About a half-hour after Ravi Kumar Dahiya became India’s first-ever three-time Asian champion, fellow star Bajrang Punia came up short in a bid to match the feat.

Kumar, the silver medalist at the Tokyo Olympics, put on a takedown clinic in storming to a 12-2 technical fall over Rakhat Kalzhan (Kaz) in the freestyle 57kg final Saturday, the fifth day of the Asian Championships in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia).

Punia was dealt a 3-1 loss by Rahman Amouzadkhalili (Iri) in the 65kg final as Iran captured three of the five gold medals at stake, with 2021 silver medalist Ali Savadkouhi (Iri) triumphing at 79kg and Mohammadhossein Mohammadian (Iri) at 97kg for his second Asian title.

The remaining gold went to Taishi Narikuni (Jpn), who was appearing at his first international tournament in five years and came away with the 70kg title, which he hopes will lead to emulating his mother, a two-time world champion, later this year.

Kumar completed a three-peat that started in 2020, and Saturday’s victory came with a quirk – in all three of his matches, he gave up the first points. But that hardly fazed him, as he became a whirlwind of motion and ended up averaging 13 points over the three bouts.

“The tournament was very good and I had planned to win the gold for India,” Kumar said. “Every opponent was very strong. It went according to my plan. But at the start, it was a little difficult, but as I moved forward towards the final, I did what I planned and thankfully I won the gold for India for the third time.”

One surprise for Kumar was his opponent in the final. He had expected to see Gulomjon Abdullaev (Uzb), whom he had faced and beaten 11-10 in the 61kg final at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series tournament in February.

Instead, Kalzhan, whose lone major medal had been an Asian cadet bronze in 2015, knocked off Abdullaev in the quarterfinals before advancing to the final.

“57kg is such a weight class in which you can have a new wrestler every day,” Kumar said. “When I came on the scene I was also new to everyone.

“I really thought that I will wrestle Abdullaev in the final. I did not even see how he lost. When I reached the final, I saw that he had lost. Sometimes your body does not work accordingly and I think that is what happened. But the final now was also good because [Kalzhan] was good.”

In the final, Kalzhan used an arm drag trip to score the initial takedown. But that would be his only highlight, as Kumar came back with three takedowns and an exposure to take an 8-2 lead into the break.

The 2019 world bronze medalist needed just 39 seconds of the second period to finish off Kalzhan, using a cradle for a takedown and exposure to win 12-2.

Kumar said that for the near future, he will switch between competing at either 57kg or 61kg, depending on the competition.

“It is difficult to maintain the weight at 57kg,” he said. “The Asian Championships were very important and I had not wrestled at 57kg for a long time so I decided to drop down. I will try to wrestle one or two ranking series events at 61kg, but for [the] Commonwealth and Asian [Games], I have to drop down to 57kg.”

Asked what differentiates Kumar from the rest of the field, bronze medalist Rikuto Arai (Jpn), who lost to the Indian 15-4 in the quarterfinals, said, “His physical fitness. If I get to that level, I can get points off him and win. It was a good experience [for me].”

Punia was looking to add to the Asian titles he won in 2017 and 2019 but had no answer to the underhook strategy employed by Amouzadkhalili, the 2021 world junior champion at 61kg. The two spent much of the match locked up like Greco wrestlers.

Both had received an activity point – Punia in the first period and Amouzadkhalili in the second – when the Iranian finally broke the stalemate with a single-leg takedown with 1:40 left in the match. Punia never got close to scoring as he had to settle for the silver as his eighth career Asian medal.

“Bajrang is very famous in the world and he has World and Olympic medals,” Amouzadkhalili said. “So I had trained accordingly for him. I now hope to win the Asian Games and World Championships.”

Coming into Ulaanbaatar, Kumar and Punia were tied with Yogeshwar Dutt (Ind), a champion in 2008 and 2012, for most Asian titles by an Indian.

The article was first published on the United World Wrestling website and has been reproduced with permission.