Best of Bajrang Punia: Top five performances by the ace wrestler

From the Asian Games to World Championships, Punia has raked in medals at almost all major international competitions

By Samrat Chakraborty

Bajrang Punia was born in Khudan village of Jhajjar district in Haryana. At the tender age of seven, he first stepped into an 'akhada' (traditional wrestling pit) with the support of his father. In 2015, his family moved to Sonepat so that he could train in an SAI (Sports Authority of India) facility.

Apart from the Olympics, Punia has won a medal at least once in every other major international competition. Currently ranked No 1 in the world in 65kg category, Punia is one of the strongest medal contenders for India at the Tokyo Olympics.

We look back at five of his best performances:

World Championship 2019

Punia won his second successive medal at the World Championships in 2019 when he defeated Mongolia's Tulga Ochir 8-7.

He once fell behind by 2-0 in the beginning and the gap widened to 6-0 when Ochir clinched a four-pointer. However, he made a superb comeback in the second period and went on to win eight consecutive points to clinch the bronze medal. The win also earned him a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

He is the first Indian wrestler to win three medals at the World Championships - bronze (60kg) in 2013 in Budapest, silver (65kg) in 2018 in Budapest, and bronze (65kg) in 2019 in Nur Sultan.

Asian Games 2018

Punia won the first gold for India at the 18th edition of the Asian Games after defeating Japan's Takatani Daichi 11-8 in the final, in Jakarta.

It was his maiden Asian Games gold - he had previously won a silver in Incheon in 2014. It was a battle of wits that pushed him to his limits. After the first round the score was tied at 6-6. Daichi had previously beaten him in the Asian Championships and it was payback time for Punia.

The Japanese was continuously targeting his ankle but his brisk footwork never allowed his opposition to get the better of him. After taking a healthy lead, he managed to run down the clock which ensured a gold for him.

Asian Championships 2019

Punia opened India's medal tally in the Asian Championships in 2019, by winning gold. He defeated Sayatbek Okassov 12-7 in the final in Xi'an, China.

The Kazakh raced to 7-2 lead but the Indian made a fierce comeback to win gold. He picked up 10 consecutive points to outsmart Okassov. He had been in a superb run of form throughout the tournament, as he outclassed Uzbekistan’s Sirojiddin Khasanov 12-1 in the semifinals. In the earlier rounds, he had got the better of Peyman Biabani of Iran and Charles Fern of Sri Lanka.

Asian Championship 2017

Bajrang Punia won gold in the 2017 Asian Championship after defeating Korea's Lee Seung Chul 6-2 in the finals.

Once again he was lagging behind 2-0 at the break but managed to stage a comeback and did not allow his opponent to earn any more points. He pushed Chul out of the mat to earn his first point and then took him down to get a two-pointer. He continued to attack with vigour and did not allow the Korean to come back into the match.

World Championship 2018

In October 2018, Bajrang Punia became only the fourth Indian to make an appearance in a World Championship final. But his efforts were not enough to topple Japanese opposition Takuto Otoguro in the 65kg final as he was outclassed 16-9. The 19-year-old rattled Punia as he kept attacking the left leg, to which the Indian had no answer.

In the process, Otoguru became Japan's youngest world champion at just 19.

A four-point throw gave him a solid 5-0 lead and Bajrang had to chase the match from the very onset. He reduced the deficit to 7-6 at the break but he eventually had to settle for a silver as the Japanese continued to attack his left leg and Bajrang struggled to counter.