Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Ravi Kumar Dahiya and bronze winner Bajrang Punia were a study in contrast on Saturday as they won gold and silver at the Asian wrestling championships in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. India won three more medals on the first day of men’s freestyle competition. Gourav Baliyan (79kg) produced gritty fightbacks to win silver while Naveen (70kg) and Satyawart Kadian (97kg) took bronze.
Dahiya produced a dominating display to become the first Indian wrestler to win three consecutive Asian championships titles, having also won in 2020 and 2021. His supremacy in 57kg has only grown since the Olympics. In the final, Dahiya beat Rakhat Kalzhan of Kazakhstan on technical superiority (12-2). Kalzhan opened the scoring with two points before Dahiya got down to scoring through swift take-downs, swooping to attack his opponent’s legs using his reach. Dahiya led 8-2 after the first period. The Kazakh pounced on Dahiya’s leg on restart, but he held firm and countered for four quick points to end the contest.
Dahiya overcame initial hiccups to sail through his first two bouts. Young Japanese Rikuto Arai was fast and got hold of his legs to score two points. Dahiya was unperturbed and stepped up attacks, using his upper body strength. Even when the Japanese went for his legs, Dahiya wriggled out of difficult situations. In the end, it was 15-4 (technical fall) with 1:35 secs left on the clock.
In the semi-final, Dahiya was down 0-4 against Mongolia’s Zanabar Zandanbud, who was on an attacking spree. The Indian subdued him with power and attacks, grabbing two-pointers till the gap was enough for a technical fall (12-5).
Bajrang Punia was not his usual attacking self. He was returning to the mat for the first time since his Tokyo bronze. He has complained of a dodgy knee and pulled out of the ranking series meet in Istanbul in February. He has also sought a full-time physio. Thus there was big anticipation over his comeback. For most part of his three bouts, Punia was not on the offensive. Still, he was good enough to win two and reach his fourth consecutive Asian final. In his first bout against Abbos Rakhmonov of Uzbekistan, he got two points on the activity clock and one from a step-out, relying more on defence to win 3-0. In the semi-finals, he edged out Haji Ali of Bahrain 3-1.
In the final, Punia was up against Iran’s junior world champion Rahman Mousa Amouzadkhalili. He was put in the passivity clock for want of action. In the second period, Amouzadkhalili added two more points while giving up one on passivity to claim his first Asian title. It was Punia’s eighth medal from the continental meet.
Baliyan, 20, was the other Indian star of the day with brilliant comebacks. He was trailing 0-8 in the 79kg final against Iran’s Ali Bakhtiar Savadkouhi before levelling scores in a nail-biting second period. The Iranian gasped for breath as Baliyan strung together his attacks. However, with the bout ending 9-9, the Iranian won on criteria, having scored a four-point move in the first period. Baliyan beat Arsalan Budazhapov of Kyrgyzstan 8-5 in another see-saw battle in the semis.