“I refuse to rest till I am done,” wrote Bajrang Punia in one of his recent Facebook posts. “God creates everyone equal but it’s upon us to create different attitudes.” It is this outlook towards life that has made the champion Indian wrestler the world beater he is today.
Mentored by one of India’s finest wrestlers, 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist Yogeshwar Dutt, Punia has gone on to establish himself as a medal hopeful for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And if his run in the recent past is anything to go by, then you might not want to bet against him.
Nicknamed ‘The Tank’ in wrestling circles - primarily for his strength and stamina that has often put the best to the test - Punia has enjoyed a fine season so far in the 65kg freestyle class.
Gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games were followed by another top spot on the podium at the Asian Championships in April this year.
Later, the reigning world number one took his fight to the European circuit too. In the German league, the 25-year-old would get the better of three-time World Champion Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Ukraine’s Andrey Kviatkovski (a bronze medallist at 2018 Yarygin International, one of the most competitive events) and twice world bronze medallist Alejandro Tobier of Cuba.
Change in approach
While strength and stamina have been his primary weapons, it’s Punia’s technique that makes him different from most.
Over the years, India has seen a number of wrestlers who rely heavily on raw strength and quick feet to disguise their opponents. But not this man. Just like his mentor Dutt, the grappler from Haryana is technically sound and has been often seen using this to his advantage in crunch situations. But this wasn’t the case long ago.
Being unable to find positive results against better wrestlers deep into the competitions, Punia needed a tweak in his technique. This is where Shako Bentinidis, a former Georgian wrestler-turned-coach agreed to help him. And all it took was a few months for the champion in Punia to realise his potential.
Bentinidis is now Punia's personal coach and has made small, but crucial changes in a number of areas to help his client improve.
Of particular importance for Bentinidis is the mental side of wrestling - and he has helped Punia with psychologically preparing for bouts, as well as making adjustments to his sleeping patterns and diet regime.
With Bentinidis and Dutt by his side, the Indian is determined to scale greater heights. With Tokyo 2020 now firmly on the horizon, Punia appears ready to make his assault on the podium.