New Delhi: With the likes of Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt opting out, all eyes will be on Rio Olympics bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik and the Phogat sisters, who are making headlines owing to a blockbuster biopic on them, when the second edition of Pro Wrestling League (PWL) starts on Monday.
Although much of the sheen is lost due to the absence of star male Indian wrestlers, including the suspended Narsingh Yadav, the women are expected to shine during the 18-day long event to be held at the KD Jadhav Wrestling Stadium.
Six franchises – Delhi Sultans, UP Dangal, Haryana Hammers, NCR Punjab Royals, Mumbai Maharathi and Jaipur Ninjas – will be vying for the top honours with the final being slated on January 19.
The spotlight will be on Sakshi, representing Delhi Sultans, and her bout against Geeta Phogat of UP Dangal team in women's 58kg is expected to grab the maximum eyeballs.
In the most anticipated bout of the tournament, Sakshi, who is finally out of the shadow of Geeta with an Olympic medal, would be carrying an immense burden of expectations on her shoulders while the eldest Phogat sister would also be under pressure.
She has been in the limelight after the Aamir Khan-starrer biopic on her struggles -- 'Dangal' – proved to be a mammoth box office success.
Besides Sakshi, the Delhi team boosts of Ukrainian Mariya Stadnik (women's 48kg), who won a bronze at the 2008 Olympics before bagging silver at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and Uzbekistan's Bekzod Abdurakhmonov (men's 70kg), who finished fifth at the Rio Games.
Geeta and Babita Phogat will be at the forefront for the UP Dangal team. Belarus' Maria Mamashuk, who clinched the silver at the Rio Olympics, will be the foreign import to look out for. However, Cuba's Livan Lopez Azcuy has opted out of the tournament and is being replaced by Tariel Gaprindashvili.
Meanwhile, it is going to be an interesting inaugural match between Mumbai and Haryana on Monday and the latter would be desperate to avenge the last season's defeats.
Mumbai had beaten Haryana twice last season. Once during the league stage, the defending champs got the better of Haryana 4-3 and then bagged the trophy with a comprehensive 7-2 win in the final.
Mumbai have roped in quite a few strong wrestlers this time around as well with three Olympic and World Champion medallists in their line up.
Rio Olympics champion Erica Wiebe of Canada will be the biggest strength for Mumbai, while Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan is World Championship silver-medallist along with bronze winner Pablo Olenik, who has replaced another Cuban wrestler Reineris Salas.
They also have in their ranks, Carolina Castillo Hidalgo, who missed Rio Olympics bronze medal by a narrow margin.
On the other hand, Haryana Hammers will be relying on world champion Magomed Kurbanaliev of Russia, Rio bronze medallists Sweden's Sofia Mattsson and Marwa Amri of Tunisia.
Among Indians, they have high hopes from Asian champion and Rio Olympian Sandeep Tomar.
In the men's 97kg, a high-profile bout is on the cards between World championship silver medallists Abdusalom Gadisov and Pablo Olenik.
Punjab Royals will be heavily banking on their foreign buys such as Vladimir Khinchegashvili (gold in Rio Games), Togrul Asgarov and Vasilisa Marzaliuk (fifth at Rio Games).
The newest addition to PWL 2, Jaipur franchise would be hoping to make a mark with Rio Games bronze-medallist Jenny Franson of Sweden and Venezuela's Betzabeth Arguello, besides the heavyweight Georgian duo of Elizbar Odikadze and Yakob Makarashvili.
They would also rely on their highest buy Ritu – the youngest of the Phogat sisters. Incidentally Ritu became the costliest Indian female wrestler during the PWL auctions last month....