COVENTRY: For Bajrang Punia, anything less than a gold at the 2022 CWG would have been a setback. The competition was hardly at a level that he faces at ranking tournaments organised by the United World Wrestling. So it didn't come as a surprise when Bajrang literally waltzed through to the 65kg gold at the Coventry Stadium on Friday.
The Rashidovs, Otoguros, Niyazbekovs, Aliyevs and the Muszukajevs weren't there and Bajrang, in reality, used half his abilities to get the top position.
His final opponent Lachlan McNeil of Canada still grapples in the junior (U-21) section at the international stage. The 21-year-old actually got a lesson in the 'technical' part of wrestling from the much-experienced Bajrang over the six minutes of the bout. Bajrang hardly broke a sweat and won just by earning technical points - four in the first period, five in the second. There were no flashy 'fitle daanv' (body rolls) or 'dhobi pachhad' or 'dhobi patt' (overhead takedowns) - the signature moves associated with Bajrang.
It seemed to people, who have followed Bajrang's career, that the 28-year-old was just practicing honing his leg defence - a part of Bajrang's game that often gets exposed when he faces pedigreed wrestlers. CWG 2022 Day 8: AS IT HAPPENED
The successful title defence meant Bajrang now has two CWG gold medals to his name, besides the silver he got in 2014.
Such was Bajrang's dominance that he won three of his four bouts inside the first period itself. He beat Naurau's Lowe Bingham and Mauritius' Jean Guyliane Joris Bandou 'by fall' before winning by technical superiority against England's Geroge Ramm in the semifinal.
"After the Olympics, I went for rehab for nearly seven months. It was important to completely heal from the knee injury that I had suffered before the Olympics at the preparatory camp in Russia. Gradually, I am getting into my groove, and this (CWG) gold will be a big confidence booster for me," Bajrang told TOI on the sidelines, just before going for the medal ceremony.
"I know the competition here wasn't great, but a gold medal is a gold medal. At the Olympics, I had to be satisfied with a bronze." Sakshi adds missing CWG gold
A few minutes after Bajrang's final, 2016 Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik entered the arena and outwitted another Canadian - Ana Gonzalez - in the women's 62kg category to add a second gold from wrestling. This was Sakshi's first gold at the CWG level. She won a silver in the 58kg category in 2014 and a bronze in the 62kg category in 2018.
The win wasn't easy though. Ana took the first two points with a fireman's hold and then employed a single leg takedown for another two points towards the end of the first period. The work was cut out for Sakshi as the two wrestlers took the mat again in the second round.
Just seconds into the second period, Sakshi managed to get a takedown and then a reversal. She then pinned her opponent and won the bout almost like how she did in 2016 Rio when she extraordinarily won the bronze in the last 30 seconds. Deepak adds a third gold
The joy on the mat didn't end there as Deepak Punia added the third gold of the night by beating Pakistan's Muhammad Inam in the men's 86kg category. As if there wasn't enough spice in this bout already with the Indo-Pak clash, the added flavour came with the fact that Inam had won gold in 2010 and in 2018.
In a cagey affair, Inam got two passivity strikes against him as Deepak went into a 2-0 lead. With both wrestlers prioritizing defence for much of the bout, there were hardly any takedowns. When Inam finally threw caution to the wind and lunged for Deepak's legs, the Indian managed to get on top of him for a point and waited out the clock after that. Deepak, eventually, won 3-0 for his first CWG gold. Silver lining for Anshu
Anshu Malik was the first to give India a wrestling medal - a silver - during the day. In the women's 57kg final, she lost 3-7 to defending champion Odunayo Folasade Adekuoroye of Nigeria. In an absolute thriller, Anshu tried her best for a dramatic come-from-behind win, but had to be content with a silver in her maiden CWG appearance, while the Nigerian completed a hat-trick of gold medals at the Games.