New Delhi: With star India wrestler Sakshi Malik missing from action, Delhi Sultans campaign in the second season of Pro Wrestling League ended as they slumped to their third consecutive defeat, losing 2-5 to Haryana Hammers, who in turn made it to semifinals, in New Delhi on Wednesday.
It was not an auspicious start for Delhi Sultans as the spectators were left disappointed with skipper Sakshi opting out of what was expected to be one of the most interesting bouts of the evening against another iconic wrestler Marwa Amri in the women's 58kg category.
Citing that she was "unwell", Sakshi did not take the mat today in a bout where she could have faced some tough challenge from an equally strong opponent.
Before this, Sakshi had posted comfortable wins against two lesser known compatriots – Jaipur Ninja's Pooja Dhanda and Punjab Royals Manju Kumari – in Delhi's last two matches.
At the Rio Games, Sakshi and Marwa had shared the podium with a bronze medal finish each. Even as Sakshi became the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Olympic medal, Marwa also created history by becoming the first woman Olympic medallist from her country -- Tunisia.
Even Sakshi's fiance Satyawart Kadian, also representing Delhi Sultans, failed to make up for her absence as he went down tamely against the former world champion Abdusalam Gladisov in men's 97kg in the opening bout of the match.
Gladisov walked away with three points after the first round, even as Satyawart showed some resistance. But in the next round, the Russian just kept on scoring points to bag the bout for Haryana Hammers 9-0.
Rio Olympic silver medallist Azerbaijan's Mariya Stadnik of Delhi then thrashed Haryana's Indu Choudhary 16-0 via technical superiority in women's 48kg category.
In the first 40 seconds itself Mariya proved her mettle, bagging six points on the trot by flipping the Indian wrestler over and over again before she earned the next 10 consecutive points to wrap up the contest in a minute and 32 seconds.
World champion Magomed Kurbanaliev, however, handed Haryana Hammers back the lead after getting the better of Delhi's David Tlashadze of Georgia in men's 70kg division.
Dominating the tie, Magomed added four early points in his kitty by overpowering David before the Georgian managed to bag two points by taking down the Russian once during the entire bout. At the break Russia's Magomed was leading 4-2.
An agile Mogemed continued his good work in the second round as well and gained two more points to pocket the bout 6-2.
The next one was a closely-fought battle, where Alina Makhynia of Delhi tied the scores 2-2 by getting the better of Kiran of Haryana 2-1 in women's 75kg.
Delhi got a point for passivity to lead 1-0 after round one. In the second round, both wrestlers bagged a point each but the Ukrainian managed to have the last laugh with one-point lead.
Delhi had their hopes pinned on a fit again Bajrang Punia, who did not fight the last bout having sustaining an injury, but he failed to justify his tag of being the most expensive Indian wrestler at the PWL-2 auction with a whopping Rs 38 lakhs price tag.
Bajrang went down to Rajneesh 6-9 in one of the most aggressively fought bouts of the evening.
Initially, both wrestlers went neck-in-neck, but it was Rajnessh who wrestled control in the encounter, employing successful leg locks and tackles to emerge as a comfortable winner in the end, giving Haryana the advantage again.
In the absence of Sakshi, Marwa hardly had to break a sweat against Apoorva Tyagi as she registered a 10-0 win over the hapless Indian by 'win by fall' verdict to wrap up the match in style for the Hammers, who registered their third successive win in the event.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar came just on time to celebrate the Hammers victory at the KD Jadhav stadium.
In the inconsequential final bout, Rio Olympian Sandeep Tomar registered a came from behind win to extend Haryana's victory margin, defeating Mongolian grappler Erdenebat Bekhbayar 8-3 in men's 57kg category.
Earlier, Haryana Hammers won the toss and decided to block men's 74kg, while Delhi Sultans blocked women's 53kg.
There was also some off-the-mat drama during the match when a few spectators tried to cross the fence and enter the media enclosure. The Delhi Police had to intervene and take them out of the stadium.
Marwa Amri felt that she could have defeated Sakshi and was all prepared to face the Indian wrestler.
"I think I could have defeated Sakshi and it would have been a very good competition. I was all prepared for it and was looking forward to the fight with Sakshi," said Marwa.
Marwa defeated Sakshi's replacement Apoorva Tyagi in just one minute and 19 seconds.
"In Sakshi’s absence, it became very easy for me. There was hardly any competition," she insisted.
Rajneesh, who got the better of Delhi's key player Bajrang, said he was used to fighting close bouts.
"I have fought Bajrang thrice earlier and those have always been very close bouts. He had defeated me twice before, but today I managed to get the better of him. Today was my day and I could eke out the points," said Rajneesh.
Asked if he felt Bajrang was fighting with some injury, Rajneesh said: "Every wrestler fights with some minor injuries and it is a very normal thing. When you are on the mat you do not feel the minor pains here and there. In case the pain is major then one is not able to fight at all."