Top stars in action in PWL-2 (Preview)
New Delhi, Jan 1 (IANS) A host of top grapplers from around the world will rub shoulders with their Indian counterparts when the second edition of the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) starts here on Monday.
But unlike the first edition which was held across several cities, the entire tournament this year will be hosted by the K.D. Jadhav Indoor Stadium from January 2 to 19.
The tournament will feature six teams — Delhi Sultans, Jaipur Ninjas, Mumbai Maharathi, UP Dangal, NCR Punjab Royals and Haryana Hammers — battling it out for a prize purse of Rs.15 crore along with the coveted title.
The opening night will see defending champions Mumbai Maharathi taking on last year’s runners-up Haryana Hammers.
The league will witness 15 matches in the league phase followed by the semi-finals on January 17 and 18.
The tournament will feature a total of 54 wrestlers. The matches will be played in nine weight categories — all of them in the Freestyle section. Of these, 57kg, 65kg, 70kg, 74kg and 97kg are male categories while 48kg, 53kg, 58kg and 75kg are female categories.
Reigning Olympic champion Vladimir Khinchegashvili of Georgia will be the favourite in the 57kg category. Vladimir, who is also the current World and European champion, will turn out for Punjab Royals.
Star Indian wrestler Amit Dahiya, who lost to the Georgian in the quarter-finals of the 2012 Olympics, is expected to be his toughest challenger in this year’s PWL.
Amit, who took silver at the World Championships and gold at the Asian Championships in the now defunct 55kg freestyle division in 2013, is making a comeback from injury.
The 23-year-old, one of the top names in the UP Dangal squad, missed on qualifying for last year’s Rio Olympics as well as PWL-1 due to a knee injury.
Sandeep Tomar of Haryana Hammers and promising youngster Rahul Aware of Mumbai Marathi are the others to watch out for in this category.
Olympic medalist Yogeshwar Dutt is the top Indian wrestler in the 65kg division. The veteran star is expected to face a tough challenge from former Olympic champion Togrul Asgarov of Azerbaijan.
Asgarov, who will represent Punjab Royals, took silver at the Rio Olympics and is the current European Champion.
Yogeshwar’s protege Bajrang Punia of Delhi Sultans — a bronze medalist at the 2013 World Championships — is the other notable name in this category.
Reigning Wolrd and European champion Magomed Kurbanaliev of Russia and current Asian champion Bekzod Abdurakhmonov of Uzbekistan are the top names in the 70kg division.
Kurbanaliev is part of the Haryana Hammers squad while the Uzbek star will represent Delhi Sultans.
Former Asian champion Amit Dhankar of UP Dangals is the top Indian name in this category.
The 74kg category will witness an array of foreign stars in the form of Jabrayil Hasanov (Mumbai), Jakob Makarashvili (Jaipur) and Livan Lopez Azcuy (UP).
Former World Champion Abdusalam Gadisov (Haryana) of Russia and Georgian star Elizbar Odikadze (Jaipur) are expected to headline the 97kg division.
Cuba’s Reineris Salas Perez (Mumbai) and the experienced Indian duo of Mausam Khatri (UP) and Satyavart Kadian (Delhi) are also expected to produce a tough challenge.
Among the women, Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik will represent Delhi in the 58kg category.
Reigning Olympic champion Erica Wieb (75kg), Venezuela’s Betzabeth Arguello (53kg) and Sweden’s Jenny Fransson (75) of Jaipur, Mariya Stadnik (48kg) of Delhi and UP’s Elitsa Yankova (48kg) are the other stars among the women.
The Phogat sisters Geeta and Babita, whose life story was the subject matter of a recent Bollywood movie, will aim to live up to expectations when they turn out for UP.