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Gama Pehlwan: The ‘story’ of India’s undefeated wrestling champion The Great Gama

Google paid tribute to India’s yesteryear star wrestler Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt, popularly known as Gama Pehlwan or The Great Gama in the western world, with a doodle on his 144th birth anniversary. Born in Amritsar in 1878, Gama Pehlwan was the most revered name among Indian wrestlers during his era as he didn’t just achieve international success but also earned the masses’ respect through his actions off the mat before his death in 1960.

We take a look at the glittering career of the decorated wrestler and the feats he achieved on and off the wrestling mat.

Rose to fame in his teens by facing Indian champion Sultaniwala

Born as Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt, Gama became an overnight sensation in the county when he held Rustam-e-Hind Indian champion Raheem Baksh Sultaniwala for a draw. Gama fought an even battle with the experienced wrestler despite the odds being stacked against him. After all, a wrestler just 5’7 in height wasn’t deemed a contender against a seven-foot-tall Sultaniwala. However, Sultaniwala was already nearing his career end and had to find ways to deal with a much agile Gama for a draw after a furious battle. Gama’s sturdiness during the bout earned him recognition and was soon touted as the successor to Sultaniwala’s Rustam-e-Hind title.

Became World Champion in 1910

Known to be undefeated throughout his 52-year-old wrestling career with rivals barely lasting less than a minute in front of him, Gama’s reputation soon called for invitations from international events as well. And the 110kg wrestler reigned supreme at the highest of stages in London.

On his way to the World Championship Rustam-e-Zamana title in 1910, he defeated greats like world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko, Frank Gotch, and Benjamin Roller with none of the bouts going beyond a few minutes.
In other tournaments during his overseas tour, he defeated famous names such as Switzerland’s Maurice Deriaz and Johann Lemm the European Champion, and Jesse Peterson World Champion.

Finished career undefeated before his retirement in 1952

Gama remained undefeated throughout his career stretching over half a decade and ended with his retirement at the age of 74. He won most of his bout with familiar dominance despite multiple challenges by the same opponents barring a few formidable opponents.

Sultaniwala, who pushed Gama for a battle stretched over two hours during their first meet, was among the few wrestlers whom the World Champion couldn’t defeat for a long time and later accepted that the former Indian champion was the toughest competitor he ever faced.

However, upon his return from England, Gama finally overcame his adversary after a prolonged battle during a tournament in Allahabad to take home the Rustam-e-Hind title.

Saved lives of Hindus in Lahore during 1947 partition rights

Gama earned respect off the mat as well as he saved the life of Hindus living on Mohni Road in Lahore, where he shifted in early 1947 ahead of Indian independence and subsequent partition.

Enjoying a great bond with the Hindu majority locality of Mohni Road, Gama promised to save the lives of the community with his life amid the rising tension of riots and kept his words by keeping rioters at bay from harming the residents of the colony.

He then escorted them all to safety at the border with riots intensifying while bearing expenses of their rations for a week.

Gama’s granddaughter was the wife of former Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif

Gama’s granddaughter Kulsoom Nawaz daughter of Hafiz Butt was Pakistan’s first lady on three occasions as she married the country’s former PM Nawaz Sharif in 1971.

Admired by Bruce Lee and Prince of Wales

Gama, known to be tough and muscular, was famous for his strict diet and training regimes. He was purportedly known for doing five thousand squats a day and three thousand pushups. His training routine resonated with famed martial art expert and movie star Bruce Lee, who took inspiration for some of his moves from Gama.

Gama was also honored for his strength by the Prince of Wales during his visit to India.

Lifted a stone weighing 1200 kg

Back in 1902, Gama, who was in his 20s and weighed around 100kgs, also achieved the impeccable feat of lifting a 1200kg rock at the Baroda Museum in Sayajibaug ahead of the competition in the city.

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