HARYANA HAMMERS rode on a superb performance from Olympic bronze medallist Levan Lopez Azcuy to edge out a spirited Punjab Royals 4-3 in the semi-finals of the inaugural edition of the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on Saturday evening.
Both teams were equally matched for most of the contest and the capacity crowd was kept on tenterhooks as the lead changed hands repeatedly. But it was Haryana who ultimately prevailed and avenged their defeat to Punjab in the league stage. They will now face an unbeaten Mumbai Garudas in the final here on Sunday.
With the teams locked 3-3 going into the final bout of the day, Lopez clinched the issue for Haryana by defeating a brave Parveen Rana 5-1 in the men's 74kg category. Rana took to the mat with a heavily strapped left knee and was clearly hampered by his injured leg throughout the bout. He required medical attention less than a minute into the opening minute but decided to carry on despite the pain.
The Hammers were a bit hamstrung by the absence of their icon player and captain Yogeshwar Dutt who was ruled out due to a chronic knee injury. The absence of the 2012 London Olympics bronze medallist did afect the Hammers negatively as his replacement, the relatively inexperienced Vishal Thakur, proved to be no match for talented youngster Rajneesh Dalal in the men's 65kg bout.
But to their credit, despite losing the opening two bouts, Haryana staged a superb comeback thanks to inspirational performances by five-time World Champion Oksana Herhel, Andriytsiev Valeriy and Lopez.
Punjab cashed in on Yogeshwar's absence and enjoyed a superb start with Rajneesh outclassing Vishal Thakur of Haryana by technical superiority (12-2).
Rajneesh displayed superb speed and technique to build up a 8-2 lead in the first round with a series of single and double leg attacks. He continued his domination in the second round and wrapped up the issue with a Fitley move.
Punjab soon saw their lead doubled when Vasilisa Marzaliuk defeated Haryana's Geetika Jakhar 4-0 in the women's 69kg section. Leading 1-0 in the first round after the passivity rule was applied against the overtly defensive Geetika, the European champion from Belarus used a couple of take downs and push outs to bolster her lead in the second.
The jam-packed stadium was brought to its feet when Haryana won back to back bouts by fall to roar back into the contest.
Valeriy brought Haryana back into the reckoning by defeating an impressive Mausam Khatri of Punjab by fall (5-4) in the men's 97kg category.
Valeiry took the lead with a push out, but Khatri used the Scissor tackle to bag four points and lead 4-1 by the end of the first round. Khatri seemed to be the physically stronger of the two and was on top of his opponent in the second round as well. But Valeriy stunned the racous crowd by felling Khatri with a body tackle and getting the pin.
Tatyana Kit equalised for Haryana by defeating Punjab's Priyanka Phogat by fall (5-4) in the women's 53kg class.
Up against a physically stronger Priyanka, Tatiana used her technique and superior experience to good effect. The 21-year-old Priyanka used her strength to force a 4-1 lead, but a superb counter-attack from Tatiana late in the second half proved to be the clincher.
Jarsaikhan Chuluunbat (men's 125kg) put Punjab back in the lead by defeating Hitender of Haryana 5-1. Both grapplers equally matched in the opening period but Jargalsaikhan took a 1-0 lead after the Passivity rule was invoked against Hitender. But the Mongolian showcased his technique in the second round by successfully using the Fitley move.
Five-time World Champion Oksana Herhel of Ukraine lived upto her reputation and brought Haryana back on level terms by overpowering Geeta Phogat by fall (4-0) in the women's 58kg section.
Geeta had upset her more celebrated rival when the two teams met in the league phase and Oksana took her revenge on Saturday. Geeta was a bit defensive to start with which saw the referee award the Passivity rule against her. That forced the Indian into the offensive and that proved to be her undoing as Herhel used a superb counter-attack to clinch the issue.
It was left to Lopez to carry Haryana home and the Cuban did not disappoint. After Rana took a medical timeout, Lopez took full advantage by taking the lead with a push out. Rana tried to stage a comeback in the dying seconds of the first period with a quick double leg attack, but could not get past Lopez's defence.
Rana reduced the gap in the second round thanks to the Passivity rule. But Lopez increased the lead by latching onto Rana's injured leg before lifting him out of the playing arena.