When Bengaluru Yodhas players were taking a rest in their hotel rooms after lunch on Friday, team advisor Kuldeep Malik asked them to pick their kits and head to the KD Jadhav stadium. The players initially were surprised because they were only scheduled to compete on Saturday. Malik however told them they had to play the first semi-final of the Pro Wrestling League against the table-toppers Mumbai Garudas.
The last minute change in schedule left the Yodhas in a fix. With no time left to warm-up, the players boarded the team bus and reached the stadium, a ride which took them close to two hours. “We got a phone call from the Federation at around 4 in the evening that Bengaluru have to play the semi-final. I asked the players to hurry up. We had light training in the morning but nothing before our match,” Kuldeep said.
According to the League rules, Mumbai Garudas were supposed to play the second placed team — Punjab Royals. But later, the organisers, citing ‘FILA rules’, said the first placed team plays the fourth placed team, in this case, Bengaluru Yodhas.
And from that moment onwards, nothing went Bengaluru’s way.
They lost the toss and Mumbai skipper Adeline Gray blocked the women’s 58 kg category; a setback for Yodhas as Yuliya Ratkevich, the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist, had to sit out. “Losing the toss was unfortunate. We lost half of the tie there only because Yuliya was blocked. It was just not our day,” Kuldeep said. The Yodhas’ advisor was not wrong as the results echoed his words.
Bengaluru’s international grapplers were pitted in the first three bouts. Each of them were clear favourites against their Mumbai opponents. Their defeat was thus unexpected. Rio Olympic qualifier Pavlo Oliynik lost the first bout 7-2 to Odikadze Elizbar. To make matters worse, Ritu Phogat stunned two-time Worlds bronze medallist Alyssa Lampe, wining by fall to give Mumbai a 2-0 lead.
Before Bengaluru could absorb the shock, 2012 London Olympics silver medallist Modzimanashvili Davit was dominated 7-2 by Giorgi Sakandelidze in men’s 125 kg.
Following the third loss, the Bengaluru bench must have known that the game was lost. “We expected our foreign wrestlers to win but they didn’t. That was the end for us,” Narsingh Yadav, Bengaluru captain, said.
After taking a 3-0 lead, Odunayo Adekuoroye took only one minute and 17 seconds to beat Lalita to give her team an unassailable 4-0 lead and a place in the final. Narsingh finally opened the scoring for Bengaluru as he beat Pradeep 7-0. But three-time world champion and Mumbai skipper Gray humbled Navjot by technical fall as Bengaluru kept slumping downwards. In the last bout, Bajrang Punia made it 5-2 for Bengaluru but it was just a consolation win.