December 17, 2016 1:28:44 am
According to BoxRec, which keeps an exhaustive database of professional boxers from around the world, Tanzania’s Francis Cheka, 34, is the 52nd-ranked super middleweight (73-76 kg) in the world. He is also a former WBF world champion. The 31-year-old Vijender Singh, who is the reigning WBO Asia-Pacific champion, currently occupies the 54th rung in those ratings. It ought to be a very close bout on Saturday night at the Thyagraj Sports Complex in New Delhi then, right?
Wrong, is the odd-makers’ unanimous prediction. According to their estimate — and theirs are often more reliable indicators than what the promoters and announcers would proclaim at carefully choreographed staredowns — Vijender is the hot favourite to win the bout. According to the William Hill odds, for every Rs 33 bet on Vijender, one can only get Rs 1, whereas a similar amount on Cheka’s win can give you Rs 330.
Nevertheless, those who are hyping the bout up would want us to believe that Cheka is Vijender’s most accomplished boxer till date – a claim that has been made ahead of each of his previous fights. There is a grain of truth in it, though. Cheka’s “accomplishment” is not that he has held the WBF belt, which is low profile really — a WBF champion will have as much traction vis-a-vis a IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO champion as, say, the UP Gramin Cricket League winning team in front of IPL champs.
Cheka’s achievement is primarily in his experience and longevity: it’s his 16th year in pro boxing. And in his 43 fight career, Cheka has racked up 32 wins as against nine losses and two draws. He has fought — though lost — boxers with greater pro boxing pedigree than Vijender’s (7-0; 6 KOs). In 2013, he faced Fedor Chudinov, former WBA super middleweight champion from Russia, and retired after three rounds. Earlier in career, he had also taken on Robert Stieglitz of Germany, a two-time former WBO super middleweight champion.
However, all his 32 professional wins have come in Tanzania, and against Tanzanian boxers. Cheka has lost whenever there has been a foreigner in the opposite corner. None of those stats mattered, however, when he swaggered out onto the stage for the official weigh-in on Friday, dancing to hip-hop group Three 6 Mafia’s tunes. “We gon’ hit ‘em wit da left, hit ‘em wit da right; It’s a fight, it’s a fight…” the loudspeakers blared at the Thyagraj Stadium as a bare-torsoed Cheka swayed from side to side before placing himself on the machine. He came out 74 kg and a bit.
The DJ changed the track to “Singh is King” and Vijender marched out to a big applause. Unaffected by the crowd response and unaware of the lyrics, Cheka still broke out into a jig. The Indian’s weight was exactly 76. Cheka’s trainer unsuccessfully tried to make a fuss about it. Then came the staredown.
Vijender, his demeanour calm, stood a couple of inches taller than his more animated opponent as the promoter hoisted the the WBO Asia-Pacific belt above them. This is where it becomes a bit ludicrous. An African boxer fighting for the Asia-Pacific belt! But in the make-believe world of professional boxing — especially at this level — it best to brush such doubts aside as quickly as possible. While it’s usually Vijender who is the reluctant talker, it Cheka who left the stage the without saying much. “I will now talk in the ring,” he said through an interpreter, before rushing off to rehydrate himself. In halting English, Vijender too delivered the message. “My job is punching and I will do that tomorrow, this title isn’t going anywhere,” he said. And there are a good many reasons to believe him: the trend, the odds. Though, bookmakers have been wrong before. And never more so in living memory than in 2016.
The undercard: In 67kg category, Pardeep Kharera will be up against Scott Edwards of Australia. In the same weight category Deepak Tanwar will take on Sutriyono Bara Boys from Indonesia; In 61kg, Kuldeep Dhanda is pitted against Egy Rozten from Indonesia. Rajesh Kumar will take on Uganda’s Mubaraka Sseguya, who has 11 bouts with 40 rounds under his belt, with a 8 wins and 4 KO’s; In 95kg, Dharmender Grewal will take on Uganda’s Abasi Kyobe.
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