Bholu Brothers of Wrestling
By Farid Azam
During those earlier days when the sport of wrestling prevailed in Pakistan. When the passion for wrestling was such that the wrestling fans jam-packed the stadiums in almost every of Pakistan. When the People used to gather on the streets just to catch a glimpse of a wrestler. The women and children crowded the rooftops of their dwellings just to watch the wrestlers go passing by on streets in their horse driven carriages. Those were the days when the Bholu Brothers were very popular in Pakistan. They were renowned wrestlers of the East with outstanding skills. The Bholu's never needed an introduction in Asian community. People had a high regard for them and honored them as sporting heroes. They were like super humans during the days of the Gama in Pakistan. Believed to be the most superior on the Planet.
The Bholu's were wrestlers that belonged to a wrestling family of Kashmiri origin that lasted for centuries before Indian Partition. This group comprised of resident champions like Bholu, Azam, Aslam, Akram and Goga. These were the sons of Imam Bakhsh Pahalwan (Rustam-e-Hind). And nephews of Gama, the Greatest wrestler that India has ever produced. Wrestling was a way of life for them. Some of the main wrestling gyms were owned and operated by the Bholu Pahalwan family (formerly known as Gama Wrestling Family). Bholu and Aslam were considered equivalent to the world champions of the West. The Great Bholu's Gym known as Dar-ul-Sehat was located in a building in the City of Karachi. It was a muddy wrestling arena within a vast courtyard that was surrounded by wooden benches. Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan allotted this building to this Pahalwan Family to be used for wrestling purpose. It used to be a sort of traditional wrestling Gym known as "Akhara", and the Ancient wrestling style they used, was called Desi Kushti. And this form of wrestling remained popular in India and Pakistan for a long time. The wresting matches were called Dangals, and were fought on a mud pit. The Government of Pakistan, till Ayub Khan’s regime, regularly provided a special grant to Bholu Pahalwan family as recognition for their services to the sport. Earlier, every city, town and village of the country had its own Earthen pit or wrestling gym called "Akhara" in the native language. The continuous flow of talent kept the game alive. And the Bholu's legacy rose to the highest ranks in the world of wrestling .
The Bholu Brothers were trained by Gama' the world champion'. There was a time, when they were outstanding wrestlers. At one point in history they were one of the strongest force in wrestling. They remained major players of the game in the region after the Indian-partition. Soon Afterwards, Bholu Pahalwan acquired the title of Rustam-e-Pakistan in 1949. His younger Brother Aslam alias Acha sucessfully conquered the Rustam-e-Punjab title in 1951. Azam was branded as Rustam-e-Hind in 1953. Akram gained fame for his victories in the dark continent. Goga is better known as the resident Champion. All of them were amazing. They were from among the people who came to Pakistan from India after the partition. And today when the Bholu Brothers have long since departed from this world, we cannot talk about the Pakistani wrestling without recalling these Wrestling Greats, who spent their lives for wrestling. They have become a symbol of the Pakistani wrestling.
The (Manzoor) Bholu Pahalwan (1922-1985) was a famous wrestler, and the very first champion of newly born Pakistan. He was the eldest son of Imam Bakhsh Pahalwan -Rustam-e-Hind. He was born in 1922 in Amritsar, India. His real name was Manzoor Hussain. He represents the Gama Wrestling Family. He started his career in British India. He fought his first wrestling match in March 1939 at Minto Park (now Iqbal Park), Lahore against Ahmad Bakhsh. He defeated the famous Mangal Singh and Tarraka before Independence. Bholu also defeated westerners like Karl Pojello, George Zbisko, Zbisko-II, Emil Koroshenko, Baron Von Heckzey and Jeji Goldstein during the earlier days. He won the Rustam-e-Pakistan title in April 1949 by defeating the No.1 Pakistani wrestler, Younus Gujranwalia of Punjab. The Governor General of Pakistan, Khwaja Nazimuddin awarded him the Championship Mace. In 1962, the Pakistani President, Muhammad Ayub Khan gave him the "Pride of Performance Award". In 1964 he was declared Rustam-e-Zaman (world champion) by the All Pakistan Wrestling Association, conditionally . In May 1967 he defeated the Anglo French champion, Henri Pierlot (Les Thornton) for the World title in London. In September 1967, Bholu was declared the Rustam-e-Zaman (world champion) by the All Pakistan Wrestling Association for the second time. He was the leader of his wrestling faction and never lost a fight.
