Through calluses and 'rotting bones', Vikas Krishan punches his way to the top


On Saturday evening, middleweight boxer Vikas Krishan Yadav shared a short Hindi couplet written by a friend on his Facebook page.

Unchai par dekhkar hairan hai bahut log Par kisi ne mere haath ke chhale nahi dekhe. (It amazes people to see me at the top, but no one sees the calluses on my hands)

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Vikas was definitely at the top. The 26-year-old had just won a gold medal in the men's middleweight section of the Commonwealth Games. The medal, awarded after 5-0 points decision over Cameroon's Wilfried Dieudonne marked him in the most rarefied company. Only one other Indian boxer before him - Mary Kom - has managed the golden double at the Asian and Commonwealth Games. And few boxers at the international level have ever had as much success across as many weight categories as Vikas had.

He won a bronze at the Youth Olympics, followed by a gold medal at the 2010 Asian Games as a lightweight (60kg) boxer. A few months later, he won a bronze - one of only four ever by an Indian - at the 2011 World Championships after making the jump to welterweight (69kg). And he now has a gold at middleweight.

It isn't just weight categories Vikas has skipped. Over the eight years of his senior international career, Vikas has switched effortlessly between avatars. He was the wonderkid of the sport when he broke into the scene in 2010. He was the calculating counterpuncher with a penchant for chess and a degree in law when he qualified for the 2012 Olympics. The version of Vikas in the ring at Gold Coast on Saturday might be the one with the purest pugilistic pedigree yet.

There was malice in his eyes and ill intent in his gloves as he dismantled Steven Donnelly in the semi-finals, stopping just short of knocking the durable Irishman out. There was quick silver in his feet as he left the Cameroonian Dieudonne punching at air in a unanimous 5-0 loss in the final.

It's a bit of a surprise the CWG gold came so late in his career. But it's also a timely win. "I don't think I would have been around for the next one," he says.

The gold was also important. It gives fresh impetus to a career that had seemingly followed the pattern of the sport in India over the last decade. In 2012, the same year that Vikas suffered a shock first round exit at the Olympics, the Federation found itself banned. Since then, both Vikas and Federation have found themselves in a state of limbo. Medals continued to be won fitfully but there was no way of building on those performances. Vikas even got married and had three kids by the time he was 25. Boxing didn't seem a particularly huge priority.

When Vikas lost in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics, both he and the sport in India were at their lowest point yet. "There's just so much of a gap between us and the others," Vikas had said ruefully then. His own career would sink even further. In 2017, after reaching the semi-finals of the Asian Championships, Vikas bizarrely decided to forfeit the match and head to the World Series of Boxing, a semi professional boxing league.

He might have been testing the new federation. Nevertheless, it was an unexpected decision. "No one really understands what's going on in Vikas' mind. He is his own person," a former CWG medal winner had surmised at the time.

That was the moment Vikas hit rock bottom. He was summoned to a hearing to explain his actions and threatened with suspension. "The bad news was coming thick and fast. He also suffered a painful wrist injury, known as avascular necrosis. It was as if his bone was rotting," says his orthopaedic surgeon and friend Dr. Vipin Madhogarhia.

"He decided he had had a horrible 2017 but was going to have a great 2018." Dr. Vipin Madhogarhia, Vikas Krishan's friend and orthopaedic surgeon

Vikas was eventually let off with a warning but he was broken. "He said he didn't want to box anymore," says Madhogarhia. It took many weeks of cajoling and motivating to get Vikas back to Patiala and even that seemed a losing battle. "You never knew when he would be feeling low and then I would be driving down from Delhi to Patiala to motivate him again."

And then, just like that, a switch turned. "He decided he had had a horrible 2017 but was going to have a great 2018," says Madhogarhia. He initially thought the boxer was just making small talk but it was anything but. In February, Vikas made his comeback at the Strandja Memorial Tournament, where he won gold and was also adjudged the best boxer.

Perhaps the notion that this version of Vikas might be the best but also the last is playing on his mind. Shortly before he left for the Games, Vikas told ESPN he was not sure how much longer he wanted to box. "I've been away my family for so many years. It's time to give some priority to my children too," he says. But until that decision is made, Vikas plans on making an impact in the amateur ranks.

"My daughter is starting to see me on TV. I'd like her to see that her father is winning."