Aman Sehrawat is 19. And he's the best wrestler in Asia.
The teenager confirmed his name in Indian wrestling's upper echelons by winning the Asian Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan on Thursday. He beat Kyrgyzstan's Almaz Smanbekov 9-4 to clinch the gold in the 57kg category men's freestyle.
Aman took the lead after being awarded a passivity point and went on the offensive but fell to a fine counter from Smanbekov, who won bronze in last year's Asian Championships. Aman took the lead at 3-2 with a fine takedown and tried to capitalise with an armbar but Smanbekov countered yet again. The Indian began the second period with gusto and launched into a 5-2 lead with a takedown inside the opening 20 seconds.
Coach Lalit Kumar, who trains both Aman and Ravi at Chhatrasal, tells ESPN: "The fact that he has won a gold in the senior level shows that he has improved. His footwork and speed are what set him apart. He keeps shuffling his feet forwards and backwards and doesn't let his opponent any room to breathe, he keeps them on their toes."
That was on full display at the final. Aman continued to target Smanbekov's legs and scored a right-side single to inflict a takedown to lead 7-4 and followed it up with another similar move to cruise to 9-4. The bout was briefly stopped after Aman suffered a cut to his right eyebrow and he saw out the last 30 seconds to clinch the gold.
AMAN ���� doesn't let you run
- United World Wrestling (@wrestling) April 13, 2023
This marks his first big medal on the senior circuit, as he wins the title that Olympic silver medallist Ravi Dahiya had last year. Aman and Ravi both train at New Delhi's Chhatrasal Stadium - the home of Indian wrestling.
Aman joined Chhatrasal as a 12-year-old and has shadowed Ravi ever since. He's been around Ravi's training sessions, learnt from him and cheered for him when he won silver at the Tokyo Olympics. Though Ravi is six years his senior, there was always a day when Aman would go up against his experienced colleague.
In normal circumstances, Ravi would have been in Astana to defend his title but a knee injury prevented him from making the trip. That presented Aman with the opportunity to compete in his fourth major senior competition and he seized it.
With Ravi pulling out of the Zagreb Open Ranking Series in February in protest against the Wrestling Federation of India, Aman was allotted the 57kg and he finished with a bronze medal.
Though Ravi had beaten Aman during the trials for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Aman has all the makings to take over the 57kg weight category. His arrival in the big leagues is no surprise - he's been one of India's best age-group wrestlers over the last four years and serves as a reminder of India's bench strength.
Aman's career graph has been nothing short of stupendous. He was all of 18 when he achieved a feat no Indian male did by winning gold at the 2022 U23 World Wrestling Championships. He outdid the likes of his more esteemed seniors Ravi and Bajrang Punia, who had won silver.
Aman also dominated the Asian age-group field in Asia last year by bagging gold at the U23 Asian Championship and a silver at the U20 Asian Championships. He had also won the bronze at the 2018 Cadet World Championships and followed it up with a gold at the Asian Cadet Championships and a bronze at the Cadet World Championships in 2019. Last year, he medalled in all three senior events he competed in - gold at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup Ranking Series event, silver at the Zouhaier Sghaier Ranking Series competition and bronze at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series tournament.
Aman has started on the road to emulating the success at the senior level with this Asian Championships gold, but to sustain it, he will now have to overcome his hero and mentor (and Olympic silver medallist) Ravi Kumar Dahiya.
*The UWW website lists Aman's age as 17 but ESPN understands that is outdated information.