Hall of Fame: The Great Gama

Born on 22nd May 1878, Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt grew up to become a wrestling legend known by the ring name The Great Gama – the Rustam-e-Hind (Hindi-Urdu for Champion of India). Undefeated in a career spanning more than 52 years, he is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.

During the partition of India, the Great Gama saved the lives of many Hindus and then spent the rest of his days until his death on May 23rd, 1960 at the age of 82 years old in Lahore, which became a part of the newly created state of Pakistan.

The daily training routine became something of legend as well as it began with him grappling with forty different wrestlers in the akhada (court). Once completed he would go onto complete five thousand baithaks (squats) at an average speed of 100-200 squats per minute. Gama would then move on to complete three thousand dands (pushups) where he apparently averaged 50-100 pushups per minute. He also had a special diet which he designed himself to promote a healthy digestive system and strong muscle growth:

  1. 10 litres of milk
  2. 1.5 pounds of desi Chicken Karhai
  3. Half litre of lassi
  4. Six pounds of butter
  5. Three buckets of fruit chaat
  6. Two kilo pakoray
  7. Six samosay
  8. A selection of fruit juices

Gama came to national attention in 1895 when at the age of seventeen years old he challenged the reigning 7 feet tall Indian Wrestling Champion Raheem Bakhsh Sultaniwala. Sultaniwala was a lot older than Gama (in fact he was close to retiring) but many still expected the 7ft giant to destroy the 5’7″ youngster but instead, following at least two hours of bloody battle the match was declared a draw.

By 1910, Gama had defeated all the prominent Indian wrestlers who faced him except the champion, Raheem Bakhsh Sultaniwala. Gama decided to test himself further so along with his younger brother Imam Bakhsh, travelled to England to compete.

Once 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 so nobody responded.

Gama then decided to target wrestlers directly and targeted Stanislaus Zbyszko and Frank Gotch, stating that he would beat them or pay them the prize money and go home.

The first wrestler to take up his challenge was 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 then gained entry to the official wrestling tournaments as he could no longer be ignored.

On 10th September 1910 Gama finally got his match in London with recognised World Champion Stanislaus Zbyszko. The match would see the winner get £250 in prize money and the John Bull Wrestling World Championship Belt. Within a minute, Zbyszko was taken down and remained in that position for most of the match. Zbyszko had breif moments where he would get up, but he just ended back down in his previous position and wrestled defensively. After nearly three hours of grappling the match was deemed a draw although Zbyszko’s lack of competitiveness angered many of the fans in attendance. A rematch was announced for the following week and then on 17th September 1910, Zbyszko failed to turn up for the match and Gama was announced the winner and John Bull Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion or Rustam-e-Zamana. Zbyszko though remained lineal champion of the world as he hadn’t been defeated in the ring.

Following his victory Gama issued a challenge to the rest of the recognised World Champions including Taro Miyake, George Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch. All allegedly declined the challenge. At one point, to face some 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. He eventually returned to India with his championship belt though disappointed at the lack of competition he found in England.

Upon his return to India Gama went directly to clear up some unfinished business with Raheem Bakhsh Sultaniwala. This time Gama was successful, winning the Rustam-e-Hind or the lineal Championship of India. He would always refer to Sultaniwala as the toughest opponent he ever faced in the ring.

Many victories followed plus in 1922, during a visit to India, the Prince of Wales presented Gama with a silver mace. Then in January 1928 finally got his rematch in Patiala, India with Zbyszko. He may have waited 18 years for it but Gama wasted no time in overpowering Zbyszko and gaining the win in under a minute.

Gama took 90 seconds to defeat Jesse Petersen in February 1929 in a match that turned out to be his last normal match. In the 1940s he was invited by the Nizam of Hyderabad and defeated all his fighters. The Nizam then sent him to face the undefeated wrestler Balram Heeraman Singh Yadav. After a gruelling bout teh match was decalred a draw.

After the independence and partition of India in 1947, Gama moved to Pakistan. During the Hindu-Muslim riots that broke out at the time of partition, the Muslim Gama saved hundreds of Hindus from mobs in Lahore.

Gama officially retired in 1952 (or 1955 depending on who you ask) but had not had a match for many years prior to that. He trained his nephew Bholu Pahalwan, who was also successful, holding the Pakistani wrestling championship for close to 20 years. Gama passed away on 23rd May 1960 in Lahore, Pakistan after a period of illness. He was given land and monthly pension by the government who also supported his medical expenses until his death.

Bruce Lee was a massive fan and follower of The Great Gama and paid very close attentioin to his diet and 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. 

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