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Unlike most mainstream sports introduced to the Indian populous by the British Army in the late 19th century and 20th century, wrestling has been ever-present in the Indian culture since the time of yore.
The Wrestling Roots in India
Wrestling has always been practised in India, albeit on mud patches known as akharas instead of mats used by the Europeans which have been adopted by other nations as well.
Wrestling is often called by the names of Kushti, Dangal, and Pehelwani in North India where akharas are commonly found in the states of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and regions of Delhi as well.
Historical roots and evolution
Greco-Roman wrestling was introduced in the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896 while freestyle wrestling was introduced in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics and became a regular feature of the Olympics programme 1908 London Olympics onwards.
At the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Randhir Shindes finished fourth in the Men’s freestyle featherweight category missing out on the bronze medal. Representing independent India at the 1948 London Olympics, KD Jadhav of Maharashtra finished fourth yet again missing out on a wrestling medal in the Olympics for India.
At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Jadhav chose to participate in the bantamweight category of freestyle wrestling and ended up with the bronze medal ending the nation’s wait for an Olympic medal in wrestling.
Professional wrestling was given in a lift in India when Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt commonly known as Gama Pehlwan across India and The Great Gama in the western world dominated the 1910 John Bull World Championship and was crowned the Champion of India after defeating Raheem Sultaniwala shortly afterwards.
Dara Singh was the hero of independent India as he ruled the wrestling world in the 1950s and won the world championships after defeating Emile Czaja and remained for the entirety of his career spanning more than 500 professional matches.
Historical significance and traditions
In the mythological books of Ramayana and Mahabharata, there are many instances of princes and kings participating in wrestling to showcase power. In Mahabharata, Bhima, one of the five Pandavas was an acclaimed wrestler while Lord Hanuman in the Ramayana was known to be one of the greatest wrestlers of his time.
Being the birthplace of wrestling, Haryana and Punjab kept the tradition alive by housing wrestling arenas in the state along with the rural pockets of Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi, which are still hosts to some of the best akharas in the country.
Indian Wrestlers on the mat of glory
Although the nation’s wait for the first gold medalist in the Olympics still goes on, there have been several glorious moments in the last two decades for Indian wrestling, with two silver medals and six bronze medals pocketed by wrestlers.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Sushil Kumar broke the nation’s 56-year wait for a wrestling medal at the Olympics by bagging a bronze medal in the Men’s freestyle 66 kg category. Sushil followed it up with a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a historic silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
In 2016, Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman to bag a wrestling medal by winning the bronze medal in the Women’s 58 kg freestyle category.
At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Ravi Kumar Dahiya clinched the silver medal in the Men’s freestyle 57 kg category, while Bajrang Punia won the bronze medal in the Men’s freestyle 65 kg category.
India has won the most amount of wrestling medals at the last four consecutive editions of the Commonwealth Games between 2010 and 2022. The nation has a total of 49 gold medals, 39 silver medals, and 26 bronze medals in CWG history, with 56 of those medals won in the last four editions.
At the Asian Games, India has won a total of 11 Gold Medals in wrestling, bagged by Malwa Singh, Maruti Mane, Ganpat Andalkar, Chandgi Ram, Satpal Singh, Rajinder Singh, Kartar Singh (2), Yogeshwar Dutt, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia.
Profiles of top Indian wrestlers
Born in 1992, Malik took up wrestling at the young age of 12 years and won the bronze medal in the 58 kg freestyle category in the 2010 Junior World Championships.
Malik had a glorious start to her senior career as well when she bagged the silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. At the 2016 Olympics, Malik used the repechage round to make a comeback after her quarter-final defeat and bagged bronze, becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to win a medal in the Olympics.
After being honoured with the Padma Shri award in 2017, Malik went on to bag a bronze medal in the Women’s freestyle 62 kg category at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and then won the gold medal in the same category in the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
On the professional wrestling front, The Great Khali is the biggest name in the 21st century and rivalled with the likes of The Undertaker and John Cena in his peak years.
Dalip Singh Rana, commonly known by the alias of Khali in the wrestling world was born in Himachal Pradesh and was a part of the Punjab Police before making his professional wrestling debut in 2000.
On January 2 2006, Khali became the first Indian wrestler to be signed by World Wrestling Entertainment and became the World Heavyweight Champion on July 20, 2007. After several feuds and rivalries, Khali was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2021, but at the recent WWE Superstar Spectacle 2023, Khali claimed that he has another fight left in him.
The Future Grapple: Wrestling in India
At the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games, Deepak Punia was the only Indian wrestler to bag a silver medal as Antim Panghal, Aman Sehrawat, Sonam Malik, Sunil Kumar, and Kiran Bishnoi bagged a bronze medal each signing off a difficult year for wrestling fans in India.
The scandals inside the WFI and the allegations made on WFI chief Brij Bhushan derailed India’s build-up to the Asian Games and also put the wrestlers in a precarious position to regroup and redefine their focus ahead of the Olympic games set to kick off in July 2024.
The 2024 Paris Olympics would offer a chance to many accomplished wrestlers to continue the medal wins at five consecutive Olympics games as the likes of Punia, Malik, and Dahiya are in prime positions ahead of the megafest.
Upcoming Talents and Prospects
Born in 2004 in Hisar, Antim Panghal became the first-ever U-20 World Champion as she won the gold medal at the 2022 Sofia U-20 World Wrestling Championships in the 57 kg category and retained her title at the 2023 Amman U-20 World Wrestling Championships.
At the 2023 Astana Asian Championships, the Haryana-born wrestler won the silver medal in the same weight category and later won a bronze medal at the 2023 Belgrade World Championships before bagging a bronze medal at the Hangzhou Asian Games.
Aman Sehrawat was unveiled to the world when he won the gold medal at the 2022 Bishkek Asian U-23 Championships and stamped himself as an upcoming elite wrestler at the 2022 Pontevedra World U-23 Championships.
After winning the Gold medal at the 2023 Astana World Wrestling Championships, the recently concluded Asian Games was supposed to be another gold for the 20-year-old wrestler, but the promising wrestler settled for a bronze medal at the continental megafest.
Betting Strategies for Wrestling fans
Wrestling and bets have gone hand in hand since the time the sport evolved into a mainstream sport.
The favourite often has overwhelming odds in his/her favour, while betting in favour of the underdog often brings loss while producing huge gains on the day the favourite goes down in defeat.
Understanding Wrestler Techniques
Wrestler techniques are often categorized into three different things that define the overall style and technique of a certain wrestler.
- Stance: Many wrestlers use a square stance with both feet parallel to each other, while some wrestlers use a staggered stance with more weight on the front foot.
- Physical characteristics: While some wrestlers are of the usual height and weight, flyweight wrestlers have often ruled some phases of professional wrestling in the modern era, with well-built wrestlers often using the attacking moves of flyweight wrestlers.
- Motion: The flyweight wrestlers often stay in motion, using their speed and quick acceleration to apply running moves on the opponent, while tall and well-built wrestlers often design their attacking moves around their signature moves, which are usually stand-and-deliver moves.
Tips for maximizing returns
While betting on wrestling, one must read in detail about the head-to-head record and injury or fitness updates about the wrestlers involved in the match.