I've seen cricket matches live from overcrowded stadiums. I have witnessed hockey matches from near empty stands. I've even had the good fortune to witness the first F1 race in India at the gigantic Buddh International Circuit. Little did I know that I'd finally feel my nerves pulsating at the considerably smaller and relatively unknown Thyagaraj Stadium in a certain cranny of the national capital.
July 16, 2016, saw Vijender Singh become the WBO Asia Pacific Super Middleweight Champion in front of his home crowd. But for me, that's not even the best part.
I had gone to the venue on the eve of the event just to soak in the feel of the epic match that was about to go down the next day. The setup was fancy, at least for Thyagaraj Stadium that hasn't seen an event of this scale in the longest time. The event team looked frenzied, the posters looked glamorous and the security team prepared. The excitement in the air was palpable.
And yet, in all honesty, I did not expect the event to explode the way it did!
The main event of the night, Vijender Singh (India) vs Kerry Hope (Australia), was scheduled to start post 9 pm. But the way spectators started swarming the stadium premises right from 4 pm onward got me a little surprised and confused! What piqued my interest furthermore was the fact that female spectators were also out there in full force, elbowing their way ahead in the queue. I don't mean to be sexist, but you gotta realise it's boxing we're talking here. A sport that even Delhi men would not watch on a free VIP pass on a Sunday evening.
However, all my doubts were put to rest when the full house at the Thyagaraj Stadium not just waited patiently for the main event of the night, but also enjoyed and cheered for the undercard fights for little over 5 hours.
This, when the fights were far from engaging, the entries far from dramatic and results, pretty much expected. And then, the celebs started pouring in. Right from the team of Roadies (Raghu, Rajiv, Rannvijay Singh, Neha Dhupia and Karan Kundra) to actor Randeep Hooda and politicians like Vijay Goel, Rajeev Shukla & even Rahul Gandhi, the who's who of India was present at the venue.
However, the real deal began when the Indian cricketers made a beeline to the venue to cheer the Indian boxing sensation, Vijender Singh.
Names like Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Mohammad Azharuddin were in attendance, but the crowd had reserved its biggest cheer for someone else.
When the Olympic Bronze medalist, boxer Mary Kom, made her way to the ring, the stadium exploded.
I've seen Sachin Tendulkar play and crowds cheer for him. But the decibel level at the Thyagaraj Stadium at Mary Kom's entry was something unreal.
I can understand that muscle-pounding-muscle can get you pumped up. I can understand the rushing adrenaline in the run up to the most coveted event of the night. I can understand the electrifying atmosphere contributing to it.
What I cannot fathom is the goosebumps which the entire stadium felt when a female boxer took stage, in a country where cricket is supposed to be a religion.
I'll not even go in the details of what happened when Vijender Singh's entry reduced the other celebrities (including our star cricketers) to mere fanboys. I won't discuss how each blow that Singh landed or took brought the roof of the stadium down. I won't tell you how many spectators broke into tears once the laborious 10 rounds of physical tussle ended in a sweet victory for India.
All I can tell you at the moment is; it's heartening to see such massive participation and appreciation for a sport which was only limited to the interiors of Haryana and North East a few years ago. For this one single event and the hysteria around it has proved:
India is more than ready not just for boxing, but any given sport!