New Delhi: Wrestling has been one of the most ancient sports in our country. But never before were our wrestlers exposed to any sort of stardom nor they had that sort of money.
The fact that we had a couple of Olympic medal winners in Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt also failed to elevate the profile of the sport. Just when it seemed that the game would continue to languish and the wrestlers would be part of those sportsmen who would miss out on the moola something dramatic happened.
It took just one event to change the profile of the sport. The inception of the Pro Wrestling League in 2015 changed all that. In one moment, the entire perception of the wrestlers had changed and the game was elevated to a new level.
What’s more, there was suddenly an injection of excitement, media glare and fanfare. The idea of six-city based franchises in wrestling had become a reality and the fact that the wrestlers would go under the hammer gave a tremendous shot to the popularity of the sport.
Under this league, there were six franchises and each franchise had 5 Indians and 4 foreigners. Each franchise had a cap of Rs 2 crore and suddenly for the first time there was a splurge of money in one of the country’s traditional sports. Never before had this sort of money been spent on Indian wrestlers. For the record, Yogeshwar Dutt became the highest Indian to be sold for Rs 39.70 lakh by the Haryana franchise.
More importantly, there was a strong international field which saw the likes of three time world champion Adeline Gray of the US. The strong international field ensured that the ‘untested’ Indian wrestlers got a chance to compete against the best in the world. This international exposure was to help the younger crop of Indian wrestlers.
The Pro Wrestling League gave the much-needed impetus the game needed. The mass base of the country had grown and suddenly it seemed that India had a plethora of wrestlers of whom not much was known before.
A certain Sakshi Malik found her way into the Mumbai franchise which was called Revanta Mumbai Garden. She was a virtual non-entity but someone with a lot of talent but with no international exposure. This is where the PWL proved to be the much-needed bridge between Sakshi and the international competition.
Sakshi who was basking under the Phogat sisters — Geeta and Babita was to benefit . The Pro Wrestling League gave the much-needed impetus the game needed. As Sakshi admitted after her bronze medal winning feat at the Rio Olympics that the PWL had indeed been the stepping stone to her success. It may not be an overstatement to say that Sakshi owed her success in the Rio Olympics to the PWL.
This time around also, the second edition of the PWL promises to be a grand affair. With a bigger and better pool of wrestlers, I feel the PWL 2 will act as a launching pad for many more young and untested Indian wrestlers.