficult than that of an amateur boxer. We didn’t use headgear and the training was far more intensive than we had previously known. For example, Tyson was known to run at least 25 km once every fortnight. It was unheard for us. What was worse was the contract which bound me. I could not even return to India when my grandmother died. I terminated the contract.”

Life gave Sangwan a second chance to become a professional again. “In 1998, I went to the USA where the promoters of Sugar Ray Leonard approached me with an offer. I had to take licenses to fight both in New York and California.”

But he never got a chance to fight there. “I was 28 then, already married and had a kid.”

Looking back, Sangwan rues his decision to terminate his contract in London prematurely . “My promoters in London were those who promoted Lennox Lewis. In fact, one of my sparring partners went on to fight Mike Tyson,” he said, and adding: “If I had stayed back, may be things would have been different. Maybe Vijender can fight it out.

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