A key aspect to Vijender Singh’s success and stardom in the professional boxing circuit, is due to the backing of Infinity Optimal Solutions (IOS) and its CEO Neerav Tomar. The 32-year-old, who was a national level squash player himself, decided to promote boxing in the country, with Vijender being their first major signing back in 2005.
Speaking to us at the press conference for the announcement of Vijender’s double title fight against China’s Zulpikar Maimaitiali at ‘Battleground Asia’ in Mumbai, Neerav revealed the reasons why they focussed on boxing in the initial stages of their venture.
“We started IOS twelve years ago. Within the first four months, I and my partner Sanjeev Khandelwal, recognised that fight sports will be a huge draw in this country. You don’t need to build a huge ecosystem – you need a ring, it is an individual sport, and you can organise fights in different towns and cities. Keeping all those aspects in mind, we decided to zero down on boxing.
“Vijender (Singh) and IOS go back 12 years, near about its inception. On 15th September 2005, we signed Vijender and another 30 fighters. Our initial plan for him to turn professional was in 2009, a year after he won the bronze at Beijing, but it took more time. Finally in 2015, he turned pro and we opened up an entire camp.
When it comes to picking up the next generation of fighters, Neerav was keen on working with a few names, but will wait till their performances in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2018 Asian Games to take a call.
“We are not planning to go all out right now. We are choosy about whom we are signing up amongst the current crop of existing amateur fighters. There are few names that we want to work with, like Shiva Thapa, Vikas Krishan. We are going to see their performances in the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, and post that seek their opinion on going professional. We don’t want the shift to be premature. We are confident that a lot of medalists will come out of the upcoming games.
Another major boxer which IOS represents is Mary Kom. The 5-time World Champion is a well-known name in the country, but her conversion to a professional boxer is not as easy as Vijender’s, Neerav revealed. He also conceded that they are looking at female boxers, but it is still very early to start anything.
“We had a discussion with Mary (Kom), regarding her turning professional. Considering her position as a Member of Parliament and her duties as one, we decided against it. Coming to the women’s aspect of the sport, it is still early for us to start promoting women fighters. It will take a couple of years to build bigger shows and produce more fighters. At the end of the day, pro boxing is all about economics. It is a business after all. It is about the glitz, the glamour and the money behind it. Once all these factors fall in place, we can move on to producing premium women fighters.”
Vijender Singh has been a popular figure in India since his victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he became the first Indian boxer to win an Olympic medal. To promote an existing star and make him an even bigger one was a challenge and something IOS has achieved since Vijender’s first professional fight.
“In pro boxing, somebody like an Amir Khan was a big star before going professional, due to his silver medal at the Olympics. Once you go professional, it is upto the promoter to grow his stardom,” Neerav pointed out. “If Vijender did not have the right team to promote him, he would not have been as big of a star as he is now. Before he turned professional, he was quite dormant. He was not fighting amateur, nor was he doing anything in Bollywood.”
“If you are an athlete, or in his case a fighter, when you get back to being active, the media backs you because your stardom is already established. We were lucky that he was already a popular figure, but promoting him further and making him a global star is our ultimate aim. Boxing is a prominent sport in over 200 countries. We do not have an Indian global superstar in Tennis, Formula One, nor are we going to produce a footballing legend in the next 10 years, who will play for a big club like Manchester United. Vijender has a great opportunity to become the first truly Indian global superstar. He is already a well-recognised face in America and UK, because this sport has a global audience.”
With his last three fights happening in India, Vijender’s next few fights are likely to be based outside, in an attempt to mould Vijender into a global Indian star.
“After Mumbai, few of his fights will be outside the country,” said Neerav. “It could be in Dubai, UK, New Jersey or San Francisco because these are global Indian pockets. New Delhi was the first step, and now were are taking it to the next level with Mumbai. After this, we plan to go international because we have an international product here.”
The introduction of Super Boxing League in India has got plenty of hardcore boxing fans excited in the country, and the IOS CEO was also keen on seeing the response the tournament gets.
“The emergence of a Boxing league is good for the sport, for the fighters and the fans. Initially for the boxing fan in India, there was not much to follow, but now this league will help shed some light on the fighters. To create an ecosystem, we still need plenty more, majorly big stars. If a prominent name like Amir Khan is going to come, maybe for just one fight, then that won’t serve the purpose. If you don’t have the names, it is unlikely the product will grow. Sustaining the interest of the audience will be a big challenge.
Neerav is hoping ‘Battleground Asia’ will produce a huge turnout in Mumbai, and also attract the big names from the film and TV industry, along with some major sports stars to attend the fights. And a step they took to grab attention of the mainstream media, was to present Sachin Tendulkar with the first ticket.
“Cross-promotion helps a lot. For example, we have presented Sachin Tendulkar with the first ticket of the event. He is a mass hero, therefore this video will be all over social media, and attract attention. And Sachin himself has crores of followers, so they get will get inspired when they see him going for Vijender’s fights. We do plan to have the big stars from several fields around the ring. To have all the ‘Khans’ around the ring will be awesome.”
Vijender Singh vs Zulpikar Maimiatiali is set to take place at the NSCI Dome, Mumbai on August 5. For more on ‘Battleground Asia’, click here!