Delhi’s wrestling hopes

India's Rahul Aware (blue) wrestles against Canada's StevenTakahashi (red) during the men's freestyle 57 kg gold medal wrestling match at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in the Carrara Sports Arena on the Gold Coast on April 12, 2018. (Photo by YE AUNG THU / AFP)

With the Pro Wrestling League Season 4 underway, Patriot takes a look at the players who can make a difference to the Delhi Sultans’ fortunes in the tournament

In the midst of the furore over the Indian Premier League coming to India and the Indian Super League going on in full force, another sports league in India began its fourth season at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Delhi on January 14 – the Pro Wrestling League.

In the past three seasons the Delhi Sultans, the franchise representing the capital, have not seen the best of results. While in the first two seasons, the Sultans finished second last, 2018 was the worst for them as they finished bottom of the table without registering a single win – in spite of Indian wrestling’s poster boy Sushil Kumar in their ranks.

In the 2019 auctions, the Delhi Sultans reset their team, as they splashed the cash to rebuild their franchise hoping to achieve a better result this season around.

Here are some of the key players for the Delhi Sultans, and how they can create a difference for the franchise, so that they can turn around their fortunes.

Sakshi Malik

The biggest coup that the Sultans pulled off at the auctions was the acquisition of Haryana wrestler Sakshi Malik for a record Rs 20 lakh — the highest for a female wrestler at this year’s auction. Malik became the first woman wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics as she clinched a bronze at the 2016 Rio Games. Apart from this she has also clinched medals at consecutive Commonwealth Games – 2014 and 2018 — and also a silver in the Asian Wrestling Championships last year.

With her short stature and quick movement inside the ring, she can tire out opponents who are much bigger in her own weight category. Being the most experienced in the squad, she has also been made the captain, and her smartness in the ring combined with her agility and strength can finally put the Delhi Sultans in the limelight for the first time.

Rahul Aware

The breakout star of Indian wrestling in 2018 has been Rahul Aware. With solid performances at the Asian Games, and a gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the man from a drought hit village in Maharashtra is one of the leading men to look forward to in this year’s competition, having been roped in by the Sultans for Rs 10 crore. A very lean man physically, Rahul possesses tremendous strength wherein he can suplex a man larger than his size, as was evident in his gold medal bout in the CWG against Canadian wrestler Takahasi. His strength combined with his agility will prove a key factor in Delhi’s campaign, as currently Aware stands the best wrestler in the 57-kg category among all teams in the league.

Khetig Tsabalov

Russian born Tsabalov was bought by the Sultans at a whopping Rs 25 lakh, thus becoming the highest paid foreigner and the second highest overall after Bajrang Punia (Rs 30 lakh). A former World Champion, Tsabalov is known for his aggressive approach to his bouts, sometimes even at risk of injury to his opponents. Nicknamed the Ankle Lace Machine, Tsabalov is known to go for the ankle of opponents and pin them down. A dangerous combination of speed and strength, the current Military World Champion Psabalov is perhaps one of the most — if not the most — dangerous wrestler in the world, and having him in their ranks will strike fear in the minds of the Sultans’ opponents.

Sumit Malik

Perhaps India’s most reliable heavyweight Nordic wrestler, the 125-kg Sumit Malik, with his sheer stature, can strike fear in the hearts of opponents. More of a technical submission wrestler than a mean slam and suplex machine, Malik has the power to take the life of out of opponents with his bear hug grapples. A gold medallist at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Malik is the perfect foil to wrestlers like Tsabalov and Malik.

Watch out for:
Pinki (57 kg)
At the recently concluded Yasar Dogu international wrestling championships in Turkey, among the hordes of famous female Indian wrestlers like Sakshi Malik and the Phogat sisters, only one girl managed to clinch a gold – and that was Pinki. She still is quite an unknown quantity in the wrestling world, and the PWL 4 might just be her ticket to the big leagues.

With her surprise element, she just may be the dark horse that propels the Sultans forward to the championship glory and with much senior wrestlers there to guide her, her talents just might bloom better.

Overall, the Delhi team looks like a good balance of aggression and agility on paper. But the first match for the new look squad in the PWL 4 didn’t go down well as the team lost 5-4 in bouts against MP Yoddhas in the opening game. What happens in the course of the tournament will be keenly watched.

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