The Great Gama
The "Great" Gama Pehelwan
|Born||22 May 1878
|Died||23 May 1960 (aged 82)
Lahore, Punjab Pakistan
|Family||Kalsoom Nawaz Sharif (granddaughter)|
|Professional wrestling career|
|Ring name(s)||Gama Pahalwan|
|Billed height||5 ft 8 in (173 cm)|
|Billed weight||225–230 lb (102–104 kg)|
The "Great" Gama (22 May 1878 – 23 May 1960) also known as "Gama Pehalwan" (Urdu: گاما پھلوان), was the stage name of Pakistani wrestler Ghulam Hussain.
Born in Amritsar into an ethnic Kashmiri family, he was awarded the Indian version of the World Heavyweight Championship on 15 October 1910. Undefeated in a career spanning more than 52 years, he is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
Gama was born in the city of Amritsar into an ethnic Kashmiri family, in what was then Punjab region. He hailed from a prominent wrestling family which was known to produce world-class wrestlers. Gama had two wives: one in Pakistan and the other in Baroda, Gujarat, India. His granddaughter Kalsoom Butt Nawaz Sharif is a three time First Lady of Pakistan.
After the death of his father Wrestler Muhammad Aziz Baksh, Gama was taken into training by the Maharaja of Datia. Gama was first noticed at the age of ten when he entered a strongman competition held in Jodhpur, which included many gruelling exercises such as squats. The contest was attended by more than four hundred wrestlers and young Gama was among the last fifteen. At that point the Maharajah of Jodhpur announced Gama as the victor due to his remarkable show of enormous stamina and dedication.
Training and diet
Gama's daily training consisted of grappling with forty of his fellow wrestlers in the court. He used to do five thousand Baithaks (squats) and three thousand Dands (pushups). Gama's daily diet was 4 gallons (15 litres) of milk, a pound and a half of crushed almond paste made into a tonic drink along with fruit juice and other ingredients to promote good digestion. This high protein and high energy diet helped him accumulate muscle mass.
First encounter with Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala
Fame came to Gama at the age of 17 when he challenged then-Indian Wrestling Champion, middle-aged Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala, another Muslim wrestler from Gujranwala, now in Punjab, Pakistan. At about 7 feet tall, with a very impressive win-loss record, Raheem was expected to easily defeat the 5'7" Gama. Raheem's only drawback was his age as he was much older than Gama, and near the end of his career. 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 Indian Wrestling Championship. In the first bout Gama remained defensive, but in the second bout, Gama went on the offensive. Despite severe bleeding from his nose and ears, he managed to deal out a great deal of damage to Raheem Bakhsh. By 1910, Gama had defeated all the prominent Indian wrestlers who faced him except the champion, Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala. At this time, he focused his attention on the rest of the world. Accompanied by his younger brother Imam Bakhsh, Gama sailed to England to compete with the Western Wrestlers but could not gain instant entry, because of his lower height.
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 wrestling promoter R. B. Benjamin. For a long time no one came forward to accept the challenge. 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. On the second day, he defeated 12 wrestlers and thus gained entry to official tournament.
Match with Stanislaus Zbyszko
He was pitted against world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko and the date of bout was set as 10 September 1910. Zbyszko was now regarded among the premier wrestlers in the world; and he would then take on the mammoth challenge of India's feared Great Gama, an undefeated champion who had been unsuccessful in his attempts to lure Frank Gotch into a match. And so, on September 10, 1910, Zbyszko faced the Great Gama in the finals of the John Bull World Championships in London. 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. Crafting a defensive strategy of hugging the mat in order to nullify Great Gama’s greatest strengths, Zbyszko wrestled the Indian legend to a draw after nearly three hours of grappling, though Zbyszko’s lack of tenacity angered many of the fans in attendance.
The two men were set to face each other again but Zbyszko didn't show up and Gama was announced victor.
During this tour Gama defeated some of the most respected grapplers in the world, "Doc" Benjamin Roller of the United States, Maurice Deriaz of France, Johann Lemm (the European Champion) of Switzerland, and Jesse Peterson (World Champion) from Sweden. In the match against Roller, Gama threw "Doc" 13 times in the 15-minute match. Gama now issued a challenge to the rest of those who laid claim to the World Champion's Title, including Japanese Judo champion Taro Miyake, George Hackenschmidt of Russia and Frank Gotch of the United States – each declined his invitation to enter the ring to face him. At one point, to face some type of competition, Gama offered to fight twenty English wrestlers, one after another. He announced that he would defeat all of them or pay out prize money, but still no one would take up his challenge.
Final encounter with Raheem Bakhsh 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 favour 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
Gama did not have any opponents until 1927, when it was announced that Gama and Zbyszko would face each other again. They met in Patiala in January 1928. Entering the bout, Zbyszko "showed a strong build of body and muscle" and Gama, it was reported "looked thinner usual". However, he managed overpower the former easily won the bout inside a minute, winning the World Wrestling Championship medal. Following the bout, Zbyszko called him a "tiger".
At forty-eight years old he was now known as the "Great wrestler" of India.
The Great Gama died in Lahore, Pakistan on 23 May 1960 after a period of illness. He was given land by the government but he still struggled to pay for treatment for his heart and asthma. G. D. Birla, an industrialist and wrestling fan, donated ₹2,000 and a monthly pension of ₹300, and the Government of Pakistan increased the pension to Gama and supported his medical expenses until his death.
Bruce Lee was an avid follower of Gama's training routine. Lee read articles about Gama and how he employed his exercises to build his legendary strength for wrestling, and Lee quickly incorporated them into his own routine. The training routines Lee used included "the cat stretch", "the squat" (known as "baithak"), and also known as the "deep-knee bend."
Championships and accomplishments
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