Bajrang Kumar Punia

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Graphic courtesy: The Times of India

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A brief biography

2019/ Attempt to harm Bajrang during trials

Sabi Hussain, July 27, 2019: The Times of India

Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) sources said on Friday that there was a planned bid to injure India’s biggest medal hope at the Tokyo Olympics, wrestler Bajrang Punia, during the selection trials for the upcoming senior World Championships here. Sources told TOI that there was a strong possibility of a fellow grappler harming Bajrang, but a timely tip-off by the men’s freestyle coaches led to the federation stopping the wrestler from competing in Bajrang’s weight category – 65kg.

The wrestler under suspicion had come for his mandatory weigh-in at 6am on Friday, but the federation did not allow him to take it. “We had the information beforehand, that’s why we stopped him,” a federation source said.

According to other WFI sources TOI spoke with, the wrestler hadn’t competed in the 65kg category in his entire career, a weight division ruled by Bajrang globally. Moreover, the Haryana wrestler was neither part of the national camp in Sonepat nor did he win a medal at the senior nationals in December 2018.

However, wrestlers like Utkarsh Kale, Sandeep Tomar (both 57kg) and Satyendra (125kg) also did not win a medal at the nationals and weren’t part of the camp. Yet, they were allowed to appear in the trials. In fact, when WFI had issued the notification for trials, it had categorically mentioned that only those named in the camp would be allowed to appear for trials. It openly flouted the rule in case of Kale, Tomar and Sandeep.

Bajrang easily booked his berth for the Worlds to be held Kazakhstan from September 14 to 22 as his opponent, reigning national champion Harphool Singh, pulled out of the contest after suffering a knee injury during the contest. According to the federation, five wrestlers were to compete in Bajrang’s weight division. But, only Bajrang and Harphool took the mat. When asked about the other missing wrestlers, Bajrang said: “I was here to compete against all aspirants for the Worlds. You ask the federation about others.”

When the wrestler who was barred on ground of suspicion was contacted for his reaction, he rubbished the charge and blamed the federation for scuttling his Tokyo Olympics dreams.

“These are false accusations. Why would I injure Bajrang? When Harphool got injured, was it deliberate on the part of Bajrang? They said you compete in anyone of the 57kg, 61kg or 70kg. But, tell me, why should I? My weight is 65kg and I can’t drop down to the 57kg. I can only compete in either 61kg or the 70kg, but these two are non-Olympic weight categories.

“I prepared so hard for the trials to qualify for the Worlds and Olympics. My chances are now gone. First, they stopped me citing rules, and then flouted the same rules to allow others. And this allegation of harming Bajrang is all rubbish,” he said.

Others to qualify for the Worlds in the men’s freestyle category were Ravi (57kg), Deepak Punia (86kg), Mausam Khatri (97kg) and Sumit Malik (125kg).

Bajrang must learn to retain focus for six full minutes: Coach Shako

Bajrang’s personal coach has warned his ward to remain focussed for full six minutes during bouts, else an error of judgment could cost the reigning CWG and Asian Games champion his Olympic dreams.

“The biggest problem with Bajrang is that he loses focus sometimes and gives away points. It becomes a minus three, minus four start for him. We are working on it. It's difficult. Bajrang and Vinesh (Phogat) are close to Olympic medals. But one incorrect fight, and you are finished. One poor bout or 30 bad seconds, and it's good bye Olympics,” he said.

Career highlights

As in 2018, Oct

Bajrang Punia- Career highlights, as in October 2018
From: Bajrang falls short in Worlds final, October 23, 2018: The Times of India

See graphic:

Bajrang Punia- Career highlights, as in October 2018

As in 2021 July

Sabi Hussain, August 8, 2021: The Times of India

Bajrang Punia, As in 2021 July
From: Sabi Hussain, August 8, 2021: The Times of India

Throughout the four-year Olympic cycle beginning Rio 2016, Bajrang Punia, the 27-year-old from Haryana’s Jhajjar, has been among the medals at every multi-sport event and international competitions, including gold at the CWG and Asian Games in 2018.

