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The Super-Grippers: six power wrestlers you should know

Suyash Upadhyaya | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:26 IST

Wrestling has become the latest sport in India to follow the Indian Premier League and launch its own franchise-based pro league.

Ever since Sushil Kumar's bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, wrestling has captured the public imagination like never before. And the Pro Wrestling League (PWL), a joint venture between the Wrestling Federation of India and a company called Pro Sportify, aims to generate mass support for it.

The PWL will be a franchise-based event, with six franchises representing different cities. Each franchise will have a squad of 11 wrestlers (six male and five female).

It will feature India's top Olympians like Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt, as well as the likes of Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari, who have made their names at the Commonwealth and Asian level.

The wrestlers see the league as an ideal way to prepare for next year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics, since 20 Olympic medalists from around the world (including eight world champions) have already shown interest in being a part of the auction.

The bouts will be held in a best-of-nine bouts format, and each bout will have three rounds of three minutes each, separated by a one-minute break.

The fast-paced format is sure to garner a lot of eyeballs if packaged correctly, with one only needing to look as far as the Pro Kabaddi League as a good example.

With the broadcaster to be finalised in August and live broadcast expected in more than 150 countries, it is the perfect platform for Indian wrestlers to showcase their talent.

Here are the six that are expected to take it by storm.

Sushil Kumar
6 wrestlers Sushil Kumar

Photo: Getty Images

Every sport has its own icons, and sometimes these icons become bigger than the sport itself. Sushil, the only Indian to have won back-to-back individual Olympic medals, has become synonymous with Indian wrestling. He is a recognisable face, even for people who do not follow the sport religiously.

Sushil comes from humble beginnings. Born in a village near Najafgarh on the outskirts of Delhi, he started training at the age of 14.

His cousin Sandeep, also an aspiring wrestler, decided to give up training as he saw more potential in Sushil, and the family could not finance the training of both.

Sushil moved to the heart of Delhi when he was in class VIII, to stay and train at the Chhatrasal Stadium under the watchful eye of coach Satpal.

Sushil shared a room with 20 other wrestlers, resting in the afternoons and training in the mornings and evenings. His hard work started to pay off as he became the state champion within four years.

Bagging medals at various age group events across the world, he came into national prominence when he won bronze at the Beijing Olympics in the 66kg freestyle category, and then gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in Delhi. He went on to better his Olympic performance two years later in London, where he won the silver medal.

Sushil has inspired a generation of Indian wrestlers to take up the sport seriously, and yet stayed humble and true to his roots.

He is a great role model, which is evident in his choice of endorsements - he is the face of the National Egg Coordination Committee and has refused to endorse a liquor brand, believing it would set a wrong example for the youth.

With the exposure the Pro Wrestling League will provide him, there's fresh hope that Sushil will go one better and bag the gold at the Rio Olympics next year.

Yogeshwar Dutt
6 wrestlers Yogeshwar

Photo: Getty Images

There are moments in one's life which go on to be a testament to his or her nature and character.

For Yogeshwar Dutt, that moment was when he had the bronze medal around his neck at the 2006 Doha Asian Games, despite suffering a knee injury prior to the beginning of the Games and, devastatingly, losing his father just nine days before boarding the flight to Doha.

Yogeshwar displayed a steely resistance and warrior-like attitude throughout it all.

Starting to wrestle at the age of eight, he was inspired by Balraj Pehelwan, who hailed from his native village in Haryana.

Though a year older to Sushil, Yogeshwar came into the limelight a bit later, as he did not win a medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, finishing ninth.

Two years later, he won gold in the 60kg freestyle category for India at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and followed it up two years later with his first Olympic medal, a bronze at the London Games.

His run continued at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Incheon Asian Games, where he won gold medals in the 65kg category.

Yogeshwar has been awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India for his achievements on the mat, and the Pro Wrestling League will only benefit from his presence.

Geetika Jakhar
6 wrestlers Geetika

At 29 years of age, Geetika is the most experienced Indian woman wrestler who is still actively competing.

She was encouraged to take up the sport by her grandfather, Chaudhary Amar Singh Jakhar, at the age of 13 in Hisar.

