New Delhi, Oct 22: Living up to the expectations, star Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia put himself in contention for a historic World Championship gold medal after quelling a spirited challenge from Alejandro Enrique Valdes Tobier in a tense 65kg semi-final on Sunday. The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold medallist ensured himself a second medal at the Worlds, having won a bronze at the 2013 edition. The in-form 24-year-old had come into the event as one of the strong medal contenders and has continued with his red-hot form this season.
Celebrated Sushil Kumar is the lone Indian to have won a gold medal at the Worlds, achieving the feat in 2010 in Moscow in the 66kg category.
If Bajrang manages to win gold, it will be a rare achievement to win titles at all major championships in a single season. While he had dominated the competitions at CWG and Jakarta Asian Games this year, Bajrang's road to the final in Budapest was not easy as he had to use all his mental and physical prowess to down his Cuban opponent (4-3) in the semifinal after overcoming Mongolia's Tulga Tumur Ochir (5-3) win in the quarter-finals.
There were not many attacking moves in the semifinal with both Bajrang and Tobier mostly using the upper body power. Bajrang opened the scoring with a takedown but the Cuban reduced the margin by pushing the Indian out.
Seconds before the first break, Bajrang took a 4-1 lead with a throw move. The second period was again very intense and no grappler could score a point until the Cuban found a two-point move at the edge of the circle. The pressure was mounting with Bajrang's coach urging him to attack from outside. Tobier tried everything but the Indian maintained his lead to emerge victorious.
Earlier, Bajrang defeated Roman Asharin 9-4 in the first round and beat Korean Lee Seungchul 4-0 but faced stiff competition from Tumur Ochir. In other bouts of the day, Sandeep Tomar began in stupendous fashion but could not sustain the momentum. He outclassed his Guatemala opponent Jose Mox Arias by technical superiority in the 57kg category but lost the second round to Azerbaijan's Giorgi Edisherashvili.
Sachin Rathi was outplayed 1-13 by Mongolian wrestler Unurbat Purevjav in the 79kg qualification round. Deepak, competing in the 92kg, lost his pre-quarter-final bout 0-4 to Liubomyr Sagaliuk of Ukraine.