Every time a wrestler from Haryana Hammers steps on to the mat, the crowd breaks into cheers. It does not stop for the entire six minutes of the bout. But Saturday was a different story. The fans seemed to be having doubts about their team and after the first two bouts of the semi-final against Punjab Royals, the uneasiness only got stronger .
Rajneesh and Vasilisa Marzuliuk gave Punjab a 2-0 lead by beating Vishal Rana and Geetika Jakhar in the men’s 65 kg and women’s 69+ kg categories, respectively. But amid the cheers for Punjab, there was only one person backing the Haryana team, their star player Yogeshwar Dutt, who missed the semi-final due to an injury.
And, when Livan Lopez Azcuy celebrated his win over Parveen Rana in the last bout of the evening, Yogeshwar jumped off his seat, for once throwing caution into the winds.
He was not wrong to back his team even when it was trailing 2-0. For at the end Haryana Hammers booked a spot in the final of the inaugural Pro Wrestling League after a 4-3 win over Punjab Royals. Both looked balanced on paper but on the given day, Haryana emerged as the better team.
2012 Olympic silver medallist Anderiitesey Valerii got them going with a win-by-fall victory over Mausam Khatri in the men’s 97 kg category after trailing 4-1 at half-time. Tatyana Kit, the Haryana team captain on Saturday, followed Valerii’s footsteps to beat Priyanka Phogat by fall after tailing her 4-1 from the first period. “I had fought Yuri Maier in the league stages and now they changed the wrestler so it was difficult for me as I was not prepared for Valerii,” Mausam said.
Haryana’s strategy to make Kit the captain and Oksana Herhel as the icon player paid off. Since both players could not be blocked, they took the advantage by blocking Punjab’s Vladimir Khinchegashvili, a silver medallist at the 2015 Worlds in the men’s 57 kg category. The second blocked player was Nirmal Devi who would have fought against 2014 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Yana Rattigan in the women’s 48 kg category.
Even after tying the match 2-2, Haryana had to once again fight back after Hitender lost to Jargalsaikhan Chuluunbat in the men’s 125 kg category. What took place later would delight every wrestling fan. Geeta Phogat, Punjab’s captain, had defeated Oksana earlier in the tournament and was the favourite once again. But the Ukrainian stunned a packed KD Jadhav stadium as she took only two minutes and 25 seconds to pin down Geeta and prove why she is the world number one in the 58 kg category. Even after that win, tension on the faces of Haryana camp was visible when Livan stepped to wrestle against Parveen. But it soon turned into joy as the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist made light work of the Indian wrestler who continued his bout despite tearing his knee ligament.
Livan pumped his chest 10 seconds before his 5-1 win, clearing the doubts of the fans and taking his team to the summit clash where they face the unbeaten Mumbai Garudas.