Mumbai, Rutvick Mehta: With a knockout victory in your first professional bout, it was a dream start, wasn’t it? How did you feel after landing that knockout punch?
There was a lot of responsibility on me. It was my first professional bout. My last fight was in Scotland, and it was a long time ago. So, I was entering the ring after a big gap. It’s never easy for me. I knew that if I do well in pro boxing, I was 100 per cent sure that the other boxers who are representing India at the amateur level will get inspired to join pro boxing. So, more than anything else, I’m really happy about that. I had a lot of burden on my shoulders. I had to win at any cost. I just told myself, ‘Go and finish the fight’.
Right from the time you walked into the ring at the backdrop of Punjabi songs, you looked confident. What was the reason for that confidence?
The reason was simple: I wanted to win at any cost. I wanted to win it for myself, my country and my fellow boxers. I had no other option, honestly. Once I entered the ring, all my focus was on finishing my opponent. Be it the first round or the fourth round, I just wanted to knock him out. I also got confidence from the people that were around me, all the people back in India that were backing me. I could sense the support flowing in. So I wanted to do it for all of them.
It looked an easy fight from the outside. Did you feel the same?
Look, I had experience, because I’ve played so many international tournaments. He (Sonny Whiting) was only three or four fights old at the pro level. But pro level is totally different. That was the only reason I was a bit unsure of what was going to happen. As the fight began, I realised the difference between professional and amateur boxing. A punch at the pro level hits you hard, and for real. At the amateur level, it involves a lot of the glove and its foam. So, I was a bit tactical that way, because I knew that when I would hit him, it would stay hit.
What was going through your mind as you entered the ring?
Bas, bhagwan ko yaad kar raha tha (I was remembering God). That gives me the biggest strength. I then thought about my parents, my family and how they would want me to win as I entered the ring. That’s it.
A lot of people questioned your move of becoming pro. Had you lost your first fight, those noises would’ve only grown. Was there an added pressure on you to silence them?
No, I didn’t take that kind of pressure. Whenever you do something new, the toughest part is the beginning. Now that I’ve started on this road, it will become easier for the upcoming boxers. Even the Haryana police and high court have now given permission for boxers to turn professional. After all, boxing is our livelihood, and everything else comes after that. So my new beginning has opened the door for many boxers now.
As for criticism, I enjoy it when people criticise me. I gives me a real push from within. I tell them, ‘Thank you so much that you criticise me, but I will keep walking ahead and believing in myself’.
You’ve kept talking about how professional boxing is totally different from amateur boxing. What were the things you learnt from your first fight?
I realised that when a punch lands, it hits you real hard. Tare dikhte hai (You see stars). So you have to punch tactically, and be good defensively. But I think the biggest lessons I learnt were in those few minutes in the ring yesterday (Saturday). I get hurt so many times during training. I have to keep learning, how to go about my footwork, how to enter the ring, how to tie the band-aide. Even those styles in pro boxing are very different. So I’m still learning. I’ve taken one step. There’s a long way to go. Ek bahut lamba rasta hai sajane ka (There’s a long road to decorate).
There was a lot of hype and interest here in India before your first bout. Are you confident that you can sustain that?
Of course. My job is to perform well, box well. I will just keep doing my work. The rest, my friends, fans and supporters are always there with me. I want to thank them all, and I want them to support me the same way in my next fight.
Your next fight is on October 30. One assumes it will be a tougher challenge…
Yes, the next fight will surely be tougher. It will slowly get tougher now. And it will depend on me how to make it easy.
Any plans of celebrating the victory?
No. Today (Sunday) is my rest day. I haven’t done anything. I haven’t gone shopping, nothing. From tomorrow (Monday), I’m back to training.