Bajrang Punia defends Matteo Pellicone wrestling crown after stunning comeback in final

The Indian wrestler turned the final around in the last 30 seconds to clinch the gold medal. Vishal Kaliramana, meanwhile, bagged a bronze in the 70kg.

By Ubaid Parkar

India’s ace wrestler Bajrang Punia successfully defended his 65kg title at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in Rome on Sunday in his first international outing in a year.

The Indian wrestler had taken part in an invitational meet in the USA in December and then faced Zain Retherford in an exhibition match a few days later. Bajrang’s previous international tournament, however, was at the Asian championships in Delhi last year.

In Rome, Bajrang Punia beat Turkey’s Selim Kozan 7-0 in the quarter-final and American Joseph McKenna 6-3 in the semis.

In the final against Mongolia’s Tulga Tumur Ochir, Bajang was 2-0 down and only turned the game around in the final 30 seconds. The Indian wrestler executed a go-behind takedown to draw level at 2-2 to win on criteria for his second straight Matteo Pellicone gold medal.

The two finalists had last met at the 2019 World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan in the bronze medal match, which Bajrang Punia won 8-6.

It would have been an all-India 65kg final had Rohit Kumar not lost 4-0 to Tulga Tumur Ochir in the semis. Rohit also went on to lose his bronze medal match 12-10 to Turkey’s Hamza Alaca.

In the quarters, Rohit Kumar had registered an impressive 9-8 win over two-time Asian champion and world championship bronze medallist Behnam Ehsanpour of Iran.

Vishal Kaliramana bags bronze

Vishal Kaliramana managed to add to India’s medal tally after he defeated Kazakh Syrbaz Talgat 5-1 in the bronze match of the 70kg category.

Vishal had earlier defeated Canada’s Dillon Williams 4-1 and then went down 6-3 to Syrbaz Talgat. He lost to American Alec Pantaleo in the semi-final by technical superiority.

In the 74kg, Narsingh Yadav lost his bronze medal match 5-0 to Kazakh Daniyar Kaisanov, a two-time Asian champion and a world’s bronze medallist.

Narsingh Yadav had started his campaign by beating Italian Luca Finizio by technical superiority for his first international win since 2016 in the quarter-final. He then lost 4-1 to 2012 Olympic gold medallist and four-time world champion Jordan Burroughs of Italy in the semis.

Meanwhile, Sandeep Singh Mann, who beat Narsingh Yadav for the national title, lost 11-4 on his international debut to two-time Olympian and world championship silver medallist Franklin Gomez of Puerto Rico in the qualification round.

Rahul Rathi (79kg) lost both his opening bouts against Turkish opponents. He went down 3-1 to Muhammet Nuri Kotanoglu first, and then by technical superiority to Ramazan Ishak Sari. Rahul defeated Salvatore Diana of Italy in his final round but it wasn’t enough for the Indian to proceed.

Parveen Chahar (86kg), meanwhile, lost to Canada’s Clayton Pye 7-6 in his quarter-final match. Pankaj was a no-show in the 57kg.

In the 92kg, Parveen didn’t have much luck. He first lost to Rio 2016 Olympic silver medallist Selim Yasar of Turkey by technical superiority. He then suffered a similar loss at the hands of Turkey’s Erhan Yaylaci in the next round. Parveen then lost 6-5 to Kazakh Elkhan Assadov and was spared in his last match after Pat Downey of the USA forfeited due to injury.

In all, Indian wrestlers bagged eight medals -- four in Greco-Roman, two in men’s freestyle and two in the women’s discipline -- at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in Rome.