In Kerry Hope’s corner, a man who has been waiting for Vijender Singh to show up

A few months back, when Gareth Williams first learned that prizefighter Kerry Hope was being approached by Vijender Singh’s promoters for a bout in Delhi, he immediately jumped at the offer. While Hope didn’t have much of an idea about his Indian opponent, his coach Williams was very familiar with the name. “I heard who Kerry was going to be fighting and I went ‘Yup we will take the fight.’ I had already done my homework on Vijender a long time back,” says Williams, in Delhi, ahead of Saturday’s WBO Asia Pacific super middleweight title fight. That homework had been done when Williams, now 40, was a coach with the Australian Olympic boxing unit. He had joined the team back in 2009, not long after Vijender had won the World Championship bronze medal to go along with his Olympic medal of the same colour.
Consistent performances had taken the Indian to the No.1 on the AIBA middleweight rankings and Williams was keen to see what the Indian was all about. “My first chance to get to see him was in Cuba where the Indian and Australian teams were to train and compete with the Cuban national team. But while the entire Indian squad was there, Vijender wasn’t. “I met (Indian national coach) Gurbax Sandhu in Cuba. I got along very well with him. I remember coach Sandhu saying that Vijender hadn’t travelled to Cuba because the tournament wasn’t an AIBA approved event,” says Williams.
Another opportunity would come up a couple of years later. Vijender was participating in the Arafura Games that were held in Darwin, Australia. Hoping to pit an Australian in the same category, Williams had Damien Hooper sign up for the tournament as well. Once again Vijender would be elusive.
“Vijender was still rated one of the top amateur boxers in the world at that point of time so of course I wanted to test out Damien against him. Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Vijender lost to a Kiwi boxer (Sam Rapira) in the semifinals. It was a fight he shouldn’t have lost but that’s boxing. Damien won the final but I wanted to see him fight Vijender,” says Williams. The Australian coach wanted to see if his plans for the Indian would have worked. For while Vijender was undoubtedly a fine amateur boxer, Williams felt there were weaknesses in his game he could have Hooper target. “I knew that he was ranked the best amateur boxer in the world but I also knew that he hadn’t won an Olympic or World Championship gold. I watched a lot of videos of his. He was very good in some areas. He had very skilled footwork. He was good at distance and he had a solid punch. He wasn’t the best at cutting off the ring though. I also felt that if he was put under constant pressure, he will make mistakes,” he says. Williams would leave the Australian Olympic boxing setup later that year to concentrate on running his own boxing gym – the Boxing Shop – in Brisbane.

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