As he heads into his final fight of what will be his fifth year as a professional boxer, Vijender Singh is already looking towards his sixth in 2020. "I'm looking to winning a world title in 2020," says Vijender, who will be taking on Ghana's Charles Adamu in a super middleweight contest at Dubai's Caesers Palace on Friday evening.
Vijender has been training with his coach Lee Beard in Manchester over the past seven weeks and is utterly confident about his prospects. "I'm always looking to improve myself," he says. "But I've only got better since I started as a professional. I've had an excellent training camp and am very well prepared. I've had eight really good sparring sessions."
It's not unlikely that he will get the equivalent of another workout against Adamu. It isn't the greatest look for the prospective competitive quality of a contest that Adamu was announced as Vijender's opponent all of four days before the scheduled 10-round contest.
At first glance, it seems like it's possible to argue Adamu isn't necessarily the mook in this contest. The Ghanaian has 33 wins in 47 professional fight under his belt -- not the worst boxing record out there. He will certainly be the most experienced opponent Vijender has faced as a professional. It's also a fact that he has twice held the Commonwealth belt at super middleweight and has fought boxers of the highest quality in Billy Joe Saunders, Rocky Fielding, George Groves and Carl Froch -- all of whom have held world titles at super middleweight.
But it's also fair to say that 'experience' in the 42-year-old Adamu's case appears a polite way of suggesting 'a bit long in the tooth'. He might have fought his first professional fight back in 2001, when Vijender wasn't even out of the juniors as an amateur, but his thoroughbred days are long behind him.
Adamu has won all of one of his past five fights -- and that against an opponent who had a record of 19-31-0. Adamu's two British Commonwealth titles too aren't quite what they seem. While the belt is a prestigious no doubt -- having being held by Groves, Froch and Fielding, among others -- Adamu last held the title a decade back in November 2009. And while he has fought some top-class competition, he has always come on the wrong side of those matches -- being stopped by Saunders and Groves and losing wide decisions to Froch and Fielding.
Matchmaking in professional boxing is as old as the sport itself and an accepted part of the trade. All promoters look to pair up their fighters with the opponent who they feel will provide the most secure foothold in the climb up the professional ladder. Indeed, when Vijender -- the only Indian men's boxer to medal at the Olympics -- began his professional career in 2015, he too started out facing absolute beginners, then jobbers with steadily improving abilities.
In Kerry Hope (seventh fight) and Francis Cheka (eighth fight), Vijender fought boxers who once were challengers to the champions or perhaps even winners themselves. The second of those bouts was fought in December 2016. Since then, though, Vijender's pursuit of his stated goal -- a world title -- has been less a bold march through the ranks and more a frustrating plod on a treadmill.
"[Charles Adamu] has fought some big names but he's not fast. I'll just slow him down with body punches and then knock him out quickly." Vijender Singh
He was completely inactive through 2018 after splitting up from his UK-based promoter. There was even a brief, unsuccessful flirtation with politics before he decided to stick to boxing. He eventually signed with Top Rank promotions and finally fought in July this year, knocking out journeyman Mike Snider (13-5-3).
Vijender is expected to repeat that performance against Adamu. While the fight is scheduled for 10 rounds, he certainly hopes it won't go the distance. "He has fought some big names but he's not fast," says Vijender. "I'll just slow him down with body punches and then knock him out quickly." Indeed, the only challenge for the Indian is whether he gets the stoppage or not. For while Adamu is slow and easy to hit, he hasn't lost the ability to soak up punishment -- just two of his 14 losses have come by way of knockout.
He can't settle for anything less than that. For while Adamu is in the final stretch of his career, time is quickly catching up with Vijender as well. He turned 35 this year, an age when most boxers would feel their best years are past them. While he has a couple of minor regional belts, Vijender hasn't even been able to come anywhere close to earning a title shot at the world level. At Dubai, he is still on the undercard of the main event that is a Jack Catterall vs Timo Shwarzkopf contest at super lightweight.
Indeed, the Ghanaian's function in Friday's contest is quite literally to serve as a punching bag - just another notch in Vijender's record and a way to pad up his resume before possibly bigger prizes that he hopes await him next year. "My record should be good if I have to get good fights," says Vijender.