The “Great” Gama (22 May 1880 – 1963) also known as “Gama Pahelwan” (Urdu: گاما پھلوان) born Ghulam Muhammad (Urdu: غلام محمد), in Amritsar, Punjab, British India, was a renowned pehlwan (wrestler). Gama was a Punjabi speaking Muslim of ethnic Kashmiri origin. He was awarded the Indian version of the World Heavyweight Championship on 15 October 1910. Undefeated his whole life which was substantial, as his career had spanned more than 50 years. He has been billed as the greatest pehlwan of his time. After Independence in 1947, Gama moved to the newly created state of Pakistan
Ghulam Muhammad, whose Punjabi nickname was “Gama”, was born to the renowned wrestler Muhammad Aziz in Punjab. Maharaja marwani Singh, the ruler of the princely state of Datia, 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 held in Jodhpur, which included many grueling exercises such as squats. 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.
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 bethaks (squats) and three thousand dands (pushups). Gama’s daily diet was ten liters 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.
Lifted 1200 kg stone
He lifted a 1200 kg stone at the age of 22 at Baroda and the stone is kept for display at Baroda Museum in Sayajibaug and it is two-and-a-half feet in height and has text inscribed on it. The text says that the stone was lifted by Gulaam Mohammed on December 23, 1902. Gama was attending a wrestling competition at Baroda,but could not find a match and he lifted the 1200 kg stone up to his chest and carried a little distance.
First encounter with Raheem Bakhsh Sultani Wala
Fame came to Gama at the age of 19 when he challenged the then Indian Wrestling Champion, middle aged Raheem Bakhsh Sultaniwala, a Muslim wrestler from Gujranwala, now in Punjab, Pakistan. At about 7 feet tall and with a very impressive record, Raheem was thought 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.
Winning the John Bull Belt
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 Bukhsh, 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. 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. Second day, he defeated 12 wrestlers and thus gained entry to official tournament. He was pitted against world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko and the date of bout was set as 10 September 1910. The match was 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 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 on 17 September 1910. On that date, Zbyszko failed to show up and Gama was announced the winner by default. He was awarded with the prize money and much famed John Bull Belt. Receiving this belt entitled Gama to be called Rustam-e-Zamana or World Champion.
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, Georges Hackenschmidt of Russia and Frank Gotch of the United States – each declined his invitation to enter the ring to face him. At one point, in order 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 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, who was one of the best wrestlers in India of that time (1916).
Gama did not have any opponents until 1927, when 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 quick when Gama threw Zbyszko in only 42 seconds. He was now known as the “Great wrestler” of South Asia.
Fight with Balram Heeraman Singh Yadav
After defeating Zbyszko, Gama beat Jesse Petersen in February 1929. The bout lasted only one and a half minutes. This was the last bout that Gama fought during his career. In the 1940s he was invited by the Nizam of Hyderabad and defeated all his fighters. The Nizam then sent him to face the wrestler Balram Heeraman Singh Yadav(THE LION FROM HYDERABAD), who was never defeated by any wrestler in his career. The fight was very long. Gama was unable to defeat Heeraman and finally the fight ended in a draw. Gama’s only drawback was his age as he was much older than Heeraman.
After the independence and partitioning of India in 1947, Gama moved to Pakistan. Although Gama did not retire until 1952, he failed to find any other opponents. After his retirement he trained his nephew Bholu Pahalwan, who held the Pakistani wrestling championship for almost 20 years.
The Great Gama died in Lahore, Pakistan on 21 May 1960, after a long period of illness and general neglect. The portion of land given by Punjab Government (Pakistan) was used to treat his heart and asthama and Gama was to face difficult days. G.D.Birla, the industrialist and a wrestling fan donated Rs.2,000 and a monthly pension of Rs.300 and after this generous help, Government of Pakistan increased pension to Gama and supported medical expenses.
Today, a doughnut-shaped exercise disc weighing 95 kg, used by him for squats, is housed at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Museum at Patiala
In popular culture
The Great Gama inspired the design and concept for the character Darun Mister, appearing in the Street Fighter EX videogame series. The character bears a strong physical resemblance to that of Gama.
The Great Gama appears as a character in the video game Shadow Hearts: Covenant and in the Japanese comic book Tiger Mask.
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. Some of the training routines he got was: “The Cat Stretch or Hindu Push-ups” – a version of Push up based on Yoga, “The Squat” – which is called “baithak” in some regions of India where they speak Urdu/Hindi, its simply known as “deep-knee bend”.