To celebrate the contributions of sportsmen/women, and to bring them to the attention of the sports lovers in the country, we have decided to look back at some of the best individual Indian talent in Combat sports.
Continuing our series on heroes of Indian contact sports (you can find the first article here, and second article here), today we go back in time to recollect, and celebrate the accomplishments of one of the greatest legends in wrestling – perhaps, the greatest of them all. Presenting “The Great Gama”
Professional wrestling has achieved mainstream attention, with the WWE being one of the biggest global sports entertainment organizations in the world. However, the pure form of wrestling, such as Greco – Roman or the catch – as – catch – can wrestling has been practiced for centuries. Today’s form of professional wrestling has evolved from various types of wrestling, including the catch and submission form and the Japanese wrestling, which in turn has evolved from various martial arts.
India too boasts of influencing the way professional wrestling has grown over the years. One person in particular was a master of pehlwani wrestling, and had won the Indian version of the world heavyweight championship way back in 1910. The Great Gama, as he was fondly known, also has the distinct record of being undefeated throughout his career, with an unblemished record spanning for over 50 years!
Rise to the top
The Great Gama was known for his unbelievable strength and mastering the art of wrestling. At the young age of 19, Gama challenged the then champion, Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala, who was considered the best wrestler in the country. The bout ended in a draw to the surprise of the spectators. A rematch was then announced, and Gama was able to leave his mark on the champion, quite literally. Gama then travelled to England and started issuing open challenges, one of which was taken up by Stanislaus Zbyszko, and Gama took the much larger opponent down and showcased his prowess in mat wrestling. In their rematch, Zbyszko failed to show up, and Gama was announced as the winner and the new world champion!
After Gama returned from England, he took on Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala for the third time, and managed to finally defeat his greatest opponent, after which he was crowned ‘Rustam-e-Hind’, or Champion of India. Gama went unopposed for the next decade, before Zbyszko once again accepted Gama’s challenge, but this time on Indian soil. Both the wrestlers were well past their prime, but Gama ended the match rather quickly by throwing Zbyszko in just 42 seconds!
Retirement, death and posthumous awards
Gama easily defeated every other opponent, and with no one left to challenge the might of the Great Gama, he retired from active wrestling in 1955. Gama had even issued a challenge to the British government in India, to stop a train from moving, with the catch that a 11 km stretch would be free of cost for Indian passengers if he succeeds. The government turned down the challenge, and Gama found himself in the Indian folklore.
Gama’s successor as the next great wrestler in India, Dara Singh found himself in the Wrestling Observer’s Hall of Fame class of 1996. The Great Gama hasn’t however been yet inducted into the Wrestling Observer’s Hall of Fame. In 2015, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame inducted Gama into their Hall of Fame, thus recognizing his incredible list of feats and achievements.
It is also famously said that Bruce Lee, who was an avid fan of Gama and wrestling in general, studied Gama’s training regimen and followed Gama’s workout routine. Also, it is believed that the ‘Great’ in Great Khali’s name was used to pay homage to Gama’s accomplishments. Gama passed away in 1960 after a long period of illness. A doughnut shaped exercise disc, weighing around 100 kgs which was used by Gama for squats, is currently placed at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Museum, in Patiala to honour his legacy.