After a nearly five month long gap, Sakshi Malik wrestled a competitive bout once again. For the record, she beat Pooja Dhanda by technical superiority. She was leading 16-0 in the 58kg freestyle bout when the referee stopped the contest .
In terms of significance, the contest couldn't begin to compare to that historic bronze medal match in Rio that made Sakshi a household name. On Friday night, she walked towards the mat at the KD Jadhav stadium for a team that didn't exist until a couple of weeks before, in a tie which even in the context of a gaudy league was meaningless (her franchise - Delhi Sultans was down an insurmountable four matches to one before Sakshi's bout).
The watching throng cheered as Sakshi , wearing a professional boxing style robe, was led by a Caucasian woman waving a flag. Spotlights danced across the mat in front of her. Before she put her foot on the blue foam though, Sakshi touched it with her right hand to show her respect for the playing surface. It's just tradition.
Considering the time she had spent away from it, there were a few questions around how many habits on the mat would the 24 year-old retain. She had been busy after all. She had only had snatches of training in between the felicitations, ad and magazine shoots and then an engagement to a fellow wrestler. The sport can be unkind to lthose who show less than complete devotion. On Thursday, fellow Olympian Babita Kumari, had been pinned in 46 seconds. Earlier in the day, Sakshi's fiancé Satyawart Kadian was left gasping for breath as he was blown away by his opponent.
As it turns out, there was little doubt in Sakshi's mind. "I wasn't nervous. I've never spent so long away from the mat. So I was really looking forward to wrestling again," she said after her bout.
Perhaps Pooja wasn't the hardest opponent to face on a comeback. It's not as if she was a pushover. Pooja is a youth Olympics silver medalist and an Asian Championship bronze medalist. The pair have wrestled thrice with Sakshi losing the first two as a cadet. In their most recent encounter during the trials for the 2015 Asian Championships, Sakshi had won a close bout. But Pooja had suffered an ACL injury that required surgery just after the trials. While Sakshi would go from strength to strength, Pooja would spent her time recovering. The Pro Wrestling League was Pooja's comeback tournament too.
Sakshi was clearly the stronger wrestler on Friday as the comprehensive scoreline suggests. Indeed at 57kg, Pooja was giving up a significant size advantage, considering the Pro Wrestling League gives a 3 kilo weight advantage to women.
Sakshi's strength was obvious when the two wrestlers got into ties. Pooja was on the defensive from the start and gave up a point for passivity. Another point was conceded when Sakshi simply shoved her opponent out of bounds.
Sakshi got into power positions - taking elbow and wrist control -- with effortless ease. The two points from the inevitable takedown were quadrupled as Sakshi gutwrenched her opponent twice. The same sequence (takedown followed by two gut wrenches) ended the contest. Pooja would normally be expected to defend the torqueing maneuvere but her own lack of conditioning was her undoing. "I'm not in the best shape physically. My core muscles aren't as strong as they were before my injury. It's hard to return from a long break," she said.
For her opponent, at least, that wasn't the case.