New Delhi: Riding on Pankaj Rana and Nirmla Devi's brilliant show, Punjab Royals made the finals of the Pro Wrestling League Season 2 after beating defending champions Mumbai Maharathi 5-4 in the second semifinal in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Punjab Royals will take on Haryana Hammers in grand finale on Thursday.
In the league stage also Punjab had edged out Mumbai 4-3, but with no blocking in the semifinal, the contest gave both teams an equal chance to make the final with their best wrestlers in action.
Punjab once again reined supreme with their foreign imports Odunayo Folasade Adekuoroye, Vladimir Khinchegashvili and Ilias Bekbukatov, besides India’s Nirmla and Pankaj, not only in front of a capacity crowd but also in the presence of Yoga guru Baba Ramdev in New Delhi at the KD Jadhav stadium.
Baba Ramdev also fought a friendly bout with Olympian wrestler Andrey Stadnik and defeated him 12-0.
Earlier, Mumbai took the early lead as Jabrayil Hasanov raced off to an explosive start in the opening bout as the Azerbaijani wrestler beat Punjab’s Jitendra 18-2 in five minutes and 48 seconds in the men's 74kg.
Jitendra had his task cut out against the experienced Jabrayil, Rio Games bronze medallist. Jabrayil opened his account straightaway with a takedown before pushing the Indian out of the mat for another point. He added two more points before ending round one with a 5-0 lead.
Jitendra faced an uphill task as his more accomplished opponent effected more takedowns and rolled him over and over again in the second half to seal the first victory of the evening for Mumbai.
Punjab won the second bout as the energetic Odunayo overpowered Mumbai’s Lalita Sehrawat 16-0 by virtue of Technical Superiority in women’s 53kg.
Lalita put up a brave fight against Odunayo, who is in fine form this season, but failed to counter her. The Nigerian grappler, who had proved her mettle by beating Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sofia Mattsson of Haryana Hammers in the last group stage game, delighted the spectators with her characteristic victory dance following her win in 4 minutes and 26 seconds.
Punjab’s another key player, Vladimir of Georgia, who had won four out of his five bouts before this, prevailed over Mumbai’s Rahul Aware 12-5 in a keenly contested match in men’s 57kg.
Rio Olympics champion Vladimir used all his experience to overcome a stiff challenge from Aware.
The Maharashtra grappler employed several tactics to score points and also managed to acquire two points in the very first minute of the tie but Vladimir brought into fore all the tricks in his book to score points over the Indian.
Although Aware could pocket some more points in the second round also but in the end he had to concede the tie to a much stronger and experienced opponent.
Captain Erica Wiebe scored the equaliser for Mumbai as the Olympic gold medallist eked out a narrow 2-1 win over Vasilisa Marzaliuk of Punjab in women's 75kg in another neck-and-neck battle of the evening.
The next bout was over in just one minute and 17 seconds as Russian grappler Ilias Bekbukatov finished the proceedings in a clinical fashion with a 17-0 win via technical superiority over Vikas of Mumbai in men’s 65kg, to give Punjab a 3-2 lead.
Pavlo Oliynik brought Mumbai back into the match with a comfortable 12-0 win over Krishan Kumar of Punjab in men’s 97kg.
With scores tied at 3-3, Nirmla Devi gave Punjab an upper hand with a 2-1 win over Carolina Castillo Hidalgo of Colombia in women's 48kg.
Columbian grappler, who finished in 8th in Rio Olympics, failed to avenge her defeat against Nirmla, who had beaten her in the group stage also.
In men's 70kg category, a tough battle was expected between Pankaj Rana and Pritam and it actually turned out be exactly what was being predicted. Pankaj, who had defeated Pritam 9-8 in the group stage, posted a come-from-behind win in a topsy-turvy battle.
While Pritam always maintained a healthy lead throughout the bout, Pankaj turned things around in the last few seconds of the game to bag the bout as well as the match 8-8 in Punjab’s favour. He won by the virtue of winning the last points.
In the final inconsequential bout, Sarita restored some pride for Mumbai by beating Manju Kumari 9-0 in women’s 58kg.
Pankaj Rana said he knew that the onus was on him to win it for Punjab, otherwise it would have gone down to the wires with just one more bout remaining.
"There was a lot of pressure as Punjab's entry into the final depended on me as we were already 4-3 up and it was up to me to win my bout and wrap it off. The pressure worked for me today and I did just what was expected of me. I knew I had to do it for the team and used all my strength to win the bout in the final few seconds," said Pankaj.
Pankaj said that he would look to apply defensive technique in the final against Haryana tomorrow.
"My strategy is all set. I would be playing defensive tomorrow. That's the only way I think I can win against Haryana," he revealed.
Nirmla said that she applied the same strategy against Carolina that she used during the group stage and it worked well again for her.
"I did exactly the same that I did in my last match against Carolina and it all worked today also. I was keen to put my team in the final and I gave my best," said Nirmla.
Odunayo has managed to maintain her unbeaten record in the tournament so far and when asked if there is anyone who could pose a threat to her, the Nigerian said: "I do not underrate any opponent. I just concentrate on winning my bouts and look to give my best in those 6 minutes of the tie."
Odunayo has been rated very highly and is said to be the one to watch out for the next two years.
On whether she feels any pressure because of that, Odunayo simply said: "No".
Vladimir said he would be keen to give his best on Thursday.
"There is difference between all the bouts so far and tomorrow. Will have to put the best foot forward and win in the all important final," said Vladimir.
Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 22:29 PM