Bajrang Punia produced a signature late comeback to win gold medal on his return to international competition in the men’s freestyle 65kg final event the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event in Rome on Sunday.

Punia was trailing by two points against Mongolia’s Tulga Tumur Ochir with barely 30 seconds left on the clock. But in a scramble between the two wrestlers, the Indian star was awarded two points for a go-behind that was enough for a win on criteria with points tied at the end.

A passivity point was awarded against Punia in the final minute of the first period. With time running out, Punia was awarded a point with 90 seconds remaining in the final when Ochir was taken out of bounds. It was challenged by the Mongolian camp and the point was overturned to put the 27-year-old on the backfoot. But a calm Punia collected the points just in time to clinch gold.

With the win, Bajrang Punia successfully defended his title at Rome.

Earlier in the day, Punia beat Joseph McKenna (USA) 6-3 while Ochir won 4-0 against India’s Rohit as the two wrestlers set up a rematch of the 2019 World Championship bronze medal bout. Punia had won then in Nursultan with a superb comeback as well. At the end of the first three minutes, the Indian was trailing 2-6 but he produced an attacking move in the second period that saw him win six points on the trot. He held on to win 8-7 and clinched his third Worlds medal.

In the 70kg category, India’s Vishal Kaliramana defeated Syrbaz Talgat (KAZ) 5-1 to bag the bronze medal. In the 74kg category Narsingh Pancham Yadav — on a comeback trail after a four-year suspension — lost in the bronze medal bout. Narsingh began with a comfortable win by technical superiority against Italian Finizio but lost to 2012 Olympic champion and four-time World champion Jordan Ernest Burroughs in the semi-final.

On Saturday night, another star Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat clinched the 53kg gold medal along with the world No 1 rank in her category, PTI reported. It was the second gold medal for Vinesh in as many weeks with a dominant win in the final. Sarita Mor had also won a silver in the 57kg on Saturday.

On Sunday, first up against Punia was Selim Kozan, a former cadet world champion from Turkey. The Indian easily beat him by a 7-0 scoreline. Kozan made several attacks, especially from the right, but the Indian defended well. The Indian scored with a take-down and gut wrench moves. He faced stiff competition from America’s McKenna but prevailed 6-3 in the semi-final.

Bajrang seemed to have improved upon his leg defence yet the American thrice got hold of his right leg. Bajrang, though, ensured that McKenna does not take advantage of the grip.

In the fast-paced bout, Bajrang took break with a 4-2 lead, scoring points with a take down.

The American narrowed the gap to 3-4 late in the second period with a push out but Bajrang sealed the issue with a two-point throw.

With PTI inputs