No substitute to competition, Bajrang Punia plays down lacklustre show in Belgrade

Top Indian wrestlers have looked rusty at the Individual World Cup so far but Bajrang Punia believes they will regain form in the competitions coming up.

By Naveen Peter ·

Judging by the number of medals India have won at the Individual World Cup so far, their campaign hasn’t particularly dazzled. But star wrestler Bajrang Punia is not worried.

Having named a 24-member strong contingent for the Belgrade event, India have so far won just one silver medal -- Anshu Malik in the 57kg category -- and are in line to clinch two bronze medals if Deepak Punia and Gourav Baliyan are to come good in their respective bouts on Friday.

But for a nation that boasts of some of the top wrestlers in the world, it has been a rather indifferent show. However, Bajrang Punia, the former top-ranked wrestler in the 65kg freestyle category, believes that the Individual World Cup performance doesn’t reflect the quality of Indian wrestling.

Ravi Kumar is good. He is a better wrestler than his opponent,” Bajrang Punia told Indian Express, taking the Olympic quota winner’s show at the Individual World Cup as a case-in-point.

Ravi Kumar lost out in the opening round of the Individual World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia. Photo: UWW

Up against Hungary’s Gamzatgadzsi Halidov in the opening round of the 57kg freestyle competition in Belgrade, Ravi Kumar Dahiya started well and led the bout until the final 90 seconds, before squandering the advantage to bow out of the competition.

“His defeat here doesn’t mean that he is suddenly down or not as good, but it’s because we haven’t competed in such a long time. The pandemic then made it tough to even do proper sparring. That is why you need to get into a tournament as soon as possible.”

Bajrang Punia was confident that such rustiness can be polished with more competitive wrestling in the coming months.

“The more you compete, the more you improve. At least that’s how it goes for me. Training has been going on for years, but it is only after a competition that you can make calibrations and focus on specifics,” Bajrang, a three-time world championships medallist, said.

Bajrang Punia vs Zain Retherford

While Bajrang Punia chose to skip the Individual World Cup to continue with his training stint in the USA, the Indian ace will be in action at two different events in the coming days.

On Friday, the Olympic quota winner will compete in an invitational event in Austin, Texas and later will face Olympic hopeful Zain Retherford of the USA on December 22.

“The tournament in Belgrade is good as well. But top wrestling nations such as the USA, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Japan, even Georgia and Cuba, aren’t competing,” Bajrang reasoned. “I am already part of a training camp here and have good meets lined up. The training partners are exactly what I needed as well.”