Bajrang Punia wrestles through a wounded head to take home bronze at the World Championships.
At the World Wrestling Championships in Belgrade on Sunday, Bajrang Punia persevered despite suffering a nasty gash to his head and won a bronze medal through repechage.
Currently holding four medals at the Worlds—a silver and three bronze—Bajrang will treasure this medal especially because he competed the entire competition while sporting a bandage over his cut on his head from Saturday's opening match.
Sebastian Rivera defeated Bajrang for the bronze medal in a proper matchup; the Puerto Rican jumped out to a healthy 6-0 lead in the first 30 seconds while the Indian had some time to adjust to his opponent's pace.
But as soon as he did, he was unstoppable. With one minute left, Bajrang responded with a four-pointer and then started a takedown to tie the game. The confrontational, traditional Bajrang was back.
In order to take an 8-6 lead into halftime, Rivera, who won the silver medal at the Pan American Championships in 2022, targeted Bajrang's right leg and performed an ankle pick. Rivera has used the same trick to trick Bajrang three times already. But Bajrang, being the second-period wrestler that he is, produced a takedown to close the gap and then another to grab the lead at 10-9.
With fewer than 30 seconds left, Rivera ran out of choices and once more attempted the ankle pick, but Bajrang was on the lookout. With just a fraction of a second left, Rivera maneuvered through Bajrang's defense and flipped him, but it was too late. However, the buzzer had already stopped, so the Puerto Rican camp had already lost the challenge.
Bajrang started his campaign earlier on Saturday with a valiant victory over Alejandro Enrique Valdes Tobier of Cuba. Not only had he defeated the former Pan-American champion, but he had done so while suffering from a serious head wound. Bajrang maintained his composure to defeat the rival he had already defeated en route to the Worlds.
Bajrang's blood loss appeared to have taken a toll because he was defeated by USA's Yianni Diakomihalis in the quarterfinal on the basis of technical superiority. Throughout the fight, Diakomihalis—a two-time Cadet and three-time NCAA champion—systematically dismantled Bajrang while he appeared dazed. Midway through the fight, Bajrang's wound started to bleed, but Diakomihalis still managed to finish the fight with a double ankle hold.
The bronze medal was subsequently up for grabs as Bajrang narrowly defeated Vazgen Tevanyan in the first round of the repechage. With two takedowns, the Armenian quickly built a 4-0 lead while Bajrang only managed to draw one back. In the last seconds, Bajrang tried a takedown but was unsuccessful due to a successful counterattack.
At the beginning of the second session, Tevanyan took a firm hold of Bajrang's right knee, putting him in trouble, but the Indian's leg defense kept him in the fight. Then, after making his own attack to close the gap to one point, he performed a feat of wizardry by rolling Tevanyan twice to snag four points and take the lead.
Bajrang retained his position and stayed put on the mat to ensure he came away with the victory in the tense final 10 seconds as Tevanyan fought his way to yet another takedown.
Bajrang was ultimately successful despite having a bloodied head.