The hallmark of Bajrang’s game is his tactical brilliance, speed and stamina. He can quickly read his opponent’s moves and change his game-plan according to the match situation. For Tokyo, he even worked on two glaring weaknesses in his game which, according to Bajrang, had often led to his downfall in crunch situations. He had a habit of starting off slowly, offering his opponents crucial time to ratchet up points. Also, his susceptibility to leg attacks were exploited by rivals. Unfortunately, an injury to his right knee just over a month ago in Russia somewhat derailed his journey for a gold medal finish in Tokyo. Still, Bajrang did well in a decorated field of world-class wrestlers to finish with a bronze.

Bajrang had waited for this opportunity since Rio 2016. He was all prepped up for the Games but made way for his guruji (mentor) Yogeshwar Dutt, the London 2012 bronze medallist (men’s 61kg), to go for one last hurrah. Bajrang allowed his senior pro to go and secure an Olympic quota for India in the men’s 65kg freestyle event from the Asian Olympic qualification tournament in Astana. Yogeshwar obliged and booked his berth for the Rio Games. Bajrang didn’t cross paths with guruji and it was his way of repaying the faith. He knew that his time would come. In fact, in 2016, Yogeshwar had hailed Bajrang as his rightful successor in the 65kg category.

Bajrang was captivated by wrestling at a young age of seven, when he would flunk classes to attend dangals (mud wrestling) in the local akharas of Khudan village. It helped that his father, Balwan Singh, was also a grappler and held considerable sway in Jhajjar’s wrestling circuits. Seeing his child’s love for the sport, Balwan enrolled him at a wrestling academy in the early 2000s. Bajrang, who would compete in men’s freestyle 60kg in his initial days, announced his arrival on the big stage after winning bronze at the Asian and World Championships in 2013. The following year, he brought silver medals from the Asian, CWG and Asian Games, competing in the 61kg category.

Bajrang secured medals in all major international events, but his big-ticket moment came in 2018 when he won four medals in 2018, including the CWG and Asiad gold. After qualifying for Tokyo in 2019 following his bronze-winning effort at the Worlds in Nur-Sultan, Bajrang kept his tryst with Olympic glory with a podium finish.


As in July 2018

August 18, 2018: The Times of India

2014 Incheon Asian Games gold medallist, Yogeshwar Dutt’s protégé is coming into the competition on the back of a hat-trick of titles at the Gold Coast CWG, Yasar Dogu International in Turkey and Tbilisi Grand Prix in Georgia. He is ranked No. 1 in Asia and No.2 in the world in his weight category. At the last Asiad in Incheon, he had won a silver and the Sonepat grappler would be eager to improve upon that.

Asiad: Gold

August 20, 2018:The Times of India

Bajrang Punia's top medals, till August 2018
From: August 20, 2018:The Times of India

Bajrang, who had virtually faced no resistance in all his bouts till the final of the men’s 65kg category, was stretched till the end by Japan’s Takatani Daichi. The Indian survived some anxious moments to ultimately emerge the winner.

Bajrang had started the final on a confident note, racing to 6-0 lead in the first 45 seconds of the bout, raising propects of yet another lopsided finish to the contest. But the Japanese fought back with four points in the next one minute and two more in the second round to level scores. Bajrang took four points to regain the lead but Daichi reduced the margin by claiming two more. With time running out, the Japanese went for a last-gasp winner but Bajrang held his nerve to clinch the thriller 11-8.


