The Great Gama Pehalwan
Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin who is the greatest international wrestler of all time?
The best of the best is Punjab’s own the ‘Great Gama’ Pehalwan. He remained undefeated for 50 years, after 5000 fights.
Let’s analyse the history of this very impressive athlete, also known as the ‘Lion of Punjab’.
Ghulam Muhammad (Gama) was born in May 1878 in Amritsar, Punjab. He was of the Kashmiri Butt clan and his father was a well known wrestler. At the age of 5 years his father passed away. He began training at this age under supervision from his uncle. From the age of 10 years he began to excel at exercise/fitness contests, even against adults and other wrestlers. Gama’s strength, endurance and fitness stood head and shoulders above the others.
The Maharaja Bhawani Singh of Datia became Gama’s patron, supporting him in the career he was destined for.
Gama Pehalwan’s training regime was legendary, thousands of push ups and squats on a daily basis. This was combined with lifting of heavy stones and isometric methods by tying a rope around a tree and trying to pull it down.
So successful was this training regime that legendary kung fu fighter Bruce Lee practiced and adopted some of these techniques.
Gama Pehalwan’s daily dietary intake included six chickens, 10 litres of milk, half litre of ghee with kilos of almonds and fruits.
In 1895 at the age of 17 years the young, 5 foot 7 inch, 200lbs pehalwan had built up a formidable reputation in wrestling, so much so he challenged the giant Raheem Baksh Sultaniwala, who was Rustam-e-Hind (heavyweight champion of India). Such was Gama’s skill, strength and agility that he held the champion to a draw.
In 1902 while visiting Baroda for a competition Gama picked up and held a two and a half foot high stone, weighing 1200 kgs, in front of an audience. This stone with a plaque and inscription is to this day in Baroda museum.
Over the next decade Gama’s beat all of the other well known contenders Ghulam Mohiuddin of Datia, Partab Singh of Bhopal, Ali Baba Sain of Indore, Hasan Baksh of Multan before drawing again with Raheem Baksh Sultaniwala in 1910 in front of large crowds.
In 1910 Gama Pehalwan came to London where once again he pinned a multitude of opponents after giving out an open challenge to all divisions. He beat the international stars of the time Maurice Denaz (France), Johann Lemm (Sweden), Frank Gotch (USA) and Benjamin Roller (USA), many of the bouts only lasted a short time.
Unable to keep the Punjabi challenger down, a match was scheduled with the World Heavyweight Champion Stanislaus Zbyszko, from Poland. Gama surprisingly dominated the match but Stanislaus held out for a draw. A deciding return match was arranged the next day but Stanislaus didn’t turn up. The title was vacated and hence transferred to Gama Pehalwan, the new World Heavyweight Champion (Rustam e Zamana), holder of the famous John Bull belt.
Zbyszko v The Great Gama Pehalwan
On return to India in 1911, in Allahabad in front of a crowd of 50 000 with Royal Princes and overseas guests Gama Pehalwan finally beat Raheem Baksh Sultaniwala to became the new Indian heavyweight champion (Rustam e Hind).
Gama’s final match and win was in 1929 against Jesse Petersen from Sweden.
After partition in 1947 Gama moved to Lahore, Pakistan where he passed away in 1960.
Professor Joseph Alter, University of Pittsburgh, USA has researched Gama Pehalwan’s history stating that he showed strength and determination to inspire a whole nation during the years of struggle for independence from Britain.
The Great Gama Pehalwan was the best of the best, he reigned the world as undefeated heavyweight champion, beating the top Asian, European and American wrestlers.
However to the international wrestling community he is a ‘forgotten’ hero. Surely we need to remember his herculean achievements and honour him accordingly.
May be Vince McMahon of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) could consider inducing the Great Gama Pehalwan into the ‘Hall of Fame’.
A Bollywood film about The Great Gama Pehalwan featuring John Abraham is planned for release later this year.