Manchester: Just days away from his debut fight as a professional boxer, Vijender Singh, India's pride at amateur boxing, looks surprisingly calm as he sits quietly in a corner watching his mates battle it out in the ring of a makeshift boxing gym in an old industrial space in the heart of Manchester city.

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Boxer Vijender Singh during a training session in Manchester recently. Pic/Ruhi Khan
Boxer Vijender Singh during a training session in Manchester recently. Pic/Ruhi Khan

Yet the subconscious twitching of his fingers and a slow restless tapping of his feet signal the nervous storm that is raging in the boxers mind. His first pro fight in the hotly contested middleweight division will be this Saturday with the more experienced Sonny Whiting at Manchester Arena to a live audience of about seven thousand. Several thousands more will watch him online and on TV.

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"My strategy is to just go in the ring, maaro, bahut maaro aur (jeetke) aajao (just go in the ring, hit, hit very hard and come out a winner)," says Vijender with a straight face. Whiting who has a record of two wins from three fights and a knockout in the professional ranks is not impressed by Singh's fame. "I hear he is a superstar in India. But when I defeat him, it will send a brutal message back to India."

Feigning complete ignorance of his opponent's play, Singh simple shrugs, "I don't know who he is and I don't really care." A month with his new ward, trainer Lee Beard is already very impressed. "He works very hard and physically he can really punch."

To prove his point, Lee asks Singh to practise his punches with him in the ring. Singh does not disappoint him either. "See what I mean? He has a brilliant jab," Lee says satisfied. Though he is dressed in a BoxNation tee like many in the room and uses "hey man," "ya man" with an anglo twang a bit too often, this newly christened VJ wears his Indian identity on his sleeve in his mannerisms and mindset. And this Indian identity is also the sole factor that has introduced the nation of a billion people to a distant sport of professional boxing.

Singh's family and some of his friends will join him in Manchester before the big fight. His family has however never watched him fight — either live or on TV. "My wife absolutely refuses to do so too. So she will be here with me in my home, but I doubt she will come to the arena that day.
She just cannot see me being punched."