Punia awaits Otoguro test at this week’s Asian

Having lost two finals to the 22-year-old Japanese, the Indian would like pull one back ahead of the Olympics.
By Avishek Roy
UPDATED ON APR 14, 2021 07:15 AM IST
Indian wrestler Bajrang Punia.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Bajrang Punia’s preparation for the Tokyo Olympics will be put through a stern test at the Asian Championships starting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, from Tuesday. The reason being the presence of Japanese Takuto Otoguro.

Otoguro, 22, has emerged Punia’s nemesis with two big wins in finals against the Indian – at the 2018 World Championships and the Asian Championships last year.

Though the draw for the freestyle competition is yet to be announced with 65kg bouts scheduled on Saturday, being last edition’s finalists they are likely to be in different halves. Punia would not want to miss the opportunity to have a go at Otoguro one last time before the Tokyo Olympics. It has been Punia’s wish after a crushing loss (10-2) to the Japanese in the final of Asian Championships in New Delhi last year.

At the 2018 World Championships, Otoguro -- then only six months into his senior international career -- demolished a strong field and deprived Punia of a gold medal in a fiercely attacking bout, where both went for broke. Punia’s legs came under repeated seize by Otoguro who won the high-scoring contest 16-9 to become Japan’s youngest-ever male world champion and wrestling’s new sensation.

If Punia thought he had worked on his leg defence and was better prepared to challenge Otoguro’s after 16 months, the result blew on his face. The loss at the Asian Championships final was more painful, coming as it did just months before the Olympics which was later postponed giving Punia more time to work on his weak links.

Punia was overwhelmed by the Japanese’s swift moves and attacks while staying very low. Punia’s legs were again an easy grasp for Otoguro. “His leg was sweaty so I went for his shoe and socks,” Otoguro had said after the win.

Punia left the arena in a huff and later wished he could meet him again before the Olympics.

That could happen after the year-long gap. Punia has prepared well and competed at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in Rome, where he won gold with a come-from-behind victory over Tulga Tumur Ochir of Mongolia, who has qualified for Tokyo Olympics. Punia is now world No.1. The Japanese is yet to compete after COVID brought competition to halt in March.

At the Asian meet, Punia might also come across Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov, who beat him in the 2019 World Championships in an ill-tempered semi-final.

Bajrang Punia’s preparation for the Tokyo Olympics will be put through a stern test at the Asian Championships starting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, from Tuesday. The reason being the presence of Japanese Takuto Otoguro.

Otoguro, 22, has emerged Punia’s nemesis with two big wins in finals against the Indian – at the 2018 World Championships and the Asian Championships last year.

Though the draw for the freestyle competition is yet to be announced with 65kg bouts scheduled on Saturday, being last edition’s finalists they are likely to be in different halves. Punia would not want to miss the opportunity to have a go at Otoguro one last time before the Tokyo Olympics. It has been Punia’s wish after a crushing loss (10-2) to the Japanese in the final of Asian Championships in New Delhi last year.

At the 2018 World Championships, Otoguro -- then only six months into his senior international career -- demolished a strong field and deprived Punia of a gold medal in a fiercely attacking bout, where both went for broke. Punia’s legs came under repeated seize by Otoguro who won the high-scoring contest 16-9 to become Japan’s youngest-ever male world champion and wrestling’s new sensation.

If Punia thought he had worked on his leg defence and was better prepared to challenge Otoguro’s after 16 months, the result blew on his face. The loss at the Asian Championships final was more painful, coming as it did just months before the Olympics which was later postponed giving Punia more time to work on his weak links.

Punia was overwhelmed by the Japanese’s swift moves and attacks while staying very low. Punia’s legs were again an easy grasp for Otoguro. “His leg was sweaty so I went for his shoe and socks,” Otoguro had said after the win.

Punia left the arena in a huff and later wished he could meet him again before the Olympics.

That could happen after the year-long gap. Punia has prepared well and competed at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in Rome, where he won gold with a come-from-behind victory over Tulga Tumur Ochir of Mongolia, who has qualified for Tokyo Olympics. Punia is now world No.1. The Japanese is yet to compete after COVID brought competition to halt in March.

At the Asian meet, Punia might also come across Kazakhstan’s Daulet Niyazbekov, who beat him in the 2019 World Championships in an ill-tempered semi-final.

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