India 3rd in medals, 2nd on points

Jaspreet Sahni, April 25, 2019: The Times of India

India at the Asian Wrestling Championships, 2019- (Bajrang with his personal coach Shako Bentinidis)
From: Jaspreet Sahni, April 25, 2019: The Times of India

The 'Bhaarandaaz daav' and Bajrang Punia's gold in 60 seconds

NEW DELHI: Nothing was working for Bajrang Punia. The clock showed just over a minute left and the scoreboard was 7-2 in favour of Kazakhstan's Sayatbek Okassov. The Asian Championships gold was slipping out of the grasp of India's best grappler, as the referee extended his hand to separate the two wrestlers. Bajrang stood hands on hips, plotting the next move.

Before the tournament, the 65kg Indian played a bit of mind games. "I have added a few new moves in order to surprise my opponents." Bajrang had 60 seconds and a bit to bring that surprise out in the open. It was time to unleash the Bhaarandaaz daav (hold). In 2008, the move was one of the major weapons that helped Sushil Kumar end India's 56-year wait for another Olympic medal after KD Jadhav in 1952. Defeating Leonid Spiridonov, Sushil won bronze in the 66kg category and made Bhaarandaaz famous.

To define the move in words, the wrestler puts one hand beneath the abdomen of his opponent to swing him around for a take-down as the limbs touch the mat, resulting in a couple of points.

Coincidentally, like Bajrang's rival Okassov on Tuesday, Spiridonov was also a Kazakh. The winners on both occasions - Indians.

" Yeh daav hai to purana par sab ka apna apna tareeka hota hai isko istemaal karne ka (it's an old move but every wrestler has his own way of executing it)," Bajrang told in Hindi from Xi'an, China.

But it takes special skills to overturn a five-point deficit to win in the last minute of a wrestling match. And synchronization between the mind, body and skills becomes critical to the outcome when you add the element of 'gold-medal pressure' to the script.

" Jab hum mat pe bout larr rahe hote hain tab ki stuation alag hoti hai (a match-situation is entirely different from training)," the 2018 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games champion added, pointing at the pressure element.

Bajrang entered 2019 on the back of extremely successful 12 months, in which the only missing gold was at the World Championships, where he lost in the final.

Against Okassov on Tuesday, Bajrang conceded a 0-4 lead and could narrow it by only a point at the break, when the Kazakh led 5-2. The second period began with further two points for Okassov with a takedown.

The turnaround followed and was led by the Bhaarandaaz move that reduced the deficit to 4-7. Sensing an element of tiredness in Okassov, Bajrang employed mixed tactics with a series of gut-wrenches to go ahead 12-7, and win. " Yeh to mujhe aap se pata lag raha hai ki mere gold ki ginti kitni hai (I am getting to know the count of my gold medals from you)," said a modest Bajrang when reminded of his unprecedented success over the last 18 months. " Main bas kushti karta hu aur poori koshish rehti hai, baaki jeetna haarna yeh sab chalta rehta hai (I just wrestle and give my best; winning and losing is part of life)."

En route the final, the 25-year-old wrestler from Haryana, who recently reclaimed his No. 1 rank, conceded just one point. Before strolling past Uzbekistan’s Sirojiddin Khasanov 12-1 in the semi-final, Bajrang defeated Charles Fern of Sri Lanka on technical superiority and registered a 6-0 win over Peyman Biabani of Iran.

In a sport as technical as wrestling, it's not always easy to spot the change in technique or execution of a specific move. But Bajrang is not in any hurry to unravel everything new in his repertoire.

" Saare moves ka parikshan kar pana mumkin nahi ho pata. Par is baar maine bharandaaz ka prayog kiya aur safal raha (it's not easy to test all moves in a tournament, but I successfully experimented Bhaarandaaz this time)," said the Arjuna and Padma Shri awardee.

A bigger challenge awaits Bajrang in September this year at the World Championships, which will also offer a chance to qualify for the Olympics. All wrestlers reaching the medal rounds of the tournament across weight categories will book a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Hiring the services of Georgian coach Shako Bentinidis since the start of last year has evidently made Bajrang a better wrestler, and the duo will soon hit the practice mats in a bid to improve on the colour of Bajrang's silver medal at the 2018 World Championships.

