Bairang Punia went all out, including his blood and sweat, as he overcame a gash on his head to win the bronze medal via repechage at the Wrestling World Championships in Belgrade on Sunday.

Bairang has four medals at the World Championships. [a silver and three bronze]but this medal will have a special place in his heart as he fought the entire tournament with his head bandaged after cutting his head in the first fight on Saturday.

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Bajrang’s bronze medal match against Sebastian Rivera was a worthy one, with the Puerto Rican going 6-0 in the first 30 seconds as the Indian took time to get used to the opponent’s pace.

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But once he did, he was unstoppable. Bajrang responded with a four-pointer and then initiated a takedown to level the score with a minute left. Aggressive, vintage Bajrang is back.

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Rivera, the 2022 Pan American silver medalist, took aim at Bajrang’s right foot and executed an ankle pick to take an 8–6 lead at half-time. This was the third time that Rivera outwitted Bajrang with the same move. But Bajrang, being a second period fighter, came up with a takedown to close the deficit and then another one to take a 10-9 lead.

Rivera was running out of options with less than 30 seconds to go and tried to rip his ankle off again but Bairang was on guard. Rivera left it too late, breaking through Bajrang’s defense and flipping him with less than a second left. But it was too late as the signal went out and the Puerto Ricans stopped challenging.

Earlier Saturday, Bairang started his campaign with a solid victory over Cuban Alejandro Enrique Valdez Tobier. It stood out not only that he defeated the former Pan-American champion, but also that he did it with a heavily bleeding head. Bairang rallied well to get past an opponent he had previously beaten on his way to a World Championship silver medal in 2018.

The loss of blood seemed to have taken its toll on Bajrang as he lost in the quarterfinals to American Yanni Diacomichalis due to technical superiority. Bairang looked woozy throughout the fight when Diacomichalis – a two-time cadet and three-time NCAA champion – began to take him apart. Bairang’s wound opened midway through the fight, but that didn’t stop Diacomichalis from finishing the fight with a double ankle grab.

Bayrang then earned a shot at the bronze with a victory over Vazgen Tevanyan in the first round of the repechage. The Armenian took the lead 4-0 with two takedowns, while Bajrang managed to pull back one. Bajrang tried to land a takedown in the last seconds, but got hit back and, fortunately, did not concede.

Bajrang found himself in a quandary early in the second period when Tevanyan grabbed his right knee tightly, but the Indian’s leg protection was on point as he held his own in the fight. He then came up with his own attack to get a point behind and then produced a magic moment by flipping Tevanyan twice to snatch four points and take the lead.

The final 10 seconds were nerve-wracking as Tevanyan fought his way to another takedown, but Bajrang held his position and stayed on the mat to guarantee the win.

In the end, Bajrang succeeded despite his bloodied head. This completes a decent year for Bajrang, where he won silver at the Asian Championships, defended his title at the Commonwealth Games and won his fourth World Championship medal.