Sikh starlet Sanjeev Singh Sahota has the welcome responsibility of delivering a whole new audience to the sport of boxing, writes Glynn Evans.
The 25 year old light-welter from Emerson Park, Essex – – unbeaten in three – is one of the first fighters from Punjabi origin to make an impact within the paid brigade and his community seem keen to share his journey to title contention, every step of the way.
‘On Saturday, I predict there’ll be more Sikhs at a British boxing venue than there’s ever been before!’ says ‘the multi-lingual Triple S’ who faces grizzled Newark circuit fighter Fonz Alexander over four rounds on the BoxNation televised event from Harrow Leisure Centre.
‘I’ve sold over 230 tickets and a good 80% of those are to British Asians. There are no other Sikh boxers so they focus on me. They’re coming from Manchester, Birmingham, Coventry, Spain …..everywhere.’
‘I’m getting a lot of attention within my community and it’s growing with every win. There’s a lot of press releases in the Indian papers, I’ve been on the Sikh tv channel, several radio stations and even feature in the Spanish press. There’s huge pressure but I’m going to deliver on it.’
Trained by Dom Negus and Lennie Butcher at the Five Star facility in Romford, the smokin’ Injun is fluent in English, Punjabi and Spanish, having passed his teenage years in Murcia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.
‘I’m starting to get fan mail and social media messages from all over Britain, Spain and India; requests for advice on diets, techniques, training tips. It’s great to be a role model so early in my career. I’ll do anything I can to encourage kids off the streets and into sport.’
After bashing up a Latvian and a Croatian on home soil, smouldering Sanjeev significantly expanded his fan base last time out, whilst starring on the undercard of Olympic medallist Vijender Singh’s triumphant Indian homecoming in mid July.
Confronted by previously unbeaten home hero Vikas Kumar, ‘SSS’ registered an impressive four round shut out at the Thyagaraj Stadium in Delhi.
‘India was just amazing. The stadium had about a 9,000 capacity and was a complete sell-out and the noise the fans made was like a Vegas fight,’ recalls the Spartan front foot pressure fighter.
‘It was a nine hour flight, different food, different air. The Stadium was indoors but it was very warm and humid, the hottest time of the year over there.
‘We went out five days before the fight and I was very focussed. It was a big opportunity and a big stage for me. I treat every fight as a world title fight.
‘I didn’t get the best reception as I walked to the ring because my opponent was an unbeaten state champion. The kid was strong but I won the fight and won over the public. Afterwards I had great feedback and everyone wanted photos. I felt like a world champ. It really helped that I could speak the lingo!
‘About 20 fans and friends came over from the UK and other family joined us who are already over there. Afterwards I got to enjoy time with them and appreciate some real Indian grub!
‘It was a historic event not just in Indian boxing but in Indian sport and I was honoured to be a part of it. Vijender is building a great fan base. I never look beyond my next fight but, of course, it would be fantastic to return some day.’
The Harrow gig represents the ultra dedicated Singh’s fourth public airing since joining the profession in late April. However, he concedes that, due to a nominal amateur career over in Spain, the real development takes place behind closed doors at the gymnasium.
He says: ‘Right now, I have hardly any life away from boxing. But I won’t ever allow myself to lose a fight because I didn’t diet or train right. I only ever want to concede if the opponent was the better man.
‘I constantly work on everything; fitness, speed, power, head movement. I’ve developed so much over the past six months yet there’s still so much more to learn.’
Having previously mucked in at the family’s restaurants, young Sanj enjoys copious sponsorship – St Matthews Health Care, Benning Construction, Pro Nutrition, Hindustani Foods and East End Foods all chip in – which accords him the luxury of focussing full time on his ring apprenticeship.
‘For Saturday, I’ve had an eight week camp – four in Spain, four in Essex – and it’s like I’m training for a 10 round fight!’ he disclosed.
‘The Spanish sparring – including (ex IBF super-bantam champ) ‘Kiko’ Martinez – is always very tough, the British spars are more technical. I benefit from the best of both. I’ve also worked with some of the lads at Al Smith’s iBox gym in Bromley.’
Everything is primed then for another Five Star performance in his first outing against domestic opposition.
‘I’ve not seen anything of Fonz, I leave all that to my team. They tell me what to do and not do,’ he concludes.
‘I’ve heard he’s is a very tough boy so I’ll not say I’m going to stop him. I’ll just be looking to get the win and for us both to emerge healthy. Another step up the ladder.’