Gama Pehalwan - The Greatest Wrestler of all times
The "Great" Gama (1882- 1960), also known as Rustam-e-Zamana Gama Pehalwan, real name Ghulam Muhammad, born in Amritsar, British India, was a renowned wrestler and a practitioner of Pehlwani wrestling. He was awarded the Indian version of the World Heavyweight title on October 15, 1910. To this date he is the only wrestler in history who remained undefeated his whole life; his career spanned more than 50 years. Gama died in Lahore, Pakistan in 1960. He was the greatest wrestler to ever come out of India and is still considered one of the greatest of all time.
Gama was born to the renowned wrestler Muhammad Aziz. At the age of 5 his father died and Gama was taken care of by his maternal uncle Eida. Maharaja Bhawani Singh, the ruler of Datia (a princely state of the British Raj in Madhya Pradesh) patronized the young wrestler and his brother Imam Bukhsh. Gama was first noticed at the age of ten when he entered a strongman competition, which included many gruelling exercises, including Hindu squats, held in Jodhpur . The contest was attended by more than four hundred wrestlers and young Gama was among the last remaining fifteen wrestlers. At that point the Maharaja of Jodhpur announced Gama as the victor due to his remarkable show of enormous stamina and dedication among the many older wrestlers.
First Encounters with Raheem Sultani Wala
Fame came to Gama at the age of 19 when he challenged, then Wrestling Champion of India, Raheem Baksh Sultani Wala. Being 6’9;" tall and having an impressive record, Raheem was thought to easily defeat 5’7;" Gama, but the bout continued for hours and eventually ended in a draw. The contest with Raheem was the turning point in Gama’s career. After that, he was looked upon as the next contender for the title Champion of India. In the first bout, Gama remained defensive, but in a second match Gama was more offensive. Gama was bleeding from his nose and ears but he managed to destroy the lungs and heart of Raheem Baksh.
Winning the John Bull Belt
By 1910, Gama had defeated all the prominent Indian wrestlers who faced him. At this time, he focused his attention to the rest of the world. Accompanied by his younger brother Imam Bukhsh, Gama sailed to England to compete with the Western Wrestlers. In London, Gama issued a challenge that he could throw any three wrestlers in thirty minutes of any weight class. This announcement however was seen as a bluff by the wrestlers and their promoter R.B. Benjamin. For a long time no one came forward to accept the challenge. In order to break the ice, Gama presented another challenge to specific heavy weight wrestlers. He challenged Stanislaus Zbyszko and Frank Gotch, either he would beat them or pay them the prize money and go home. The first professional wrestler to take his challenge was the American Benjamin Roller. In the bout, Gama pinned Roller in 1 minute 40 seconds the first time, and in 9 minutes 10 seconds the other.
The next to accept Gama’s challenge was Stanislaus Zbyszko and the date of bout was set to be 10 September 1910. The match was 250 in prize money and the John Bull Belt. Within a minute, Zbyszko was taken down and remained in that position for the remaining 2 hours and 35 minutes of the match. There were a few brief moments when Zbyszko would get up, but he just ended back down in his previous position. The two men were set to face each other again on September 17th, 1910. On that date, Zbyszko failed to show up and Gama was announced the winner by default. He was awarded the prize and the John Bull Belt. Receiving this belt entitled Gama to be called Rustam-e-Zamana or World Champion.
Final Encounter with Raheem Sultani Wala
Shortly after his return from England, Gama faced Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala in Allahabad. This bout eventually ended the long struggle between the two pillars of Indian wrestling of that time in favor of Gama and he won the title of Rustam-e-Hind or Champion of India. Later in his life when asked about who was his strongest opponent, Gama replied, "Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala".
Rematch with Zbyszko
After beating Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala, Gama beat Pandit Biddu, one of the best wrestlers in India of that time, in 1916. In 1922, during a visit to India, the Prince of Wales presented Gama with a silver mace. Gama did not have any opponent until in 1927 it was announced that Gama and Zbyszko would face each other again. The day finally came in 1928 when both wrestlers met again in Patiala. The result of the bout was, however, drawn quickly when Gama threw Zbyszko in only 42 seconds.
After soundly beating Zbyszko in 42 seconds, Gama beat Jesse Petersen in February 1929. This bout lasted only one and a half minutes.By the mid 1940’s Gama continued to put out challenges but added a stipulation. The stipulation was that anyone who wanted to wrestle the great Gama had to wrestle and defeat Imam first. No one did. This was the last bout that Gama fought during his career and although he did not retire until 1955, he did not find any opponent and retired undefeated as the World Champion. Although he had a number of draws early in his career, he retired undefeated in an estimated 5,000 matches. After retiring, he helped to train his nephew Bhollu who held the Pakistani Championship for almost 20 years. After the partition of British India, Gama opted to move to Pakistan in 1947. On 22nd of May 1960, he breathed his last breath in Lahore. The Great Gama, the Lion of Punjab, is still remembered as one of the greatest champions ever to grace the mat.