Having overcome many a challenge in the last four years, the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) has turned out to be a unique platform to bring forth new talent in India every season.
Apart from financially benefiting wrestlers from around the globe, the PWL has juxtaposed the lesser known Indians against the best in the world.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, points out that the familiarity with foreign wrestlers has done away with the ‘fear factor’ among the Indians. “In the first season, the Indian wrestlers were a little wary about their bouts against foreigners. Now, they don’t have that apprehension and are beating the competitors from overseas regularly,” he said.
Delhi Sultans coach Sujit Mann agrees. “The mental block almost does not exist now. When we compete with somebody and give a good performance that boosts the morale,” he said.
Bajrang Punia, the world championships silver medallist, feels the PWL is a grooming ground for the younger lot. “The PWL is a good platform for youngsters to spar and train with foreign wrestlers and learn a lot,” he said.
The PWL has produced some world-beating Indians, such as Sakshi Malik, Pooja Dhanda and Vinesh Phogat, in its short tenure.
Losing twice to World champion Oksana Herhel and beating World championships medallist Geeta Phogat were experiences that proved valuable to the then less-known Sakshi in the first edition of the PWL in 2015. It also stood her in good stead in Rio 2016, where she became the first Indian woman wrestler to land an Olympic medal.
“We are getting such a good platform in our own country. We get to train with World and Olympic champions and the younger wrestlers benefit by taking part in the league. Everybody gets to learn something from the PWL,” says Sakshi.
The PWL gave a new lease of life to Pooja, who made a comeback after losing about two years due to a ligament tear, as she beat World and Olympic champion Helen Maroulis, Olympic bronze medallist Odunayo Adekuroye, and Worlds silver medallist Marwa Amri in the last edition.
Pooja went on to secure a Worlds bronze medal later in 2018.
“The PWL has given me a second life. After the injury, I made a comeback on this stage and beat the top wrestlers of the world. It enhanced my confidence and I could get a World championships medal. It gives us an opportunity to see where we stand in comparison to foreign wrestlers,” says Pooja.
Vinesh, who was adjudged the best wrestler of season one and had lost to former World champion and Olympics bronze medallist Sun Yanan in the semifinals of PWL 3, gained from her experience to upset the famed wrestler in the first round on her way to becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to pocket an Asian Games gold.
Sandeep Tomar’s rise to become an Asian champion can also be attributed to his PWL exposure.
The fourth season has also seen the emergence of some talented Indians, including Ravi Kumar (57kg), Sarita Mor (women’s 57kg), Pinki, Anju (53kg) and Kiran (76kg).
The world under-23 silver medallist Ravi, who remained unbeaten in seven matches and stunned Olympian Sandeep Tomar, was unequivocally hailed as the find of the season.
“I have become a big fan of Ravi. I hope he performs even better and goes on to do well for the country in the Olympics,” said Vinesh.
Mumbai Maharathi coach Anoop Kumar also raved about him. “Ravi is an excellent wrestler. I congratulate him and my best wishes are with him. I pray that he stays away from injuries as he can bring laurels for the country.”
Kiran too impressed everyone by upsetting two strong wrestlers from abroad.
Both Ravi and Kiran — who helped their team, four-time finalist Haryana Hammers, beat two-time champion Punjab Royal 6-3 in the final and win its maiden title — acknowledged that the PWL exposure enhanced their reputation.
“I had a good season, which boosted my morale. I have to keep working hard to prove myself in international competitions,” said Ravi.
Kiran, a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, said, “My confidence level is up now after beating two foreigners. I hope to take this forward in future events.”
The PWL also gives promising foreign wrestlers a chance to prove themselves. For instance, Moldovan World junior champion Anastasia Nichita, 19, won hearts with her clinical performances and come-from-behind wins to emerge as the best among the foreign grapplers in the fourth edition.
“Anastasia is a fabulous wrestler who will make it big at the top level in the years to come,” said Hammers coach Kuldeep Malik. Besides providing a stage for young talent, the PWL Season 4 has highlighted the intense competition among Indian wrestlers in certain weight categories such as men’s 57kg and 74kg and women’s 53kg, 57kg and 76kg in the year prior to the Olympics.
It will be in the best interests of Indian wrestling if the PWL continues to give the sport — that has given the country four medals in the last three Olympics — a boost.
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