The Great Gama- One of Sport’s 100 Most Influential Figures

There have been few times that any sportsman has been able to completely dominate and defeat all challengers over not just years but decades. Ghulam Muhammad "Gama" was one such man. When people think of wrestling outside the United States and Europe, the countries that most often come to mind include Mexico, Japan, and Canada. However, it is present day Pakistan that is home to what many historians consider as the greatest legitimate wrestler who ever lived. Consequently, the Great Gama, is its most influential figure, for having contested approximately 5000 matches, and never losing even one! The sport of wrestling maintains a long a tradition of Muslims in India, starting with Emperor Babur who would do strength training by running with his trainer sitting on his shoulders. Nonetheless, although there are many legends and folklore concerning ancient grappling heroes, the first western documented account of professional wrestling within the India’s borders took place when English champion Tom Cannon was defeated by 21-year old Kareem Buksh during an international tour in 1892. It was not until shortly after the turn of the 20th century when India developed its first real wrestling superstar in the form of a relatively short 5’ 7” two hundred and thirty pound giant nicknamed the Great Gama. A Muslim of Kashmiri heritage, Ghulam Mohammed was born in 1880 in Amritsar, India, where he was a member of one of India’s premier wrestling families of the time. Though his father died when he was 8,

he continued training under the direction of his grandfather and uncle. At the age of ten, Ghulam Muhammad took part in the national physical exercise competition, where he impressed the Raja of Jodhpur with his supreme level of endurance.Gama began formally competing at age 15 as “the Great Gama,” and he immediately put together a series of impressive wins during a tournament organized by the Maharajah of Rewa. Then at age 19, the Great Gama was elevated to superstardom when he scored a draw against the famous Indian Wrestler, Rahim Sultaniwala, described as standing nearly 7 feet tall and weighing close to 300 pounds. By 1906, Gama was commissioned to wrestle for the court, and over the next few years, he developed a reputation as the most feared wrestler in all of India while taking on various city champions throughout the region. Then in 1909, he avenged another prior draw by defeating the previously unbeaten Gulam Mohiuddin, who had been regarded by many as the Great Gama’s superior, but who went down in defeat just eight minutes into the competition. Following the victory over Gulam Mohiuddin, Gama was consequently hailed as the new Champion of India; and he immediately took on all comers while defending his title against the country’s top wrestlers. Gama was anxious to test himself against the world’s best grapplers; and in 1910, an English sports promoter named R.B. Benjamin gave him that chance when he assembled a travelling circus of Indian wrestlers (including the Great Gama, Imam Bux, Ahmed Bux, and Gamu) to challenge the top western champions while touring throughout Europe. Billed as “the Lion of the Punjab,” Gama subsequently issued an open challenge where he vowed to beat any wrestler in the world; and he soon established himself as a world-class competitor by defeating some of the sport’s most renowned grapplers, including Sweden’s Jesse Peterson (then world champion), France’s Maurice Deriaz, and Switzerland’s Johann Lemm. Gama’s bold challenge was also accepted by “Doc” Benjamin Roller, an American champion who was the longtime holder of the World

Light Heavyweight Title. On August 8, 1910, Gama stunned a sold-out crowd at the Alhambra Theatre in London when he quickly defeated Dr. Roller in two straight falls and broke his ribs. The Times of London commenting on the match, described Gama as unbeatable. Frank Gotch was recognized as wrestling’s undisputed World Champion in 1910. Gama felt insulted that Gotch would dare lay claim to such a title without ever having faced him. Therefore, he formally challenged Gotch to face him one-on-one, but Gotch refused the invitation to wrestle against an Indian. Instead, Gama’s challenge was greeted by the notorious Stanislaus Zbyszko, a celebrated European Champion from Poland who had wrestled Gotch to a one-hour draw the previous year. On September 10, 1910, Gama faced Zbyszko in the final of the John Bull World Championships before twelve thousand fans at the Shepherd’s Bush Stadium in London. The Polish strongman crafted a defensive strategy in order to slow down Gama; and he subsequently hugged the mat for nearly 3 hours before the bout was eventually declared a draw. The Sporting Life magazine described the match as having just two minutes of actual wrestling; and Zbyszko’s tactics drew the ire of fans as his reputation plummeted. After defeating Hindu champion Pandit Biddo in 1916, Gama soon ran out of worthy challengers; and when none of the remaining wrestling champions would agree to face him, he unofficially retired in 1919 while passing his title along to his brother Imam Bux. On January 29, 1928, the Great Gama made a celebrated return to the mat in order to face Zbyszko in a rematch of their famous bout from some eighteen years earlier. Despite both men now being well into their 40’s, the return match drew sixty thousand fans to a speciallybuilt stadium constructed by the Maharajah of Patalia, as Zbyszko was billed as one of the few challengers whom Gama had never been able to defeat. But this time, the Great Gama would embarrass the Polish legend, pinning him in just 30 seconds. Sir Atholl Oakley, a British Amateur champion wrestler and a contemporary of Gama, once wrote that Gama once picked up Zybsko (who weighed 238 pounds) held him over his head with one hand, and threw him on the floor. He could squeeze apples in each hand until they were fully mashed. According to George McKenzie, another famous wrestler of Gama’s era, he would regularly crush potatoes during strength training. Tom Cannon who was heavyweight champion of Europe in Catch wrestling said that he weighed 234 pounds when Gama grabbed his weightlifter’s belt, and lifted him with one arm!

Sir Atholl Oakley once described Gama’s typical day. Gama would rise regularly at 5am. He would swim and stretch for two hours, followed by a breakfast of mainly raw vegetables and 8 glasses of milk. Between 7am -10am, he would do calisthenics, consisting of Indian style squats in very high sets of 100 reps, often 2000 (20 sets) per day, followed by Cat/Hindu style push-ups done similarly. He would then work with buckets of very thick clay. He would work his hands all the way in, until they were about mid forearm deep, and squeeze the clay between his fingers and hands for 30 minutes. This took him to roughly 11am, when he would eat another light fruit snack and have an hours sleep. Between 12 noon to 2pm he would practice various individual moves, not the whole repertoire but just the bits he wanted to work on. Gama would sleep again from 2pm to 4pm. From 4pm to 8pm he would wrestle in various ways, generally wrestling two opponents at a time. He would take dinner at 8pm, which was his main meal, rest for an hour, and drink another 8 glasses of milk. Gama would then to sleep at 10pm sharp. Gama’s unbeaten record made him a household name in India. He also became an international superstar of his era by beating several international title holders in various styles and categories of wrestling. In 1922, during a visit to India, the Prince of Wales presented Gama with a silver mace. Today, a doughnut shaped exercise disc weighing 95 kg, used by him for squats, is housed at the National Institute of Sports Museum at Patiala, India. The Great Gama inspired the design and concept for the character Darun Mister, appearing in the Street Fighter EX video game series. The character bears a strong physical resemblance to that of Gama. He also appears as a character in the video game “Shadow Hearts: Covenant” 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. Gama immigrated to Pakistan at its birth in 1947 and it was there that he trained his nephew, Bhollu, who would hold the Pakistani championship for nearly 20 years. Having lost his lucrative pension after moving to Pakistan,

he was given a small plot of land but no funds. Beset by poverty, he was forced to sell most of his Silver and Gold trophies. Of the seven maces he received for important victories, only one was with him when he died on May 22, 1960 in Lahore, Pakistan at a ripe old age of 80.

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