It’s unlikely that KD Jadhav would recognise the wrestling that will take place in the stadium named after him on Thursday. At the time of India’s first wrestling medallist at the Olympics and indeed for much of the recent past, wrestling has largely been considered a rural sport largely fought in dangals. The game has long complained of a lack of glamour, money and media coverage. But all this is set to change on Thursday when the Pro Wrestling League begins in New Delhi.
Over the course of next 18 days, 54 wrestlers from 13 countries will compete again each other in the six city based franchise system. They will enter the ring to their franchise theme song. Bouts will be telecast on national TV. The prize money at stake is a whopping Rs three crores, making it the richest league of the sport in the world.
It also makes wrestling the latest in a long list of sports that have a professional league. The wrestlers who will compete believe that their league has what it takes to break free of the clutter. “Like other sports, it is good that there is a league for wrestling as well. Since it is a traditional sport and that gives it an edge as people will come to watch this. There is money and infrastructure now and no doubt that we will make it the best in India,” says Vinesh Phogat who will wrestle for Dilli Veer.
The players obviously hope the league does well as it offers them some very sizeable paycheques. But the money is not everything for the players as 57 kg category wrestler Amit Dahiya who was bought at the PWL auction for 30.1 lakh rupees by the Haryana Hammers team. “I have not thought about the money. All I know is how to wrestle and that is what I am going to do. I hail from Haryana and playing from the state’s franchise fills me with josh,” he says.
The Indian grapplers are not the only one who have high hopes from the league. Argentina’s Yuri Maier is excited about the first pro league in the sport as well. “It’s a great start for the game. If all the countries can follow suit then the game can have better days ahead” says Pan America bronze medallist Maier, who will be wrestling for the Haryana franchise.
Considering the depth of talent in the league, however, there will be no easy wins. The organisers have done a fair job by bringing in world class wrestlers in the likes Sweden’s world number two wrestler Sofia Mattson, world champion in 58 kg category Oksana Herhel and former 48 kg world champion Kogut Oleksandra, both from Ukraine, Uzbekistan’s Navruzov Ikhtiyor , three time world champion in the 69 kg category Adeline Gray and Georgia’s world championships gold medal winner Vladimir Khinchegashvili and a host of star Indian wrestler like Sushil Kumar, Yogehswar Dutt, Bajrang, Phogat sisters under the same roof.
Making the league interesting, the winner of the competition on the match day will be decided on the basis of best of seven bouts among the two teams. The top four teams will qualify from the semi-finals.
Since it is the inaugural edition of the league, no team appears to be a clear favourite but India’s star grappler Yogehwar is confident that his team will lift the trophy “We have to win. We have a good team and we will win it for Haryana,” he says.
Indeed despite all the money and attention the sport is likely to get, the the priority for players still remains the same – to wrestle. “Be it country, state or league, what matters is wrestling. Agar sagaa bhai bhi aa jaye to mai sirf khusti karunga (I will wrestle, even my brother turns up) ” Yogeshwar, the highest paid Indian player of the league, says.
It’s at least one thing, KD Jadhav would have understood.