Bajrang Punia to begin Olympic year with Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series

Defending champion in the 65kg freestyle segment, Bajrang Punia will look for a triumphant return to competitive wrestling after a year-long gap.

By Naveen Peter ·

Indian wrestling ace Bajrang Punia will begin the Olympic year with the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in March as the defending champion in the 65kg freestyle division.

“I plan my comeback at the Rome ranking series event in March and will follow that up by participating in the Asian Championships in Kazakhstan,” Bajrang said in a statement released by the sports ministry.

The 26-year-old grappler has been training at the Cliff Keen Wrestling Club in Michigan, USA since last month under the supervision of his personal coach Emzarios Bentinidis. The training stint is expected to last for another month with the sports ministry giving its nod for an extension on Tuesday. 

Bajrang Punia, who sat out of the Individual World Cup last month, was last seen in action at a few invitational meets in the USA.

While the Olympic quota winner beat two-time world championships medallist James Green for the eight-man Flowrestling title in Austin, Texas, he was trumped by America’s Olympic hopeful Zain Retherford in another one-off bout.

But despite the mixed results, the world No. 2 Bajrang Punia was happy with his training in the USA.

“The quality of sparring partners here is very good. In India, I am normally training with 74kg and 79kg category wrestlers but here I am getting to train with my own weight category,” explained Bajrang Punia, who earned a quota for the Tokyo Olympics with his world championships bronze in September 2019.

“All facilities here are available, there is a gym, moreover I am getting very good sparring partners. The college boys who train here are good as well. I am getting access to everything I need to improve my level.”

Meanwhile, grapplers back home are preparing for the Senior National Wrestling Championships later this month before the all-important trials to select the Indian team for the first phase of international competitions.