Nine months after he signed a multi-year professional boxing contract with USA-based boxing promotion Top Rank, Vikas Krishan is taking a hiatus and making a return to Olympic boxing. The 27-year-old is currently training as part of the national camp at the National Institute of Sport in Patiala as he bids to qualify for a third Olympic Games.
Krishan had taken part in and won two professional bouts, beating Noah Kidd by unanimous decision in his latest contest in April this year. His signing by Top Rank in November last year was one of the biggest moves made by a professional boxer in India. While he was expected to participate in at least one more bout this year, a back injury forced him to cut short his USA stint. "I had one more fight in my contract with Top Rank this year. I was supposed to fight on the same card as (fellow Indian amateur-turned-professional) Vijender Singh in July, but I suffered a stress fracture in my back. Because of that, I returned to India last month and got it treated," says Krishan.
While it appears that Krishan's professional stint was surprisingly short-lived, he insists he had his reasons to return. Professional boxers have usually been denied permission to compete at the Olympic games, but at the Rio Olympics four years ago, there had been an option for pros to earn a place through the WSB and APB qualifying tournament. Krishan had hoped to qualify through the same route himself next year. However, with international body AIBA being barred from conducting qualification tournaments for the Olympics, that option was no longer available. While professional boxers can still take part in the Olympics, they will have to qualify through the continental or world qualifiers to be held next year. "I can't qualify as a professional. So I have to try to qualify as an amateur fighter only. While I would have wanted to take part in my third professional fight, I was also determined that I had to take part in the Olympics. When I signed my contract with Top Rank, I made it clear to them that my priority would be to take part in the Olympics," says Krishan.
And so, Krishan made his journey back to India. "I was staying in a hotel in Newark for half a year and now I'm back at the hostel at NIS Patiala, where I've stayed for the last ten years," he jokes.
While the 27-year-old has plenty of pedigree, with a bronze at the World Championships and gold medals at the 2010 Asian Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games, he won't be able to walk into the Indian team. Not only is his back injury just healed, he has also come down with a viral flu that's left him unable to train over the past few days.
"Vikas joined the camp about one month ago. But he's still not got back to complete fitness. I expect him to be back to full fitness in a few week's time," says technical director Santiago Nieva.
Nieva expects Krishan to drop down from the middleweight division -- in which he won the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold -- to the 69 kg welterweight category. Krishan has not competed as a welterweight in the amateurs since the 2012 Olympics, but had shifted to that division during his brief stint as a professional.
Even there, Krishan will have to wait his turn, as Duryodhan Singh Negi will be representing India at the 2019 World Championships next month. While there is no Olympic qualification on the line, Negi will be considered to be first in line to take part in the Olympic qualifiers next year should he do well at the Worlds. "As of now, it is Duryodhan Negi who will be representing India in the 69 kg category. If Negi wins a medal at the World Championships, he will be the automatic choice to take part in the Olympic qualifier next year," Nieva says.
Krishan will only have an opportunity to make his comeback should Negi return without a medal. "If there is no medal, then we will hold trials in November and Vikas will have to come through them if he wants to make the team for the Olympic qualifiers," Nieva says.
Krishan, though, is optimistic about his chances, and also wiser about his professional journey. "It's a lot harder to make it as a professional than as an amateur fighter. You can be a really good boxer but if you are not careful, you can just get knocked out with one punch. The gloves are smaller so there's no real place to hide. There isn't a lot of support from a team either. Everything, you have to manage on your own," he says.
This isn't to say he has ruled out his options in the professional ranks. He still talks regularly with his American coach, Wally Moses over Whatsapp and is hopeful he can return at some point. That will have to be after the Tokyo Games though. "I still think I can win a medal at the Olympics. That's my number one goal," he says.