New Delhi: Jaipur Ninjas registered a narrow 4-3 win over UP Dangal to book a berth in the semifinals of the Pro Wrestling League Season 2 at the K D Jadhav Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
UP won the toss and decided to block the 57kg Men's category, thereby preventing Jaipur's impressive Indian grappler Utkarsh Kale from participating in the tie. UP blocked the 75kg Women's category, as Jaipur's key player Jenny Fransson had to sit out.
With this victory, Jaipur Ninjas became the first team to qualify for the semifinals of PWL 2 with six points out of their four games.
Meanwhile, just two days after being declared fit, star wrestler Geeta Phogat shied away from taking the mat once again for UP Dangal, this time also on "medical grounds". In her place UP Dangal fielded Manisha, who had lost her previous bout 1-9 to Mumbai Maharathi's Sarita.
The real-life 'Dangal' girl is yet to feature in this PWL season. Her weight category, women's 58kg, was blocked by her own team in the opening match against Haryana Hammers, while in the second match against Mumbai Maharathi, she pulled out citing high fever. In the third match, Punjab Royals blocked Geeta's weight category after she was declared fit to play.
UP Dangal are now left with just one more match as they are have failed to make it to the semifinals. It would be interesting to see if Geeta is able to make herself available for the tie against Delhi Sultans, where she would be taking on Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik.
Thursday's contest began with a tight bout between two Georgian wrestlers, Tariel Gaphrindashvili from UP and Jakob Makarashvili from Jaipur.
UP, who are yet to win a tie in PWL 2, banked on Gaphrindashvili's youth and exuberance against the more seasoned Makarashvili. Although Gaphrindashvili used a double leg hold to score points, Makarashvili turned it around and took him down, getting a 2-0 lead going into Round 2.
Gaphrindashvili began the next round aggressively, taking down Makarashvili, before the latter effected two clean takedowns to establish the lead. The experienced Makarashvili held his nerve to keep an attacking Gaphrindashvili at bay to win 6-4 in the 74 kg Men's category.
Jaipur's Pooja Dhanda took on UP youngster Manisha in the 58 kg Women's category and ended with a dominant 8-4 victory.
Manisha, who replaced star wrestler Geeta Phogat for the tie, found the going difficult as the more experienced Pooja Dhanda scored points with decisive attacking moves and affecting takedowns.
However, Manisha was quick to take advantage of a lapse by Pooja, who lost her grip while attempting a rollover, to bridge the points deficit. While Pinki fought with much resolve in the dying moments of the match, she was unable to score big as Pooja Dhanda secured a win.
UP made a comeback in the match as Andrey Kviatkovski prevailed over Jaipur's Rahul Mann in a closely fought 65 kg Men's category bout. Rahul scored early with a takedown that surprised Kviatkovski but the Ukrainian wrestler settled scores with a takedown from a standing position to win 8-4.
Jaipur responded strongly as Venezuelan wrestler Betzabeth Arguello handed a 8-1 defeat to UP's Pinki, who has replaced Babita Kumari for the remainder of the league.
Although Pinki went into the second round leading 1-0 against Arguello, the Jaipur grappler stunned her with a clean takedown from a standing position to score a four-pointer and followed it with another takedown coupled with a rollover to emerge victorious in the 53 kg Women's category.
Jaipur captain Elizbar Odikadze clinched the tie in his team's favour as he defeated UP's Mausam Khatri 5-2 in the 97 kg heavyweight Men's category and continued his unbeaten run in the tournament so far.
The Georgian wrestler displayed his prowess on the mat in the very first round, managing to push out Khatri from the protected zone before recovering well to defend his opponent's attack, turning it into a takedown and rolling over Khatri to establish a comfortable lead.
Khatri attempted to score points towards the end of the bout, but Odikadze held firm, leading Jaipur to an unassailable 4-1 lead in the tie.
The most exciting and action-packed bout of the evening was played out between UP Captain Elitsa Yankova and Jaipur's Ritu Phogat. Yankova, who won bronze at the 2016 Olympics, was defensive to begin with but came on her own after the first round, taking down Ritu to open her scoring.
Ritu provided stiff resistance in turn and effected a couple of takedowns to make things difficult for Yankova. This brought out the best in the Bulgarian wrestler, as she exhibited tremendous technique to take down Ritu and effect two successive rollovers, gaining a clear lead.
Even as Ritu tried hard to deny the inevitable, Yankova prevailed 12-8 in the 48 kg Women's category. She was adjudged the Player of the Tie.
UP Dangal salvaged some pride by scoring their third win of the evening as Amit Dhankar overcame a strong challenge from Jaipur's Vinod Kumar Omprakash to win 4-2 in the 70 kg Men's category. As both the Indian grapplers looked to prove their mettle on the mat, it was Dhankar's takedowns and rollovers that made him emerge as the victor, even as Jaipur won the tie 4-3.
Jaipur's coach Mahavir Singh said: "I am very content with the performance of the team. Ritu lost by just a mistake otherwise her match was quite close. We are through to semifinals and our strategy will depend on who our opponents would be. Wishing for our team to win this season."
Jenny Fransson from Jaipur, who was ruled out from today's tie, said: "I couldn't play today but am happy and celebrating team's win without any muscle pain"
Jaipur's Pooja Dhanda remarked: "This is my first time in PWL and my second win. Very happy for myself and my team. I hope I perform the same way throughout and help my team gets a podium finish."