“To wrestle for WWE is such a huge deal to me"
Pakistani wrestlers have traditionally been practising the sport of wrestling from a very long time.
‘Kushti’ deriving from the Persian term ‘Pahalvani’ is another word for wrestling in Pakistan.
The official title in Pakistan awarded to kushti champions is ‘Rustam,’ a hero from the Persian Shahnameh epic (The Book of Kings: 977-1010 CE) epic.
The sport of wrestling began during the Mughal Empire in British India, moving to Pakistan post-partition.
The first Mughal emperor Babur (1483-1530) was an excellent wrestler himself. He could run very fast for a long distance, whilst holding a man under each arm.
During the 80s, the New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) promotion made a historic visit to Pakistan, conducting three shows at the Liaquat Gymnasium in Islamabad.
This was the first ever contact pro-wrestling event, comprising a Pakistani audience.
World-renowned professional wrestlers set foot for the first time in Pakistan on May 17, 2017.
The Pro Wrestling Entertainment (PWE) event took place in Karachi at KMC Sports Complex, with several international and local wrestling stars performing live in the ring.
And in 2018, Ring of Pakistan led by founder Imran Shah organised a successful event, which saw international wrestlers entertain and promote peace.
With so much wrestling connected with the country, here is a list of 7 best Pakistani wrestlers, who have made a name for themselves all over the world.
Manzoor Hussain ‘Bholu’ Pahalwan
Manzoor the very first champion of newly born Pakistan was also known as Bholu.
He was the eldest child of ‘Rustam-e-Hind,’ Imam Bakhsh Pahalwan.
Prior to the independence, he beat the notable Mangal Singh.
During his earlier days, Bholu defeated wrestlers from the west including Karl Pojello (LTU), Emil Koroshenko (HUN) and Baron von Heczey (HUN).
In 1949, he clinched the ‘Rustam-e-Pakistan’ title, beating the number one Pakistani wrestler, Younus Gujranwalia of Punjab.
He was awarded the ‘Championship Mace’ by Khwaja Nazimuddin, the Governor General of Pakistan.
Bholu was then given the ‘Pride of Performance Award’ in 1962 by the President of Pakistan, Muhammad Ayub Khan.
He was announced ‘Rustam-e-Zaman’ (world champion) by the All Pakistan Wrestling Association in 1962.
He beat the Anglo-French champion, Henri Pierlot (Les Thornton) to claim the 1967 world title in London.
In September 1967, for the second time, the All Pakistan Wrestling Association declared Bholu as ‘Rustam-e-Zaman.’
Leading his wrestling faction and never losing a fight, he was one amongst the best Pakistani wrestlers of his time.
The world-renowned Aslam Pahalwan was born in India on January 14, 1927. He had undertaken training in extreme conditions from Indian superman wrestler Hamida Pahalwan.
Aslam also familiar as Acha was the adopted son and actual nephew of ‘The Great Gama.’
Taking him under his wings, ‘The Great Gama’ looked after Aslam like his own son.
Aslam defeated Bala Pahalwan from Amritsar, India in less than 100 seconds. Post partition, the untamed lion of wrestling was the backbone muscle of Pakistani wrestling
Aslam beat Younus Pahalwan to earn the title of ‘Rustam-e-Punjab’ in 1951.
After becoming Punjab champion, he was triumphant at the Commonwealth Championships in 1953.
Subsequently, he fought in many wrestling matches at home, in India and across the world.
Bert Assirati (ENG), George Gordienko (CAN), Roy Heffernan (AUS and Emile Czaja ‘King Kong’ are some of the big names he defeated in the wrestling world.
Mostly participating in shoot bouts, Aslam had a license in freestyle wrestling and Indian martial arts.
He trained in the art of earthen pit wrestling and acquired skills in catch wrestling.
He was fearsome and powerful, weighing more than 300 lbs and standing tall at 6 feet 4 inches.
His ring names included ‘The Wrestling King’ and ‘Rustam-e-Jahan.’
In the early 70s, Aslam retired from wrestling. At the age of sixty-two, he passed away on January 7, 1989.
Akram Pahalwan, a specialist in the earthen pit and boxing type wrestling was also known as Akki.
During the late 1960s, he became part of the ‘Bholu Brothers’ tag team, proving himself as one of the best Pakistani wrestlers.
Pahalwan commenced his career as a teenager and soon came into the limelight. In his prime, standing 6 feet tall, he weighed close to 250 lbs.
Haji Afzal, George Gordienko (CAN), Anton Geesink (NED) and Antonio Inoki (JPN) were some of his prominent opponents.
Akram beat Ugandan champion, Idi Amin in Kampala, along with defeating Kenyan champion, Mahinder Singh.
Following success against wrestlers from East Africa, he was given the title of ‘Double Tiger.’
He also participated in tag team competitions along with brothers Aslam and Goga.
He had lost matches to The Lion of Punjab, Kala Pahalwan and The Honolulu Champion, Antal Haiti.
Prior to losing the most important match of his career against Antonio Inoki in 1976, Akram was quite active in professional wrestling.
Akki was the most elegant and quickest from the six wrestling sons of Imam Bakhsh Pahalwan. His trademark move was the chicken wing armlock.
Nasir Bholu comes from the famous Gama wrestling family. He is also the last remaining member of the ‘Bholu Brothers’ wrestling team.
