When The Great Gama opened up challenges in the ring, no one dared to face him.
Throughout South Asia’s history, wrestling has managed to withstand the test of time. It has resulted in creating powerful Indian and Pakistani wrestlers.
Beginning with the ancient practice of Malla-yuddha, it has developed strands of different fighting styles which all come under the grappling arts, known as Malla-vidya.
And as the popularity of professional wrestling sprung across the globe, South Asia quickly followed suit.
In today’s time, one can expect to see the likes of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers battling against their foes in the WWE.
In addition, many female wrestlers have entered South Asian rings, showing they too can succeed in the sport.
But let’s take a look at the historical Indian and Pakistani wrestlers that have inspired them.
The Great Gama (1878 – 1960)
Born in Pakistan, then known as British India, The Great Gama hails as arguably one of the greatest Indian and Pakistani wrestlers.
Already coming from the Pahlawan family, known for their skilled wrestlers, Gama entered a 400-man strong tournament. At just only aged 10, he defeated the odds and ended up in the last 15. With such a young age, this only proved great things lay ahead.
The wrestler supposedly trained by performing 5,000 squats and 3,000 pushups per day.
His debut into pro-wrestling came at age 17/19. The Great Gama challenged the then-Indian wrestling champion (Rustam-e-Hind) Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala to a fight. While their first encounter came to a draw, the young wrestler managed to impress as he proved a worthy match to the champion.
Throughout his enduring career, the wrestler fought and won against some of the very best of the time. In the end, when The Great Gama opened up challenges in the ring, no one dared to face him.
He received many accolades in his career and finally the title of Rustam-e-Hind from Wala after a lengthy visit in England. He also became awarded with silver mace, presented by the Prince of Wales in 1922.
Overall, the Great Gama deservedly earns the title of one of the greatest South Asian wrestlers, for a legacy that cannot be matched.
Bholu Pahalwan (1922 – 1985)
Also hailing from Pakistan, Bholu Pahalwan was the nephew of the Great Gama. He also acts as the eldest of the Bholu Brothers. The wrestler has become well-known for serving as the first legitimate Wrestling Champion of Pakistan.
He appeared for the first time at the young age of 13. After training under the guidance of his uncle Hamida Pahalwan, Bholu soon showed his worth as a powerful wrestler. Within the first five years of his career, he went onto win a number of matches, fighting against the likes of Bora Singh and Ahmad Baksh.
A particular highlight, in 1946, witnessed Bholu Pahalwan defeating the Champion of Kolhapur, a reputable wrestler named Mulla Patarakia. He easily overpowered the champion in a match arranged by the Maharaja.
Similar to his uncle, Bholu developed a strict training regime for his matches. In the 1940s, he supposedly did 5,000 squats and 3,500 pushups per day. But he also practised Chakki, Lizam and Mugdar, wrestling methods, in his workouts twice per week.
Bholu’s standout match came after Pakistan’s Independence. He won the Rustam-e-Pakistan title by beating Younus Gujranwalia Pahalwan in an impressive 8-minute match! Deemed one of the most spectacular matches in the country’s history, Bholu became declared the first Wrestling Champion of Pakistan.
Dara Singh (1928 – 2012)
While many will recognise Dara Singh from the world of Bollywood, he also hails as a magnificent wrestler. First practising pehlwani, the then-young sportsman was recommended to try out professional wrestling. With his 6’2 frame stature and weighing 127 kg, he has ideal physique for the sport.
Dara went on to travel throughout Asia, battling in various matches, honing his skills and expertise. During his thrilling career, the wrestler won many championships, including Champion of Malaysia and National Wrestling Champion (of which he was only aged 26).
However, one of his biggest highlights lied in the 1959 Commonwealth Championship, where he won the title by defeating the likes of John Desilva and King Kong; favourites of the time.
Following on, in 1968, Dara Singh won the World Championship after defeating Lou Thesz. While Dara went on to became a renowned actor, playing larger-than-life characters, he has become a huge inspiration to future Indian wrestlers.
Tiger Jeet Singh (1944 -)
Jagjeet Singh Hans, aka Tiger Jeet Singh, acts as one of the first Indian and Pakistani wrestlers to emigrate and create their careers in another country. Moving to Canada at 17-years old, he only had $6 (£4.62) and pure passion for wrestling.
He soon trained under the wing of Fred Atkins, who gave him the nickname “Tiger” after witnessing his ferocious method of wrestling.
This style would catch the eye of everyone when he fought against Johnny Valentine, the then US Champion. Creating one of the shortest matches ever, once the bell rang Tiger smashed Valentine’s head into a nearby steel post. Causing his opponent’s head to bust open, he shocked wrestling fans upon arrival.
However, he returned to India for a brief spell for financial reasons. But he soon landed back in Canada to face The Sheik in Maple Leaf Gardens. Attracting an audience of 18,000, this landmark match cemented Tiger’s status as a wrestler.
Tiger also spent a lengthy career in Japan, from 1973 to 1995. For roughly 20 years, he fought big names such as Antonio Inoki and winning an array of impressive championships. No wonder then Tiger remains a legend not just in India, but also Canada and Japan.
The Great Khali (1972 -)
One of the most popular Indian and Pakistani wrestlers in modern times. Dalip Singh Rana, aka The Great Khali, made history by being the first Indian wrestler to become signed by the WWE.
However, prior to joining the company, he first worked in the Punjab Police, as a way to help finance his family. But with the help of a fellow officer, who helped previous members of the force to transform into sportspeople, Rana soon began training in gyms to achieve his dream of wrestling.
First appearing as Giant Singh, the wrestler travelled around the world for matches, such as the US, Mexico and Japan. But in 2006, he signed with WWE, eventually named as The Great Khali.
Over his eight-year stay at the company, he achieved many accomplishments. The wrestler won the World Heavyweight Championship after winning a 20-man Battle Royale in 2007.
He also featured in the second ever Punjabi Prison Match against Batista in 2007. While he left WWE in 2014, the Great Khali has since opened a Punjab wrestling academy, keen to train up the next generation.
The legacies created by these famous Indian and Pakistani wrestlers cannot be easily matched. All five have shown incredible skill and created memorable matches inside the ring.
But while they have set such high standards, they have inspired many who have come after them. In time, perhaps they will add to the history of Indian and Pakistani wrestlers, showing the world what South Asia has to offer.