With just four months of formal training under her belt, she represented Haryana at the Manipur National Games.

Then came the year 2000, when she won her first Bharat Kesari title in Delhi (the title given to the strongest wrestler in both men's and women's categories). She won this title for nine years on the trot till 2009.

Geetika went on to win a host of medals. A silver at the Asian Championship in Delhi in 2003, followed by another silver at the Asian Championship in Korea in 2005, silver at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, and a bronze eight years later in the Asian Games in Incheon.

Her achievements have led to the government of Haryana appointing her as DSP in the Haryana Police. To the Pro Wrestling League, she will bring invaluable experience.

Geeta Phogat
6 wrestlers Geeta Phogat

Geeta is another trailblazer. The 27-year-old Haryana girl's achievements have inspired a new generation of women wrestlers in her village, state and the country as a whole.

She has also given hope to several women because she has shown that it's possible to achieve something despite the inherently patriarchal society in the state.

Her father Mahavir Singh is also her coach. In a hitherto male-dominated sport, it is the support of her family which kept Geeta going.

In fact, her four other siblings - all girls - also practised with her while growing up in the Balali village of Bhiwani district.

Facing criticism from the entire village for allowing his daughters to slug it out with the boys in the Dangal, Mahavir remained adamant. His goal was to see his daughters do well in the sport.

The decision definitely paid off, and after years of practice, Geeta went on to win gold in the 55kg weight category in the 2010 Commonwealth Games, and also became a bronze medallist at the 2012 World Championships.

After this, she suffered a devastating knee injury during training. The Grade 3 Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear caused her to miss the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, but Geeta has dragged herself back on track.

She is now ready to contest in the Pro Wrestling League, and has set her sights on the Olympics next year.

"I qualified last time, but there were some weaknesses in my game and I lacked experience. I am working on technical aspects," she had said after her recovery from injury.

There is no doubt that she would be India's brightest medal prospect in women's wrestling at the Rio Olympics if she qualifies.

Babita Kumar
6 wrestlers Babita

Photo: Getty Images

Geeta's sister Babita has wrestling in her genes. She has gone through the same rigorous training program that father Mahavir had instilled in the girls from an early age.

So while Geeta was recovering from her injury, Babita was the one making the family proud at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games last year. She won the gold, bettering her performance from the 2010 edition in Delhi, where she won the silver.

Short in stature, Babita competes in the lower weight categories.

Amit Kumar Dahiya
6 wrestlers Amit Kumar

Photo: Getty Images

Unlike the established names like Sushil and Yogeshwar, Amit is very much the new kid on the block.

The story goes that in his village Nahri near Sonepat, when he started wrestling at the age of seven, he won a bout against a boy five years his senior in the school lunch break.

Now, 14 years later, Amit is primed to become the face of Indian men's wrestling.

In 2012, he became the youngest Indian wrestler to qualify for the Olympic Games at the age of 18, and is now a favourite to fight for a medal in Rio.

Had it not been for his lunch break exploits, Amit may never have discovered his calling. It was his teacher who heard of the fight, and recommended to his parents that he should join the local village akhara, run by Hansraj.

It was by watching him there that Sushil's coach (and father-in-law) Satpal realised he was made for bigger things. He took him under his wing and at the age of 11, he left his family to go to Delhi and practise under professional guidance.

His father, a milkman, would make a daily trip of 70 kilometres from Sonepat to Delhi to bring milk from his four buffaloes.

Amit won the silver at the 2013 World Wrestling Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and then won gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The Pro Wrestling League, which is expected to boast of a number of international wrestling stars as well, will certainly help Amit in acquiring experience and set him up for major tournaments in the future.

First published: 29 July 2015, 8:27 IST
Suyash Upadhyaya @SuyashU

A believer of the Indian football dream and an ardent cricket fan who likes to explore the nuanced side of all sports, Suyash finds creative expression in sports writing. Lover of literature, Liverpool FC, and an earnest economics enthusiast, he has just joined Catch News after completing his post graduation at Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai. When not staying up the whole night watching football, he loves spending time playing the sport itself, reading, and generally wondering when he'll decipher everything about the world around him.