World no. 2 Bajrang Punia guaranteed seeded start at Olympics
Ace Indian freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia has assured himself of a top-four seeding at the Tokyo Olympics after the latest world rankings placed him second in the 65kg category.
Starting 2020 as the world no. 3, Bajrang Punia has had a strong showing so far this year.
While he added 16 points to his world championships tally by clinching the gold medal at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series, he lost a final to Japan’s Takuto Otoguro at the Asian Wrestling Championships.
As per the latest United World Wrestling rankings, Bajrang Punia (59 points) sits behind top-ranked Russian Olympic champion Gadzhimurad Rashidov (60 points) and above Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov (56 points) and Hungary’s Iszmail Muszukajev (41 points).
The second place in the world ranking now makes Bajrang Punia’s participation in the last ranking series tournament redundant.
Apart from Bajrang Punia, his countryman Ravi Dahiya also found a place inside the top four rankings of the 57kg category. However, unlike Bajrang Punia, Ravi Dahiya would need 12 points at the final Ranking Series event to assure himself of a seeded start at the Olympics.
The 57kg category is led by Russian world champion Zaur Uguev (60 points) followed by Suleyman Atli (58 points), Stevan Micic (48 points) and Ravi Dahiya (45 points).
Deepak Punia also in the mix
The only other Indian wrestler to rank inside the top four is world Championship silver-medallist Deepak Punia in the 86kg category. He sits second in the world ranking behind Iran’s star wrestler Hassan Aliazam Yazdanicharati.
Sitting with 60 points as world no. 1, Hassan Aliazam Yazdanicharati had a massive 20-point lead over the rest of the field in his category, but second-placed Deepak Punia (54 points) brought it down to just six points with a bronze medal finish at the Asian Wrestling Championships.
Deepak Punia is followed by Russia’s Artur Naifonov (47 points) and San Marino’s Myles Nazem Amine (40 points).
What this means for Bajrang Punia
With the top four in each category seeded at the Tokyo Games, Bajrang Punia’s chances of clinching a medal at the biggest stage now increase.
The 26-year-old wrestler from Haryana, who sealed his Olympic quota at the World Wrestling Championship last year, won’t be facing any of his fellow top-four ranked wrestlers of the 65kg category before the quarter-finals at the least.
Bajrang Punia’s two biggest threats in the 65kg category are Russia’s Gadzhimurad Rashidov and Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov. While the promising Gadzhimurad Rashidov is considered by many to be the uncrowned Olympic king in his category, Bajrang Punia is yet to beat the Kazakh even once.
India has four grapplers qualified for the Tokyo Olympics so far. Apart from Bajrang Punia, Deepak Punia and Ravi Dahiya, Vinesh Phogat is the only woman wrestler in the fray in the 53kg freestyle category.