Some months back, my brain encircled and ensorcelled by an inflammatory barrier -- what feels like a wall between the outside world and those cognitive centers meant to process it -- I gave up on writing for a time. And even paying attention to certain sports and films -- basically, anything audiovisual that would, in recalling sharper moments, remind me how perversely fucked the present was.
My return is prompted neither by cognitive improvement nor some fun threesome free agent action (if you don't sign up for The Athletic's boxing package, they will shoot that dog, I've been told).
No, it's the background of the above-pictured pug -- Indian super-middleweight Vijender Singh -- whose tonsorial choice (Backstreet Boy by way of BP oil spill) barely registers on a CV far crazier than I expected when I contacted Top Rank about him a week ago.
What I already knew: Singh is 10-0, but he turns 34 in October. He can work with Freddie Roach for years (he's been with him for two already), but he'll never be great. He's just the Indian version of Ryota Murata and Zou Shiming -- accomplished amateurs who turned pro too late and whom Top Rank signed to open up their nations for business (Japan and China, respectively).
Murata, until he magically found a body attack and left hook Friday in his fake-belt title bout, has historically been tongue depressor-stiff. Zou, never quite polished, lost vision in his left eye after a 2017 bout and hasn't fought since. But Bob Arum now has a nice pipeline of game Japanese gents from the Teiken stable in Tokyo for his ESPN cards, so that part worked out.
A week ago, I asked someone at Top Rank whether, in the interval between Singh's Saturday bout in Newark and whatever follows it, I could hang with Singh and watch Bollywood flicks with him.
With utter naivete, I figured I'd need that fluffy material. Er, naw...
Singh: He comes from the northern Indian state of Haryani, whose largest city, Faridabad, is 17-mile commuter-train away from New Delhi. It's the locale's secondary status, in fact, that led producers of the country's "The Office" adaptation -- which debuted last year -- to locate the "Wilkins Chawla" paper company there (a near-must-stream, if only for the faithfulness of the Jim, Pam and Dwight characters -- Amit, Pammi and Mishra -- icons of our lost Aughts whose tales I wanted to follow again from the start).
But Haryana is more than a Subcontinental Scranton -- its neighborhood of Bhiwani is called "Little Cuba" for its production of boxers, including Singh and three of his 2008 Olympian teammates. The rural, agrarian town had five fighting academies at one time and women pupils from the start.
Also, in an otherwise pug-indifferent populace: Bollywood did give top amateur assassin Mary Kom the Priyanka Chopra-treatment a half-decade ago, and if the representations are over the top, surely, they're no more so than those in "Million Dollar Baby," "Creed II," and "Whiplash" (which is more of a boxing film than anything else Miles Teller has done, if you really think about it):
That brings us back to Singh, the only man who ever eyed Mark McGrath's tresses and thought, Yes -- but what if were more like a Medieval flail?
Because his story is far more twisted and interesting than my humor. Singh is the son of a bus driver who attained a university degree and worked as a policeman while training for the Olympics -- during which time he also modeled for magazines, leaving that professional option open if the fisticuff-stuff broke the wrong way.
Which it nearly did -- years after Singh won his bronze medal and attained national fame, via a confounding incident worth the sort of deep exploration ESPN-Top Rank seems unlikely to desire (but please prove me wrong; also, this would be a hell of a sports doc).
Spring 2013. Police in the state of Punjab raid the house of a Canadian-Indian drug dealer whose alias is Ruby. The seizure: 26 kilos of heroin -- worth about $19 million. Near the house: a car registered to Singh's wife, Archana. Singh himself is said to be in Mumbai, 1,700 miles south.
Then things get weirder. The Punjab police arrest Singh's sparring partner Ram Singh (don't let the surnames distract you), and Ram concedes to cops that he and Vijender both used heroin provided by Ruby. The police, without disclosing any evidence, claim Vijender took dope 12 times exactly. Then they raid the sparring partner's brother-in-law's house -- where they find five kilos of meth.
Meanwhile, another Vijender sparring partner, Dinesh, claims the Punjab cops framed Vijender -- that the cops deposited Vijender's wife's car at the scene.
Please recall that during this period, Vijender himself is a policeman.
After a full month, the country's sports minister asks its anti-doping agency to test Vijender for recreational drug use -- although instead of taking a hair sample, which might yet contain evidence of past indiscretions, the agency asks for blood and urine only (one account suggests the agency didn't have the tools needed for hair analysis, which strains credulity on numerous levels).
Finally, almost three months after the raid on Ruby, and once his non-drug-test-test comes back clean, Vijender gives an exclusive interview to the Press Trust of India (their version of the AP or Reuters).
He sounds more humble than defiant-- but there's an odd lack of protestation for someone who really never disproved any allegations (although unlike others, he was never arrested, and even if he had been, the Ministry of Sport publicly offered to send him to rehab for help in a truly graceful national gesture).
Vijender: "Every incident, good or bad, teaches you something...I won’t ever be as casually friendly with anyone as I used to be. I won’t ever leave my car keys or my mobile phone with anybody. I have become wary of people, which is quite natural given what I went through...
"May be the TV channels love me a lot -- that’s why they kept showing me for so long. It’s okay. There is a price to pay if you are famous."
Either he never did anything wrong, in which case that last line sounds innocent and generous, given the widespread speculation about him. Or he was never quite forthright and that last line is his justification -- stars do what they want -- then you gawk at us -- then we go back to our thing -- so the cycle continues.
You're the Press Trust of India, after all -- who'd know this pattern of apotheosis, apoplexy and apology better than you?
Because the tale wasn't complicated enough, Singh ran for a seat in the lower house of India's parliament earlier this year and lost -- meanwhile, the aforementioned kick-ass Mary Kom was named to the upper house.
Singh's alliance with Top Rank is his cash-out before he gets hurt. Top Rank, in exchange, wants just one Singh-inspired Himalayan wonder; consider that Pacman hails from the Philippines -- or a country 1/20th India's size.
Singh's buried on the Newark undercard Saturday (its headliner is returning native and featherweight prospect Shakur Stevenson). On Wednesday, Singh held a meet-and-greet at the Piggyback Bar in Jersey City. Most of his compatriots had already filed out of such establishments for the day, following India's deflating Cricket World Cup semifinal loss.
"My blood boils when everybody goes gaga over cricket," Singh told the BBC 11 years ago, when he was just 22. He felt his compatriots weren't paying his efforts in such a brutal sport enough heed.
One decade -- and a bronze medal, drug scandal and election loss -- later, Singh seems to be calibrating just how much attention he actually wants. And/or needs.
Are you deciding how strong of an impression you want to make in your hot-summer-in-the-city? Try -- and this is real -- Vijender Singh's fragrances -- Knockout for Him or Knockout for Her.
Already in possession of a surfeit of scents, I'm gonna pass on Singh's signature perfumery, especially as it comes in a basic package. I'm far more likely to blind-buy Reyane's Fight Club Marines, knowing it may smell of unaccounted-for diesel emissions but will still look cool on my desk (see the image to the right).
Once upon a time, Vijender Singh walked out to the song "Singh is Kinng" from a film starring his famous actor friend Akshay Kumar. It's not bad, as ring entrance songs go:
And yet I so badly want instead for Singh to walk out to the hypnotic, entrancing film tracks I can't stop playing -- "Marana Mass" and "Rangamma Mangamma" (although the latter film treats deafness in the retrograde way "Mr. Magoo" did blindness).
And yeah, I should probably do a real interview regarding the dirty-cop-stuff at some point. Or Hauser should. I dunno. I feel like this is about as far as I've got energy or inclination to go. So what? So, let's dance!