Bajrang Punia, competing in the 65 kg weight category defeated his American counterpart Jordan Oliver 4-3 in the finals of the Matteo Pellicone, Ranking Series event in Rome, Italy. Punia had a very cautious start and was trailing by 1 point, which soon went on to become 0-3. However, he returned with vengeance in the second half, was quick on his feet and power, to reduce the deficit to 2-3.
The scoreline went up to 4-3, after the Indian earned a few quick points. However, the referees did not award him for pinning down his rival, leaving Jordan exposed and on the mat for 60 seconds. Despite the decision not going in his favour, Punia maintained the lead 4-3 till the very end, not going for any risky movements. It was India’s second gold medal of the night in the event after Ravi Kumar Dahiya clinched top honours in the 61 kg category.
Punia’s road to the finals
The Indian champion was drawn to meet Zain Allen Retherford of USA in the first round, with the USA grappler expected to give Punia a run for his money. That is what panned out, as Retherford, with his attacking and aggressive play, left very few chances for Punia to earn points in Round 1. However, the Indian made a strong comeback in the second round, eventually triumphing 5-4 in the last 15 seconds to qualify for the quarters.
Punia, who had not competed in any international event since the World Championship in September 2019, looked rusty in his quarters clash as well, against Joseph McKenna of USA. The world bronze medalist earned another hard-fought 4-2 win and advanced to the semis, where he took on World Military GGames runner-up Vasyi Shuptar of Ukraine. The Ukranian was heading into the bout with Punia high on confidence, after he got the better of Ehsanpoor of Iran, another bronze medalist in the 2019 World Championships.
In the semis, despite looking well short of match practice, Punia was good enough to defeat Shuptar, though it, once again, was a hard-fought win. His movements lacked fluency and his footwork was iffy, but the Indian, nonetheless, managed to keep his nerve as he secured a 6-4 victory.