Living up to expectations, Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia put himself in contention for a historic World Championship gold medal after quelling a spirited challenge from Alejandro Enrique Valdes Tobier in a tense 65kg semifinal in Budapest on Sunday.
The Commonwealth Games and Asian Games gold medallist assured himself a second Worlds medal, having won bronze at the 2013 edition. The in-form 24-year-old came into the event as one of the strong medal contenders, and continued with his good form this season.
Sushil Kumar is the lone Indian to have won gold at the Worlds, achieving the feat at Moscow 2010 in the 66kg category. If Bajrang wins gold, it will be a rare achievement to win titles at all major championships in a single season.
While he dominated the competitions at CWG and the Jakarta Asian Games this year, Bajrang's road to the final in Budapest wasn't easy as he had to use all his mental and physical prowess to down his Cuban opponent (4-3) in the semifinal after overcoming Mongolia's Tulga Tumur Ochir (5-3) in the quarter-finals.
There weren't many attacking moves in the semifinal with both Bajrang and Tobier mostly using their upper body power. Bajrang opened the scoring with a takedown but the Cuban reduced the margin by pushing the Indian out. Seconds before the first break, Bajrang took a 4-1 lead with a throw move.
The second period was again very intense and neither grappler could score a point until the Cuban found a two-point move at the edge of the circle. Pressure was mounting with Bajrang's coach shouting 'attack, attack'. Tobier tried everything but the Indian held on to his lead to win.
Earlier, Bajrang defeated Roman Asharin 9-4 in the first round and beat Korean Lee Seungchul 4-0 but faced stiff competition from Tumur Ochir.
In other bouts of the day, Sandeep Tomar began in stupendous fashion but could not sustain the momentum. He outclassed his Guatemala opponent Jose Mox Arias by technical superiority in the 57kg category but lost the second round to Azerbaijan's Giorgi Edisherashvili. Sachin Rathi was outplayed 1-13 by Mongolian wrestler Unurbat Purevjav in the 79kg qualification round. Deepak, competing in the 92kg, lost his pre-quarterfinal bout 0-4 to Liubomyr Sagaliuk of Ukraine.