But Bajrang said changing too many things before a major competition can also prove counter-productive.

" Moves aur style develop karna itna aasaan nahi hota. Competition se pehle naya techniqe add karne se nuksan bhi ho sakta hai (it's not easy to incorporate new techniques and it can sometimes cost you dear if done closer to competitions)," explained Bajrang, who bagged his fifth Asian Championships medal and second gold after 2017.

" Par kuchh changes hum jarur karte hain apni purani bouts dekh ke. Yeh sab basic training ko dhyan mein rakh kar karna hota hai (but we do watch videos of old bouts to change little things, with main focus on basics)," he added.

And he concluded like a true pehelwaan, always attached to his roots and filled with respect towards the guru who shaped his career. In Bajrang's case, it is Yogeshwar Dutt.

" Agar neev mazboot na ho to imarat kabhi bhi dhai sakti hai (a building without solid foundation can collapse anytime).”

Jan-August: four golds

Hindol Basu, August 11, 2019: The Times of India

Bajrang’s golden run continues

Indian wrestling’s poster boy, Bajrang Punia, indicated his strong form going into the upcoming World Championships – to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan from September 14-22 – by picking his fourth gold of the year at the Tbilisi Grand Prix in Georgia on Saturday.

Bajrang hardly broke a sweat in the final as he defeated Iran’s Pejman Biabani 2-0 to claim the 65kg title. A day before, he had thrashed Georgia’s Akaki Kemertelidze 12-0 in the semifinal.

Besides the gold in Georgia, Bajrang has won gold medals at the Ali Aliev tournament in Dagestan, Russia, the Dan Kolov tournament in Ruse, Bulgaria and the Asian Wrestling Championships in Xi’an, China this year.

“I had not fought in any international competition for 3-4 months. That’s why I participated here (in the Tbilisi Grand Prix) – so that I could gauge my preparation level for the upcoming World Championships,” Bajrang told TOI from Georgia.

Bajrang had won silver at the 2018 World Championships that was held in Budapest, Hungary. This year the 25-year-old will attempt to improve the colour of his medal. “It (2019 World Championships) will be my sixth world championship. I have won a bronze (in 2013) and a silver (2018) in this elite tournament. So, naturally, my target is to go one step further. Now, I have a lot of experience under my belt and that will surely help,” Bajrang said.


Matteo Pellicone Ranking: gold

Hindol Basu, March 9, 2021: The Times of India Just 30 seconds were left on the clock and India’s star wrestler Bajrang Punia was trailing 0-2 in his 65kg final against Mongolia’s Tulga Tumur Ochir at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series tournament in Rome.

For the better part of 5 minutes, 30 seconds, Bajrang was concentrating on defending – especially his legs. There were attacking moves, but few and far between. With time running out, Bajrang went for the broke in the last 30 seconds. A lightning move that caught Ochir off-balance resulted in a takedown and handed Bajrang two points, levelling the score at 2-2. For the final few seconds, Bajrang defended well and the match ended in a tie. But since the last scoring point came from Bajrang, he was declared the winner on ‘criteria’.

With the win, Bajrang regained the world No. 1 ranking in the 65kg category. The 27-year-old was placed second in the world rankings before the event.

Bajrang had crushed former cadet world champion Selim Kozan of Turkey 7-0 in his opening encounter. He faced stiff competition from USA’s Joseph Christopher McKenna in the semifinal but prevailed 6-3 in the end. In all three matches, Bajrang’s “improved” leg defence came to the fore. “During the lockdown phase as well as after it, I have worked hard on my leg defence. Also, my training at the Michigan University in USA late last year has really helped me,” he said.

Bajrang will now be back in the national camp but wants to train abroad before the Asian Wrestling Championships, scheduled to be held in Almaty, Kazakhstan from April 9 to 11.

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