Bajrang Punia eyes world championships after winning gold in Birmingham

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When Bajrang PUNIA (IND) lost to David TREMBLAY (CAN) in the 2014 Commonwealth Games final, 13-year-old Lachlan McNEIL (CAN) was in the crowd at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center in Glasgow.

While Tremblay managed to beat Punia, McNeil’s attempt to repeat the feat eight years later at Coventry Arena on Friday fell through as Punia, now a three-time Commonwealth Games veteran, defended his gold medal from the 65 kg no problem.

Punia and McNeil reached the gold medal bout at 65kg easily defeating George RAMM (ENG) and Inayat ULLAH (PAK). With gold on the line, McNeil fought back, scoring the only takedown against Punia in the competition, but that wasn’t enough as the bronze medalist from Tokyo won the fight 10-2.

It was one of three gold medals won by India on the first day of wrestling at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. Deepak PUNIA (IND) and Sakshi MALIK (IND) were also crowned Commonwealth Champions for the first time.

But it was Punia’s gold that delighted the huge contingent of Indian fans in the arena.

“When you struggle in a tournament, you don’t think about difficulty,” said Punia. “I struggled thinking everyone is important and I want to get back to where I was in 2018 and 2019.”

Since winning bronze in Tokyo, Punia has suffered two losses – to Rahman AMOUZAD (IRI) in the Asian Championships final and Abbos RAKHMANOV (UZB) in the Ranking Series in Almaty.

But one month from the World Championships, he would like to forget the two defeats and gain confidence thanks to the victory in Birmingham.

“The world championships are the main objective,” he said. “I prepared for this and now it’s very close.”

For McNeil, the Commonwealth Games have been a learning experience as he tries to earn a spot for Canada at the Paris Olympics.

“The only purpose of coming here was to fight Bajrang,” McNeil said. “He’s a world-class wrestler and he’s proven it. But it’s a great experience and I’ll take it to the Paris Olympics.

Another Punia had a higher stake in the final. Not only was Deepak vying for gold, but he also had to beat Muhammad INAM (PAK), a wrestler who has never lost to an Indian in the Commonwealth Games.

The two-time champion kept Deepak quiet for a long time but was called a liability in the first half. Deepak scored a withdrawal during the active period to lead 2-0 at the break. A tiring Inam continued for half-hearted attacks and Deepak managed to get another out.

He managed to keep Inam away until time expired, winning the gold medal at 86kg, 3-0.

The last gold medal in freestyle went to Pan American champion Amarveer DHESI (CAN) who beat another Pakistani wrestler in Zaman ANWAR in the final.

Anwar scored two points but Dhesi was a class apart, winning the gold with a fall after leading 9-2.

In the semis, Dhesi faced Mohit GREWAL (IND) and managed to pull off an easy 12-2 win and fulfill his promise of winning against India at the Commonwealth Games.

“An Indo-Canadian and Indian struggle always makes things complex back home,” Dhesi said. “But it’s great to get the win and be on the top step of the podium.”

Dhesi will now attempt to repeat the feat at the World Championships in Belgrade.

“The weight class has some strong guys, but my goal remains the same – to get to the podium,” he said.

Repeat for Oborududu, Adekuoroye

Olympic silver medalist Blessing OBORUDUDU (NGR) became a two-time Commonwealth Games champion after winning the 68kg gold medal in Coventry.

Wrestling Former 59kg world champion Linda MORAIS (CAN), Oborududu controlled the fight until the end and gave Morais no chance to attack.

At one point the score was 3-1 and Morais fancied his chance of winning the gold medal with one out, but Oborududu managed to score a go-behind in the dying moments and win 5-1.

Blessing, who became the first-ever African wrestler to reach an Olympic final in Tokyo, won gold in 2018 but has a silver medal from the 2010 edition and a bronze medal from 2014.

“For me, I was calm in the final,” Oborududu said. “I wanted to control the final and not push too hard. I knew the match would be tough if I didn’t fight smart. I didn’t need to panic and that’s why I fought the way I did.

Morais will also be at the World Championships at 68kg and hopes to avenge the loss.

“We thought it was a good opportunity to step up to 68kg and be part of the team,” Morais said.

Adekuoroye, who fought Pooja DHANDA (IND) in the 57kg final in Gold Coast, defeated world silver medalist Anshu MALIK (IND) in the final to defend her gold medal.

In their only meeting before Birmingham, Adekuoroye won by technical superiority over Malik. While the score was tight on Friday, the result was that Adekuoroye won the gold medal.

She got a double leg for one out to lead 2-0 and kept Malik out of reach for the remaining time. As the break approached, Adekuoroye again netted a brace and took the 4-0 lead.

Malik continued his attacks and earned a takedown after Adekuoroye was penalized for a passivity point. But the withdrawal was a little too late as the Nigerian won 7-3 before launching into her dance to celebrate the gold.

Gold at 62kg was won by Sakshi MALIK (IND) as she came from behind to beat U23 World Champion Ana GONZALEZ (CAN) in the final.

Gonzalez took a 4-0 lead at the break with two eliminations and Malik struggled to find openings.

“I thought I could win and I was really confident,” Gonzalez said. “But I had to be a bit proactive in the second half and not let her have her way.”

Malik, trying to get her favorite double leg attack, kept Gonzalez close and broke, allowing Malik to grab Gonzalez’s leg. She turned it into a hook and got the double. With Gonzalez falling on his back, Malik kept up the pressure and secured the fall.

“I have a Commonwealth bronze medal and a silver medal, so this time I thought I should get the gold and I’m happy to have it,” Malik said.

The article was first published on United World Wrestling website and has been directly reproduced here. Follow the wrestling action at the CWG on UWW social media.

RESULTS

freestyle

65kg
GOLD: Bajrang PUNIA (IND) df. Lachlan McNEIL (CAN), 9-2

BRONZE: George RAMM (ENG) df. Lowe BINGHAM (NRU), 11-0
BRZONE: Inayat ULLAH (PAK) df. Ross CONNELLY (SCO), 10-0

86kg
GOLD: Deepak PUNIA (IND) df. Mohammed INAM (PAK), 3-0

BRONZE: Alexander MOORE (CAN) defeats. Matthew OXENHAM (NZL), 10-0
BRONZE: Jayden LAWRENCE (AUS) def. Edward LESSING (RSA), 12-11

125kg
GOLD: Amarveer DHESI (CAN) def. Zaman ANWAR (PAK), by fall

BRONZE: Mohit GREWAL (IND) df. Aaron JOHNSON (JAM), via Fall
BRONZE: Mandhir KOONER (ENG) df. Kensley MARIE (MAU), via fall

female wrestling

57kg
GOLD: Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) defeated. Anshu MALIK (IND), 7-4

BRONZE: Hannah TAYLOR (CAN) defeated. Sophia AYIETA (KEN), via fall
BRONZE: Nethmi PORUTHOTAGE (SRI) df. Irene SYMEONIDIS (AUS), 10-0

62kg
GOLD: Sakshi MALIK (IND) df. Ana GODINES GONZALEZ (CAN), by fall

BRONZE :: Berthe ETANE (CMR) df. Kelsey BARNES (ENG), 9-4
BRONZE: Esther KOLAWOLE (NGR) df. Abbie FONTAINE (SCO), 10-0

68kg
GOLD: Blessing OBORUDUDU (NGR) df. Linda MORAIS (CAN), 5-1

BRONZE: Tayla FORD (NZL) defeated. Amylee AZA (MAU), by fall
BRONZE: Divya KAKRAN (IND) defeat. Tiger COCKER (TGA), by fall

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