Rejected by India, accepted by Australia: The story of Pro-boxing star Pradeep Singh Sihag
Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh’s three-bout unbeaten knockout run has created a positive uproar within the national and international boxing communities. However, he is not the first Indian born boxer to mingle with the world’s elite.
Pradeep Singh Sihag, might not be a household name in India, but his exploits within the sport has seen him become a popular figure in Australia. Better known as the ‘Indian Warrior’, Sihag was rejected by the Indian junior national boxing team, which forced him to look for options abroad.
He said, “I have represented India four times, both in the Commonwealth Youth Games and the YMCA Games. However, I left the country because there was too much politics in sports there. I have come to another country, where people recognise my talent, and I call Australia my home.”
Currently ranked in the world top 10 in his weight category, Sihag has represented India four times at the junior level. The 29-year old’s international snub also came around the same time.
Days prior to the 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games, he was removed from the team due to a cataract operation. Doctors who conducted the surgery gave Sihag the green signal to participate in the event. However, the sport’s administrators reiterated that a boxer with surgery couldn’t participate. He was at the airport, but decided not to participate. He added, “After I decided not to go the only thing I could think about was not participating in the event. I couldn’t sleep.”
Born in Sisai, Haryana, Sihag left his village for Australia, five days after the incident, hoping to achieve his boxing dream. He said, “I couldn’t do it then, but I decided that I will pursue my career outside India as it had lesser politics and more opportunities.”
His junior record too was splendid. During his time in India, Sihag won the 2003 All India junior boxing Championship and won silver at the 2004 YMCA Games.
Upon arriving in Australia, he spent the first few days on the streets, before joining the construction industry. Not knowing how to climb the amateur hierarchy there, he wandered the streets looking for potential boxing centres. It is around this time that Sihag found a gym near a construction site, he was working in. He said, “I asked one of the boxers inside whether, he knows who the Coach was. They directed me towards Murray Thomson.”
Tryst with pro-boxing
Thomson met with Sihag and immediately asked one of the boxers to suit up and fight him. Impressed with his punching style and accuracy, Thomson immediately roped him in. Sihag said, “Eye surgery is irrelevant in boxing, it doesn’t affect any rules one bit.” He then realised that his axing from the Commonwealth Games squad, could’ve been part of a bigger plan.
Within a year, Thomson and Sihag charted a journey, which would see the former turn professional in 2005. At the age of 18, he became India’s only pro-boxer at the time as he did not attain full Australia citizenship then. He said, “My father was a national middleweight champion in India. I’m just keeping my family name high and indulging in my passion,”
In 2006, he was awarded the “Best Boxer” award, the highest recognition for the sport in Australia.
Now, he is one of the most successful boxers in the country’s history. Sihag lifted the IPBO, PABA, OPBF and WBC middleweight titles. His current record speaks volumes of the Haryana born boxer’s exponential rise in Australia. Out of his 23 bouts, Sihag has won 18 fights, half of which have come via knockouts.
The Oscar dela Hoya inspired pugilist’s herculean rise within Australia’s boxing hierarchy also saw him participating in the top rated boxing show, “The Contender”. He said, “It was a 12-part series and I had fun during my time over there. “
Now settled in Melbourne, Sihag is making close to $ 3 million a year. On being asked whether he would ever like to represent India. He said, “I am proud to be from that country and there are no two ways about it. However, this is my new home. As you know professionals cannot take part in such events. I have settled down in Melbourne with my wife Samantha. So I will represent Australia.”
Be it administrative ignorance, or basic politics, India lost one of world boxing’s finest talents due to sheer ignorance.