Vijender Singh, Indias undeniable poster boy even six years after Beijing, did enough damage to first-round opponent Andrew Kometas alarmed mug and torso, and kept his own face un-bruised, to win a dominating opener and proceed to pose for selfies with fans who had trooped in, chanting his name vociferously from the stands to be themselves applauded by the organisers as the loudest fans. Idea was to sustain minimum damage and land maximum punches, Vijender said later. Perhaps, Indias best improviser in the ring, the 28-year-olds fighting style was almost unrecognisable as he left loose his guard and pounded the hapless opponent from Kiribati in the 75 kg opener at the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre in a Saturday night hammering hive.
The trick he reckoned was in softening up the body, and drilling the fear of the devil into the Pacific islanders mind so that he faced the least number of ripostes. This he did by going on the offensive from the time of the buzzer, hunching low and bending back for a flurry into the ribcage.
When the dazed opponent, a clearly inferior first-round punchbag, attempted to guard his torso, Vijender had his straight ones ready to stun the face and start picking the points. The body-blows left Kometa retreating to the ropes and even there he was a man exposed and hoping desperately that the clock would tick off. The minnow could hardly get a punch in - though he had a hard one - and it was pretty evident from quarter-way through the first round that Vijender would gobble this one up. He neutralised the power in the Kiribari boxers punch by not giving him an opening, though he didnt need his guard up. It was easy, Cuban BI Fernanded summed up.
A lot has changed, not just rules, Vijender said, hinting at the tumultuous year he suffered under scrutiny, away from the ring. He also insisted he had a date to keep with Scotland where hed come as a young boxer a decade back, and picked a silver in an international meet. Im going for gold this time, he asserted.
Fears of Indians struggling with the new rules might be a tad alarmist, though this was only the first round, with Mandeep Jangra starting well to enter the Round of 16 on Friday night.
Manoj starts cautiously
Saturday though had begun with apprehensions when Manoj Kumar ran into a typical brawler first up. Mokhachane Moshoeshoe ought to be accustomed to being bear-hugged from all sides given he comes from Lesotho, land-locked by South Africa. Yet, he was inviting a bone-crunching embrace, and finally got one in third round of his bout against Manoj Kumar in the light-welter division, after trying a combination of ambivalent fouls, outlawed from the books.
Moshoeshoe lost 81-90 in a unanimous decision in his opening round, highlighting for Manoj the perils that lie along the way to defending a crown the Indian had won at Delhi - a trailer to some dirty boxing that obviously superior pugilists face against desperate opponents early on. His clan name comes from a swishing razor, and Moshoeshoe was quite a handful earlier in the bout, slashing and swinging wildly, trying to pass it all off as a left hook. A few low-blows and attempts at bouncing the chin with his head had Manoj start cautiously. But once it was apparent that was all the Sotho had, Manoj countered with some lethal jabbing to push him off. Hed duck and follow with some upper cuts, all the while looking out for the nasty aside that the Sotho was plotting, without being charged by the ref. He knew Manoj is the better boxer so he was going for injury (sic), Fernandez said, adding he was happy the 27-year-old Indian had played safe first, before launching his assault. It gives me confidence that I could parry his punches and whatever else he was throwing, Manoj said later.On first appearance, Indian boxers are not exactly shrinking like violets post the rule-change. Its early in the day and theyve hardly fought internationals, but the experienced ones like Vijender and Manoj do look like they will come all guns blazing .
It helps that Vijender has fans clamouring for selfies on their smartphones. Getting beaten up is part of boxing. But Ill guard my face, he stresses with a laugh.