This undefeated Indian wrestler inspired Bruce Lee and was the grandfather-in-law of a Pak PM

01:39 PM Aug 25, 2021 | Team Udayavani |
While many present-day fitness enthusiasts take inspiration from the likes of Bruce Lee while adopting a workout routine, the famed martial artist had claimed that he followed the training routine of unbeaten Indian wrestler The Great Gama.
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Wrestling in India is as old as the Himalayas and Vindhyas. It was called ‘mallayuddha’ in the ancient Sanskritic times and has two ancient texts ‘Manasollasa’ and ‘Malla Purana’ that contains its forms, characteristics and descriptions.

Bhima from the epic Mahabharatha is historically attested to be a great pugilist known for his might and strength.

Many centuries and invasions later the sport form came to be called ‘Kushti’ and its players as ‘pehalwan’ in the Indian subcontinent.

The first recorded instance of a modern Indian wrestler fighting and defeating a European one was in 1892.


English champion Tom Cannon was on a tour of British India and was defeated by Kareem Bux who was 21 years old when he performed this feat.

However, it was a lesser-known wrestler born near Amritsar, Punjab who brought glory to Indian wrestling and remained undefeated throughout his life.

Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt came from a family of wrestlers: father Muhammad Aziz Baksh, maternal grandfather Noon pehalwan.

Both Aziz Baksh and Noon died before Ghulam Mohammad Baksh turned 9 and he was taken in by his maternal uncle Idda pehalwan who trained him and made him participate in a competition which brought him his first chance at fame.

Baksh was 10 years old when he participated in a physical endurance competition held for wrestlers by the Maharaja of Jodhpur in 1888. He was the youngest in the history of that competition.

Participants in this competition had to perform squats and sit-ups non-stop. Out of the 400 who initially participated, only 15 remained in the end when the Maharaja stopped the competition and declared Baksh the winner.

Baksh had performed thousands of baithaks (sit-ups) for several hours and after winning the competition was later bed-ridden for a week.

It is not clear how he acquired the ring name Gama pehalwan (The Great Gama), however, this was the name through which he was known worldwide.

He achieved national fame at the age of 17 in 1895 when he challenged the then ‘Rustam-e-Hind’ (Indian Wrestling Champion) Raheem Bakhsh Sultaniwala.

Sultaniwala was middle-aged and at the fag end of his career and at 7 feet was almost 1.5 feet taller than Gama.

Their wrestling match continued for hours and despite Gama bleeding from his ears and nose, Sultaniwala could not defeat him. Their match ended in a draw.

By 1910, Gama had defeated all prominent Indian wrestlers except Sultaniwala and was all set to make his mark in international wrestling arenas.

Gama was first taken to the international wrestling stage by the English wrestling promoter RB Benjamin who had seen Gama fight and was sufficiently impressed.

Gama and his younger brother Imam Baksh was sponsored by a Bengal-based billionaire Sharat Kumar Mishra for a tour of England.

Soon after arriving in London in April 1910, Benjamin advertised a challenge stating that Gama will throw three men within 30 minutes irrespective of their size and weight.

But till July no one took up the challenge until the lesser-known American Benjamin Roller accepted it.

During that time Stanislaus Zbyszko from Poland and Frank Gotch from America were world-renowned wrestling champions. All thought Gama was bluffing and refused to fight an unknown.

However, Gama’s match with Roller changed everything.

Gama defeated Roller in less than 2 minutes in the first round and under 10 minutes in the second round.

The next day, he defeated all other 12 wrestlers who accepted his challenge after Roller.

This made him known in the wrestling rings across England and earned him participation in the John Bull World Championships.

He soon reached the finals against the reigning world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko.

In the entire final match that was organised on September 10, 1910, Gama had pinned Zbyszko to the ground for almost three hours. However, the match was a draw as Gama could not throw down Zbyszko who stuck to the ground in a defensive position.

Gama and Zbyszko were then scheduled to meet again for another match a week later but Zbyszko did not turn up and Gama became the winner by default and the new world champion.

A series of matches with European giants followed including with Maurice Deriaz, Johann Lemm from Switzerland and world champion Jesse Peterson from Sweden.

After a successful tour of England and soon after his return to India he was set for a match with Raheem Bakhsh Sultaniwala again.

During the match, Sultaniwala twice left the ring and after leaving for the third time, completely tired, did not return making Gama win the title of Rustam-e-Hind although without defeating Sultaniwala.

Gama again got to wrestle Stanislaus Zbyszko in 1928 this time in India.

Before that, between 1916 and 1926, Gama defeated Pandit Biddu, a leading wrestler in 1916, received a silver mace from the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII in 1922.

The Gama-Zbyszko match was organised by the Maharaja of Patiala who built a special stadium for the same and invited many prominent personalities of the time and the nawabs and maharajas of other princely states.

The match was one of the shortest known in the history of wrestling at mere 42 seconds. Gama threw Zbyszko to the ground and was now crowned the ‘Rustam-e-Zaman’ (Champion of the World).

Gama’s last match was with the then-undefeated champion Balram Heeraman Singh Yadav in 1929 in which neither wrestler won.

From then till his retirement sometime in the 1950s no wrestler accepted his challenge and he started training his nephew Bholu pehalwan.

With all the glory by his side, Gama’s personal life was distraught. He had two wives, had five sons and four daughters. All his sons died.

After the Partition of India, he moved to Lahore, Pakistan and saved the lives of many Hindus from violent mobs in the city.

Until his death in 1960 Gama remained committed to his sport.

Bruce Lee claimed that he followed Gama’s training routine after reading many articles about Gama.

Gama’s granddaughter Kulsoom Nawaz married the three-time Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif.


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