Born in 1960, Bholu was the best Pakistani wrestler during the 1980s.
Nasir made his wrestling debut in style, defeating Yasir Ali from the United Arab Emirates. He became the 1982 Asian champion, beating David Stalford in Bangladesh.
Bholu has also claimed wins over professional wrestlers including The Assassin, 1968 Olympic medalist Hurricane Mike Hennessey and Indian wrestler, Kanwal Jeet Singh.
Due to his wrestling abilities, Antonio Inoki offered him to train in Japan. But after opposition from his elders, Nasir had to politely decline.
Nasir said his goodbyes to wrestling in 1990, bringing closure to the ‘Bholu Brothers’ era. His career came to a premature end due to a lack of training facilities in Pakistan.
Bholu is a resident of Pakistan’s historic city, Lahore. Despite no direct involvement with wrestling, he does manage a few gyms.
During a friendly fight in 1981, a flying kick from Nasir accidentally killed Goga Pehalwan.
Zubair Aslam Jhara
Zubair Aslam, a frontline Pakistani wrestler was also familiar to many as Jhara. During his short career, he remained unbeaten.
He was the son of Nasir Bholu’s younger brother, Aslam Pahalwan.
Jhara joined the ‘Bholu Brothers’ at a time when they were close to retiring from active professional wrestling.
Possibly, the best Pakistani wrestler of his time, Zubair undertook training from some of the top coaches of the country.
In 1979, Jhara scored a victory over world martial arts champion, Antonio Inoki of Japan.
Following that match, Jhara and Inoki became really good buddies.
Zubair had beaten several international wrestlers such as Jules Strongbow (USA) and SD Jones (ANT)
He has also achieved victories against local Pakistani wrestlers including Zawar Multani, Goga Gujranwalia, Abbas Multani and Bahawalpur champion Ghulam Qadir.
His career was short lived as he sadly left this world at the age of 30 on 10 September 1991 after a cardiac arrest.
He was laid to rest at the Bholu Pahalwan Gymnasium in Lahore, Pakistan.
Mustafa Ali is an American wrestler of Pakistani origin from his paternal side. Despite being born in Bolingbrook, Illinois on March 28, 1986, Ali grew up in Chicago, Illinois.
Mustafa, being one of the best Pakistani wrestlers at his peak always had a passion for the sport from an early age. He says:
“I knew I wanted to be a wrestler ever since I was young.”
Ali’s professional wrestling career began on the Independent circuit, working in various promotions from 2003-2016. These include All American Wrestling, WA Mid-South, Jersey All Pro Wrestling and National Wrestling Alliance.
During this time, avoiding any potential discrimination, Mustafa wore a mask to hide his identity.
Ali became the first muscleman of Pakistani origin to compete in a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) ring on June 25, 2016.
A few months later, Mustafa was the first Pakistani to sign with the world’s biggest pro wrestling promotion.
From 2016-2018, he was part of WWE 205 LIVE, featuring in the cruiserweight division.
In 2018 itself, Ali started competing on SmackDown. In the ring, Mustafa’s marquee move is the amazing 054, a reverse 450 splash.
This is an imploding somersault, but over-rotating and landing on your front.
Reflecting on his career of more than fifteen years, Ali mentions:
“To wrestle for WWE is such a huge deal to me. It’s what I grew up on. It’s what I’ve broken bones for.
“To be able to live that moment of standing in a WWE ring is … I don’t know how to describe it.”
While Mustafa is at the back end of his career, he remains a strong and entertaining wrestler.
Baadshah Pehalwan Khan
Baadshah Pehalwan Khan, a native of Dolian is a Pakistani wrestler who lives in France.
Khan who normally wears a bright green and white outfit, with the Pakistan flag emblazoned on it, made his professional wrestling debut in 2012.
In 2014, he went on to sign with Wrestling Stars (Catch WS), a leading professional wrestling company in France.
Since then, Baadhah has been competing all over Europe, making a name for himself in major wrestling leagues and organisations.
Returning to his roots, Khan has accompanied international wrestlers at the 2017 Pro Wrestling Entertainment (PWE) and 2018 Ring of Pakistan events.
He became the maiden PWE Heavyweight Champion after his Championship Rumble triumph at the Liaquat Gymnasium in Sports Complex Islamabad.
Khan often uses different mottos like ‘Pakistan Will Rise’ or ‘Pakistani Kisi Se Kum Nahin,’ (Pakistani is not less than anyone) to promote the positive image of Pakistan across the globe.
Undoubtedly, success at a young age makes him one of the best Pakistani wrestlers in the sport.
His sole aim is to show the entire world that he is a major conqueror from Asia and a noble warrior of Pakistan.
Without taking anything away from the aforementioned Pakistani wrestlers, they are a step below famous Indo-Pak wrestlers such as ‘The Great Gama’ and Imam Bakhsh Pahalwan.
‘The Great Gama’ came out of the subcontinent and fought world class wrestlers and had avid followers like the great Bruce Lee.
While the greats can never be entirely forgotten, they are somewhat frozen in history.
Wrestling does not always get the recognition it deserves in Pakistan.
Nevertheless one hopes that young aspiring sports people will take inspiration from the very best Pakistani wrestlers and hopefully carry forward their legacy.