By the time the last bout between Punjab’s Jargalsaikhan Chuluunbat and Levan Berianidze of Mumbai got over, the KD Jadhav stadium had fallen silent. Full until then, the number of spectators in the stands kept receding. In the end, only the wrestlers, organisers and a handful of journalists were present at the arena. But, this wasn’t the lowest point of the evening.
The Pro Wrestling League, which was supposed to usher in a new era for the sport began on a disappointing note. Barely 19 seconds into the first bout of the day, the referee blew the whistle, asking Vladimir Khinchegashvi and Rahul Aware to stop. The players, stunned, trudged to their corners only to return five minutes later to restart the bout. If that was not enough, the organisers had a hard time when the clock malfunctioned during the last bout forcing the players to stop. “We had everything in order. No one is allowed in the field of play and it was all fine. The first bout was restarted for some technical reason. You have to ask the wrestling federation for that,” Kartikeya Sharma, CMD, Pro-Sportify Ltd, which started the PWL, argued.
But by the time the first bout was won by Punjab’s Vladimir, the crowd had forgotten all the problems and cheered for the players and the wrestlers didn’t disappoint them either. Three-time world champion and Mumbai’s captain Adeline Gray displayed her skills to beat Vasilisa Marzaliuk in women’s +69 kg category 10-1. But it was overshadowed by Geeta Phogat’s and Sakshi Malik’s bout which saw four referrals and Malik upsetting the Olympian and giving her team an unassailable 4-2 lead.
Having led 4-2, Malik grabbed Geeta from behind and while she almost had the latter on her back, Geeta rolled over to claim two points. The referee’s decision was challenged by the Mumbai side. It took the officials more than six minutes to make their decision and in the end awarded four points to Malik and two to Geeta. In the end, the Punjab’s wrestler managed to tie the match 8-8 on the last move but Sakshi was declared the winner given she had ‘more points on the trot’.
In contrast, the men’s 74kg between Praveen Rana of Punjab and Pradeep of Mumbai was awarded to the former after it ended it a 5-5 tie as he had scored the final point. The confusion regarding the rules continued to prevail no points being awarded to the opponent if the other made a wrong challenge. The frustration was visible on the faces of the international wrestlers because of the continued halts in the bouts.
One can say that the only bout that was conducted smoothly was between Mumbai’s Odunaya Adekouroye and Punjab’s Priyanka Phogat. The birthday girl Odunaya outclassed Priyanka 10-2 making full use of her tall height and long reach to not allow Priyanka to attack. Later, the Nigerian showcased her dancing moves to cheer up the crowd that had fell silent.
But, later it was the same. A half filled stadium marked the beginning of the league. But as chaos descended, the numbers dwindled. Eventually, only a handful decided to stay back for the entire evening.