Try as hard as you may, it’s difficult not to wonder if the man Vijender Singh is taking on in his first professional title fight on Saturday, could be named more apt. Kerry Hope. The 34-year Australian comes into this fight hoping to revive a stagnant career — it’s been 8 months since his last major bout. He is hoping the judges play fair, if it is not a knock-out win for either. He is hoping to get one last shot at a world title. He is hoping for a second wind to his career.
He is hoping to upset the Vijender juggernaut.
“I have been professional for 12 years and I have boxed at all levels. But it’s nice to be back on television screens. I haven’t boxed in front of a live audience, nation-wide, for some time now. But, it don’t matter. I am here, and I am positive I can upset Vijender,” Hope told ScoopWhoop in an interaction before the title fight.
Born in Wales, Hope started with karate as a four-year old before moving on to boxing. He has 10 years experience as an amateur, before he turned pro and put together a strong early run of wins, not unlike Vijender. His record was 11-0 before his first defeat. He even held the more prestigious European middleweight title in 2012. But late in his career he has been restricted to overseas fights.
It is not normal for boxers to admit weakness but you can sense a hint of desperation in Hope’s voice when he talks about the importance of his fight:
“It’s been a bit frustrating because getting fights in Australia has been a bit difficult. I have called some big names in Australia and UK, but nothing came along. But this fight has come along and hopefully helps me land something bigger,” says Hope.
In a way, fighting Vijender might be a blessing for him then in terms of the the publicity.
“Yeah, I have said before that the expectations that have been placed on his shoulders is huge. When you have got big expectations from a big nation, it can’t be easy coming up against an experienced fighter like me,” says Hope.
“I know pro-boxing is not big in India and you guys are going to give all the love to him because he is one of your big guys. But I know what’s it like to dig deep. It’s pretty daunting, these title fights and I have been here before so I’ll know how to handle a given situation better.”
But at 34, this might be Hope’s last real shot at sustaining himself on the big stage. Win here, he could demand for a bigger title fight. Lose — then it’s bound to be a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ He is aware of that but, having been on the receiving end of dodgy decisions before, he wants the fight to be judged fairly.
“At this stage of my career, I need to win. I really just hope it’s a fair decision, me being the away fighter. I have been in overseas fights before and I have some losses on my record that should not be there. I won’t be the first, I won’t be the last to get an unfair decision. So I know what it takes to win here in India.“
With a current record of 23-7, the Aussie southpaw is Vijender’s toughest opponent yet. And he knows it. Switching to a far more confident tone when is talking about the fight itself, he says:
“They [Vijender’s first six opponents] don’t get close, to be honest with you. On a scale of one to 10, he has been fighting 1’s and I am a 10! But he’s going to get at this stage of his career, getting introduced to the professional arena. It’s a big jump of levels for him against me. It’s gonna be interesting to see what he is made of,”
“I am very positive about my chances, with the team surrounding me so that we can go the lion’s den and get back what we want — the title.”
While it is easy to dismiss the pre-bout talks as being part of the razzmatazz that is usually associated with a title fight — who does not remember Muhammad Ali reciting those perfectly rehearsed lines ahead of a big fight? — Kerry Hope, in his words and by his record, is a man on a mission in India. He has a reputation for not ‘playing by the script’ — as a figure of speech — in his previous overseas fights and has recorded upsets before.
And he knows what he is up against.
“I have come to India to fight and he’s got to impress the crowd. Let’s see how big his balls are, eh?” says hope in that inimitable Australian accent.
We will, indeed.