On Aug. 5, 2017, at NSCI Dome, Mumbai, India’s biggest combat sports star Vijender Singh returned to the boxing ring after a healthy break of nine months to face undefeated rising Chinese-superstar Zulpikar Maimaitiali. The fight was a 10 round fight in which Singh put his WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight title on line and Zulpikar kept his WBO Oriental Super Middleweight title. The Olympic Bronze medalist was meeting his toughest professional career fight when he faced the rising Asian prospect. Zulpikar was undefeated in 8 professional bouts, out of which he had finished 6. The fact that Singh was returning after 8 months simply increased the probability of Zulpikar winning.
The fight was not only the biggest test of Vijender Singh but it was also the biggest test of Indian professional Combat Sports. The event was the first ever large scaled Combat Sports event in Mumbai. The city which was home to Bollywood, billionaires, companies and whatnot, hence establishing a strong base in Mumbai has always been an important and difficult step for the development of any sports in India. Now the concept of professional combat sports is relatively new to the Indian masses. So despite multiple attempts from various promotions like SFL and Brave, professional combat sports had not found any success in the commercial capital of India.
Here is an analysis of the event.
The fight between the former Commonwealth medalist and the 23-year-old Chinese man, gained a lot of attention across India. The match which saw Vijender Singh winning via unanimous verdict was very closely competed. So the fact that all three judges saw it for Singh was very strange. The official score cards were 96-93, 95-94 and 95-94. If one closely analyzes the match one can easily make out that Zulpikar won round 3,7,8,9 and 10. In fact in round 9 and 10, Zulpikar was absolutely dominating the former commonwealth medalist. So under normal and unbiased scoring the score should have been around 95-94 or 95-93 (with round 9 and/or 10 being scored 10-8 for absolute domination by Zulpikar).
That being said most think that Zulpikar was docked off points because of multiple low blows. However, when on scrutinizing one understands that there is literally no evidence that Zulpikar landed all the low blows, in the replays only one low blow was shown. The rest of the time the shots were simply dubbed as below the belt without any replay. In fact half the time when the referee stopped the action, Zulpikar is shown arguing with the referee that the shots weren’t that low. Even if you dock one point off Zulpikar for the low blow, the score card should have either been draw at 94-94 or win for Zulpikar at 94-93. There is no way in which one can score the fight 96-94 for Singh.
However, professional boxing as a sport is notoriously known for its horrid hometown judgements. There have been cases where the foreign fighter, despite dominating almost every round has not been awarded the win. A perfect example is the very recent fight between Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn, in which despite thrashing Horn for 12 straight rounds Pacquiao lost the fight via unanimous decision.
This fight in comparison to the two fights mentioned above was way closer. In fact rounds 7 and 8 were pretty close, Zulpikar clearly boxed Singh out in these rounds but at the very same time Singh did manage to land heavy shots. So clearly the decision wasn’t as bad as some think it was but neither was it absolutely fair.
Necessity of the decision
The decision has been a topic of conversation among Indian combats sports fans with various analysis, some defending Singh while others attacking him. I think this decision, however unfair it may seem, was necessary to save professional combat sports in India.
To understand my assessment one must understand a few things:
- The sole motivation around combat sports is money, there is little place for ethics and morals in it.
- The only way to generate money is via draws (people who can attract attention to their matches, hence selling their tickets).
- Usually draws are favored to keep the crowd happy.
- Draws take the sport to a next level as they bring new audience to the sport, hence helping the entire business structure.
Now if Vijender Singh was not given the victory, the majority of the crowd which had come to watch the fight would lose interest in Vijender Singh, therefore losing interest in the sport. Also holding a perfect record in professional boxing helps in adding credibility to the fighter and helps the fighter in creating his brand. If Singh would have lost, the little international attention Indian professional combat sports market was getting would be lost. On top of that, the hype around Singh would also be affected thereby poisoning the growth of the sport in India.
Putting it in simpler words, the decision was a part of the greater good.
Things we have learnt
Battleground Asia was a landmark event for professional combat sports in India. As stated above, it was the largest organized professional combat event in the commercial capital of India, Mumbai. Many things became clear from the event.
