Fascinating facts about Gama Pehalwan; undefeated wrestling champion who inspired Bruce Lee [details]


Much before giant Hollywood studious invented superheroes performing incredible stunts, there existed one in real life. He was rare and remained undefeated. While a slew of superhero movies is slated to release in the year 2022; this story recalls the superhero who existed for real. In all the different versions of Hulk, a high dose of Gamma rays is involved, the other real Hulk was himself called The Great Gama. Or officially, Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt, born in Amritsar of undivided Punjab in 1878.

The Great Gama or Gama Pehlwan was more than just a great wrestler; infact he is the greatest wrestler ever. Gama started wrestling in 1895 and in his five-decade-long career, he reportedly had over 5,000 fights. And in these 5,000 bouts, Gama did not lose even a single time. Gama specialised in the subcontinental style pehelwani and grew up watching akhadas.


Trophies and titles

The legend goes way beyond the trophies and titles held by him. Although an undefeated world champion and the title of Rustam-e-Hind should give insights into his legacy. The Great Gama’s legacy is etched in a massive stone at the Baroda Museum at Sayajibaug.

But who was he?

Gama was born in Jabbowal village of Amritsar in the undivided India under British rule. Born in May 22, 1878 to a Kashmiri family of wrestlers, Gama naturally took to wrestling in the early years. Seeing akhadas (traditional wrestling rings in the rural belts of India), fighters doing strength training, and paying special attention to their diets, Gama imbibed the basics of the sport, effortlessly. But from the word go, he was different and little did anyone know that Gama would elevate the sport to a different level.



Why was he different?

It was at the age of ten that Gama earned widespread public attention for being an extraordinary child. The first available account of his incredible fights is from the year 1888 when Gama participated in a national-level competition in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. 10-year-old Gama stood out among the hundreds of wrestlers who had come from far-flung states, with some of them being seasoned champions.

Regardless of his age, Gama finished among the top 15 and found a sponsor is none other than Maharaja of Datia and the Maharaja of Patiala. Now with expenses for his training and diet taken care of, there was no stopping the little Gama. Little, well because of his short stature, he was even made fun of fellow wrestlers.

Trivia and folklore surrounding the legend

Although several accounts detailing his diet differ a little, Gama, reportedly consumed 15 litres of milk, mutton, nine kilograms of almonds and three baskets of fruits. Equally dedicated to his training regime, he grappled 40 wrestlers at the same time in the court, and performed 5000 squats and 3000 push-ups every single day as part of his training. His dedication to the sport, ensured Gama remained peerless throughout his wrestling career.

Having even had a draw against the intimidating 7-feet tall erstwhile Rustam-e-Hind Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala at the age of seventeen, for Gama it was time to move beyond Indian wrestlers. But the wrestling world, outside of India, was not ready to take him seriously. Just yet.

In 1910, a promoter arranged for an England tour and formally introduced Gama to the world wrestling stage. But in London, Gama was denied entry to an international competition due to his short stature. Raging with fury, Gama threw an open challenge to beat any three wrestlers of any weight or class in half an hour. No one believed him, till Gama found an opponent in an American wrestler Benjamin Roller who was defeated in less than ten minutes in both rounds.

The next day, Gama defeated as many as 12 wrestlers back-to-back and caught the fancy of British tabloids and became a wrestling sensation. In 1912, he took down the world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko of Poland in hardly one minute at a match in Paris, but he managed to be in a defensive position for three hours to manage a draw.

This move didn’t win him any fans but got Gama the widespread acclaim. Seven days later, Gama won from him and walked away with John Bull Belt, £250 in prize money and the title of world champion. By now, the world knew about him, including the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee who later took inspiration from Gama’s training schedule.

Renowned wrestler Maurice Deriaz from Switzerland, European champions, Sweden’s Jesse Peterson lost at the hands of undefeatable Gama. He even issued open challenges to champions from the world of Judo and other martial arts besides wrestling. But by now, very few would dare accept the open challenges.

Not surprisingly, Gama calls Raheem Bakhsh his greatest opponent and toughest challenge in the wrestling ring. Rest was all a matter of time. Gama’s last documented fight was at the age of 51, when he was well over age for the sport. In February 1929, he beat Jesse Peterson and ended his career on the highest note possible, not due to his age, but due to a lack of competitors. After all, no one was any match in the wrestling ring.


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