India

Vijender Singh: Can he become next Manny Pacquiao?

Vijender Singh Image copyright AFP
Image caption Vijender Singh is one of India's top boxers

India's Olympic champion Vijender Singh wants to follow into the footsteps of Asian boxing legend Manny Pacquiao after turning professional.

The Indian boxer announced on Monday that he would be based in the UK for training to start his professional career.

Singh became the face of Indian boxing after winning a bronze medal in the middleweight category at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"I don't want to compare myself to a legend like Pacquiao, but if I can achieve even half of what he has, I will consider myself successful," the Mid Day quotes the 29-year-old as saying.

He said he would miss his official blue jersey, but wouldn't stop carrying the Indian flag at his bouts.

"Just like how Pacquiao carried the Phillipines flag and (Floyd) Mayweather Jr carried the US flag to their bout, I will carry the Indian flag to my bouts. I've taken Indian boxing to a new, untested level and opened international avenues for our boxers. This cannot be viewed as un-patriotic," he said.

But not everybody is impressed with his decision.

Many were expecting Singh to win a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

National coach Gurbax Singh said the decision was "surprising" for him. "I am in a state of shock because I never expected this would happen," The Indian Express quotes him as saying.

'Something fantastic'

Some argue that the boxer decided to turn professional and train in the UK because of the absence of world-class facilities and professional management in India.

The boxer has often been critical of the sport's management in India.

"There are so many things. If you see boxing affairs in India...there is no boxing federation right now and there are so many other reasons. When I came here [UK] to see the set up, they are all so professional. They all work step by step," he said.

The Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (AIBF) was suspended by amateur boxing's international body in 2012 after reports of "manipulation" in the IABF elections in 2012.

India's boxing affairs are currently overseen by an ad hoc team set up by the International Boxing Association.

Some pundits feel that Singh can't be blamed for choosing a professional career and it certainly doesn't mean that "he has turned his back on India".

"The jingoistic sections of our public and media are bound to holler. But I'm in Vijender's corner on this one," writes Shamya Dasgupta in The Economic Times.

He acknowledges that Vijender "inspired a generation of boys and girls, especially in Haryana [state], to take up boxing seriously".

"Yes, this could be start of something fantastic for Vijender, and Indian boxers on the whole. Why bring nationalism into it?" he asks.

But can the boxer become the next Pacquiao from India?

India's former professional boxer Raj Kumar Sangwan tells the Times of India that "Vijender can go a long way. He has the skills and boxing sense... but he needs to have more power and must be ready to be patient".

For Singh, his bouts will always be about inspiring his fans and fellow boxers.

"I am still a boxer. It shouldn't matter to them whether I am an amateur or a professional. I love the tricolor [Indian flag], and I want to see it go high in professional boxing too. That will be my aim," he told NDTV.

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