With a population of 1.2 billion, India is the world’s second largest country. Nonetheless, no homegrown boxer from India has ever made waves on the world stage. Vijender Singh aims to be the first. A 30-year-old super middleweight who is on the fast track to a world title shot, Singh (6-0, 6 KOs) opposes Kerry Hope (23-7) on Saturday, July 16, at Thyagaraj Stadium in New Delhi in the biggest professional fight ever in India, a nation where cricket is far and away the most popular sport.
Singh is a three-time Olympian. In 2008, in the second of his three Olympic engagements, he won the bronze medal — the first Olympic medal of any kind for a boxer from India. He returned to his homeland a national hero. Since then he has enhanced his profile in India with layouts in fashion magazines and numerous TV appearances including the Indian version of “Dancing with the Stars.”
In June of last year, much to the dismay of India’s amateur boxing federation, Singh turned pro, signing with Francis Warren’s Queensberry Promotions (Warren is the son of BoxNation founder Frank Warren, a longtime power on the British boxing scene). The Warrens could see that Singh had the potential to bring new fans into the sport. Indians are the most visible ethnic minority in the United Kingdom. But their long-range plan was to penetrate India, the last great untapped market for professional boxing.
Since turning pro, Singh has been training in Manchester under Lee Beard, formerly the assistant trainer of Ricky Hatton. He made his pro debut in Manchester, appearing on a card that featured Terry Flanagan and Liam Smith in world title bouts. To this point, everything has gone swimmingly, but Kerry Hope represents a distinct jump up in class, notwithstanding the fact that Hope has forged only two knockouts in his 30 fights.
A Welshman who now resides in Brisbane, Australia, Hope has gone 10 rounds on four occasions and 12 rounds on three occasions. In his last outing, he outpointed Petchsuriya Singwancha over 12 rounds in Hong Kong for something called the WBC Asian Boxing Council Middleweight Title. The bout was originally ruled a draw, but the decision was so outrageous that the WBC overturned it after reviewing the tape. The organization invited trouble when they approved two Thai judges.
When he learned that the WBC had overturned the verdict, a jubilant Hope said “I’ll be heading back into the gym and looking to defend my brand new belt.” But a different trinket will be at stake when Hope and Singh lock horns in New Delhi. At stake will be a WBO strap, the Asia Pacific Super Middleweight belt. And while that’s hardly a prestigious diadem, don’t tell that to Singh’s fans in India who are excited to see him fight for a title, whatever it’s called.
A win over Hope will bump Singh into the top 15 in the WBO ratings where the reigning champion is Gilberto Martinez. Other versions of the super middleweight title are held by Badou Jack (WBC) and James DeGale (IBF) who are scheduled to meet in the fall in a unification match. Vijender Singh defeated Badou Jack in the amateurs.
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