- Vijender Singh is the man who can change the professional combat sports scene in India
Battleground Asia proved that Vijender Singh has an amazing drawing power. As stated above many international and regional promotions in the past had tried to gain relevance in the Indian market by hosting events in Mumbai but all of them failed miserably. The only promotion which managed to get some sort of relevant attention was Brave FMMA, that too after announcing a free event and using almost every big name in the Indian MMA circuit. Here, the IOS Boxing Promotion solely used the might of Singh’s name and managed to attract the likes of Padma Vibhushan awardee and Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, veteran Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan, proprietor of SWEN entertainment and Bollywood star Parvin Dabas and many more.
His popularity because of his various appearances in TV shows, his successful appearances in Bollywood movies, his immense contribution to Sports in India make him a loved figure across the India. Singh may have had a few controversies but he has always managed to maintain a clean public image. His classy behavior such as returning the WBO Oriental Super Middleweight title to Zulpikar as a message for peace simply increased his respect in the eyes of the people. All of this has made him the biggest draw in India. He clearly is the knight in shining armor for the professional combat sports market in India.
- Vijender Singh needs better coaches
At Battleground Asia, the former Olympic Bronze medalist didn’t look great. The last three rounds spoke volumes about Singh’s cardio. One could say that Singh wasn’t at his best as he was returning after a long break of 8 months and the low blows had hurt him, but even in his fight against Australian Kerry Hope the-31-year-old looked gassed out in the last 2 rounds. However, in that fight Singh didn’t find any trouble as Hope himself looked gassed out. At Battleground Asia, Zulpikar was very fresh and was ready for to take the fight distance. Had the fight been for 12 rounds, there was a great probability of him being knocked out. It must also be noted that Singh was facing a rising prospect and not a developed fighter. Against top and developed competition, solely based on his, Singh might not last.
That being said, I accept the fact that I am no expert. Let me make this very clear that I am not questioning Singh’s abilities. However, the way Singh came in at Battleground Asia it looked as if he won’t survive against top middleweight fighters. One must note that the middleweight division is one of the most competitive divisions in boxing today. The problem, in my opinion, was with his camp. Vijender after his fight said:
“I didn’t expect him to fight so well and last the distance. I thought this would last for a maximum of 5-6 rounds.”
This clearly isn’t the attitude a fighter should have when he enters a fight. The mindset an athlete carries in a fight is usually the result of the type of camp he has had. If Singh’s camp wasn’t aware about the type of fighter Zulpikar was then it was clear failure on the camp’s part. It must also be noted that Vijender didn’t look as aggressive as he usually does when he enters a fight. Singh himself acknowledged the fact that he wasn’t following his usual strategy.
“I didn’t fight according to my strategies.”
A strategy is usually designed by the coaches. If the strategy fails, then the failure is on the part of the camp and not the athlete. Amazing prospects have been destroyed because of poor coaches; a perfect example is former UFC bantamweight champion and Olympic Bronze medal winner Ronda Rousey.
As stated earlier, middleweight is the most stacked division in boxing today. If Singh wants to compete against the best in the world, he will have to train with the best in the world. I am not trying to say that Singh is training with bad coaches but if he wants to survive in the middleweight division he needs a better camp.
- Singh needs to fight in India for some time
There is more than one reason for this. The first is for the growth of professional boxing in India. Singh is the only person a regular Indian sports fan will recognize. If the sport has to grow and gain relevance at large scale, then Vijender will need a few more shows. His shows attract a lot of attention. If he fights frequently in India, then he will surely manage to attract a large sum of audience to the professional market and thereby establishing a strong base for the younger generation and adding a lot of credibility to his name. This will help both the sport as well as him.
The second reason is that he needs time. Singh for now hasn’t developed as a true elite boxer; NO ONE can become an elite boxer with just 9 fights. On the top of that Singh is the only person who has some credibility amongst the masses; if he were to lose, the entire market of professional boxing will be destroyed. In India Singh will have a lot of support both from the crowd and the officials, this will ensure that he doesn’t lose a fight, at least via decision, in India.
Battleground Asia will go down as one of the most historic events in the record books. This event managed to successfully change the scene of professional combat sports in the biggest and most important city of India, Mumbai.
Here are few of the achievements:
- It broke the myth that professional combat sports have no scope in India. If one manages to create a star, people will come and watch.
- The event went down as the first ever successful, large scale professional combat sports event in Mumbai.
- It proved that with proper training Indian boxers can take on athletes from superpower countries.
- Singh established himself as a loveable public figure, his move of returning the WBO Oriental Super Middleweight title as a mark for peace between India and China earned him special respect amongst Indian fans.