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Vijender Singh has become the world's highest ranked boxer in the middle weight (75 kg) category. For someone who has not struck gold in the biggest bouts, that number one ranking reflects an amazing consistency. And for a country that has traditionally not been able to sustain its boxers at a professional level, those who may be kept in the business of their sport even when amateur pursuits are exhausted, he has become the dream story that brings aspirants and followers to boxing. That is why rankings matter. (Though in the format of boxing, rankings are irrelevant, with bouts decided on draws of lots.)
That victory matters is written into 23-year-old Vijender's profile. He had, he once confessed, considered abandoning boxing when it appeared that he would not qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Of course, he finally did, and won India its first medal ever in boxing, a bronze. But that medal mattered for more than just his marketability and promise. It radically changed the narrative of Indian boxing. Young boxers often admit to being deeply conscious of the story of Gurcharan Singh — including Vijender, who says he cried that day he had lost a place in the semi-finals in the 2000 Sydney Games on a countback. Singh left the country for the anonymity of playing the boxing circuit in the US, leaving Indian boxers to wonder at how emblematic that Sydney tie could be.
Recently, a decision was taken to admit women boxers in the Olympics, giving hope to India's leading women boxers. As clusters of boxers, and thereby a boxing tradition, form in diverse parts of this country, boxing is fast becoming Indian sport's most enthralling reference for aspiration. Vijender has perhaps accelerated that process.
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