Bajrang Punia made history today by becoming the first Indian wrestler to win four medals at the World Championships after securing a bronze. In one of the bronze medal matches in the 65-kilogram weight class, Bajrang, a medalist from the previous year’s Tokyo Olympics, defeated Sebastian C Rivera of Puerto Rico by a score of 11-9.
Bajrang, who was eliminated by the eventual bronze medalist John Michael Diakomihalis of the United States in the quarterfinals, made it through to the competition by virtue of the repechage. He first won a 7-6 decision over Armenia’s Vazgen Tevanyan before putting down Rivera.
Previously, Bajrang won bronze in 2013, silver in 2018, and bronze in 2019. India entered a 30-person team but came away with only two medals from the current competition. Earlier, Vinesh Phogat had won bronze in the World Championships for the second time in the women’s 53-kilogram division.
Olympic bronze medallist Bajrang Punia wins his 4th medal at the world championships. He comes back from 0-6 down to beat Sebastian Rivera of Puerto Rico 11-9 to win bronze in the men's 65kg category at Belgrade.
2019 🌍 🥉
2022 🌍 🥉 pic.twitter.com/H5dc3EO3v1
— jonathan selvaraj (@jon_selvaraj) September 18, 2022
Despite losing her first match, Vinesh made the most of her second chance in the repechage round, winning the bronze medal match 8-0 over Swedish competitor Emma Malmgren. The biggest surprise was the elimination of the silver medalist from the Tokyo Olympics Ravi Kumar Dahiya in the early rounds.
In fact, Bajrang lost through technical knockout to American Yianni Diakomihalis on Saturday, a 0-10 result he had to sleep on and mull over before getting ready for the rematch. He won the bronze medal match thanks to a comeback victory in the last seconds against Yazgen Tevanyan of Armenia in the repechage.
That was a stomping neck hold, with Tevanyan’s right leg gripped into numbness with a nifty little scissor and points-hogging rolls that overcome the normal deficit. That Bajrang waits too long is a common criticism. It usually comes back to haunt him.
4️⃣th Worlds medal for @BajrangPunia 🤼♂️
Our Tokyo Olympics BRONZE medalist has bagged a BRONZE🥉 again. This time at the Wrestling World Championships (FS 65kg) in Belgrade🤩
His World Championships CV now:
— SAI Media (@Media_SAI) September 18, 2022
But he went into Belgrade with such confidence — not unlike the Olympics on the final day in Tokyo — that he was able to pull off the destruction as the seconds bore down on Rivera, so that the pressure, the metaphorical snapping of heels, was always on Rivera, who could feel Bajrang clipping his wings.
In a matter of seconds, Rivera had tallied the game’s first points after being nipped on the ankle. When attacking from the inside, Bajrang would exploit time and Rivera’s lack of focus to his advantage by brushing off the leg points as insignificant and smashing him on the side edges after the latter had been forced to retreat.
Strangely, even though Bajrang was in last place, he was constantly observed following Rivera into bends where they could close the gap. In this high-scoring, nonstop action, Rivera was tripped inside, backing up for 4-6 to Bajrang, and then after a sequence of doubles and a lock at the side, Rivera followed up with a lightning-quick n-th ankle pounce, and the score read 6-8.
Again, The 2 Senior Wrestlers,who have been performing for Years, Delivered When 🇮🇳 needed the Most! When No-one else did!! Is it Safe to Say now, 'Old is Gold' ?? @BajrangPunia @Phogat_Vinesh pic.twitter.com/6kj3hjxpXo
— Shantanu Pande (@RomanSportz) September 18, 2022
The one that really got Bajrang was when he was hopping about on one foot without losing his balance and his opponent picked his ankle, sending him flying even though he was holding on. With only 24 seconds left, though, Bajrang countered with a takedown of his own, and a successful challenge gave him an 11-9 advantage. Bajrang has had a nervous buildup since his flaws have been exposed by younger, nimbler 65 kg competitors in India.
Self-doubts about his dwindling abilities, a lack of coaching experience to elevate his game, and an uneasy belief that his body wasn’t steamrolling as it used to before 2019 are all factors that he had to overcome. However, on Sunday, Bajrang Punia, the champion of the Indian trials, showed that he is made of other stuff when he competed in an international bout. They’re aware that Achilles’ heel is vulnerable, but he still poses a significant threat.
Bajrang admitted as much to UWW, saying, “I threw away six points in the beginning.” I tried to use a leg defense that I was confident would work, but it never materialized. Right now, I have to stop everything and figure out why it’s not working. Both the matches I lost and the one I won today failed to benefit from its use. That’s a major area of improvement for me to focus on.
Following the knee damage, leg defense became a major issue (at the Olympics). That doesn’t hurt my self-assurance because, without it, I wouldn’t have made up the lost ground. Before, I wasn’t as generous with my shins (concede points on leg defense). Wrestlers put in a lot of time and effort, therefore I never give up until the very end. My leg defense needs either more time and effort or more strategic planning.
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