The world renowned Aslam Pahalwan alias Acha (1927- 1989) was the adopted son of the GAMA, and the backbone muscle of Pakistani wrestling faction. He was fearsome and powerful weighed more then 300 lbs and stood 6'.4". Trained by the superman of Indian wrestling known as Hamida Pahalwan in extreme wrestling environments. Aslam mostly Participated in shoot bouts. He was Licensed in freestyle wrestling as well as Indian Martial arts.
Aslam began his career in the Pre partition India. He gained fame by beating the very superior, Kala Pehalwan, "the lion of Punjab". He won the Rustam-e-Punjab title in 1951 by beating the top Pakistani wrestler known as Younus Pahalwan (a.k.a Younus Gujranwalia) of Gujranwala. In 1953 he wrestled in Nairobi and defeated their champion Mahindar Singh. He also acquired the Commonwealth title in 1953. He become known throughout the world when he defeated the Empire Champion, Bert Assirati in 1954. He wrestled in Asia, Far East, East Africa, Europe, South America and Middle East and defeated some famous names including George Gordianko, Paul Butcher Vachon, Shaikh Wadi Ayoub, Roy Heffernan and King Kong (Emile Czaja). He has also defeated big names in Indian wrestling such as Arjun Singh, Dara Singh's brother-Tiger Joginder Singh and Tarlok Singh.
The Azam Pehalwan Rustam-e-Hind was the Champion of Lahore and the Far East. He was a conventional wrestler, a Pahalwan who later adopted the freestyle professional wrestling. Azam alias Raja was born in 1925, in Amritsar, India. He was an introvert and religious type of person. He faced many grapplers in Pakistan, India, Kuwait, Muscat, Behrain, Qatar, Kenya, Uganda and South America. Azam was strong and flexible as a cat. Whenever thrown on the mat, he always landed on his feet's. With a bodyweight of only 180 lbs he could tackle the super heavyweights like the Gora Singh and Baron Von Heckzey. In United Kingdom he defeated the American Champion, Ron Reed. In Surinam he defeated the wrestling champion and Karate buff, Antel Haiti (Geisingh). He also vanquished well known wrestlers like Jeji Goldstein, George Penchef, Big Bill Verna, Zebra Kid, Ron Harrison, Bloorma, Tiger Joginder and Arjun Singh.
The Akram Pehlwan alias Akki excelled in Earthen Pit wrestling and boxing type wrestling. Born around 1930, in Amritsar, Punjab, India, he weighed close to 250 lbs. and stood 6 feet tall in his prime. In 1953, he was given the name “double Tiger" in East Africa after his victories over the wrestlers of the Dark Continent. He defeated Ugandan champion, Idi Amin in Kampala. He trounced all opposition in Kenya including their champion, Mahinder Singh. He also competed in the Tag Team events along with brother Aslam and Goga. Amongst the six wrestler sons of Imam Bakhsh Pahalwan, Akki was perhaps the most graceful and fastest. He started his career in teen years and soon hit into prominence. Initially he was a student of Gama, and started competing from Lahore. During his early days he met the much superior Kala Pahalwan, "the Lion of Punjab" and lost the match. But the later did not give Akram the return bout and pitted his numerous pupils to halt the victory march of this No.3 wrestler of the Indo-Pakistan. In 1954, Akram went to Bombay and there he had a series of matches without a loss. After his return to Pakistan Akram challenged all opposition at home. The champion of Multan, the powerful, Zamman khan disputed his claim and tangled with him. But the latter proved better then the khan of Multan and defeated him. Later Akram and his brothers toured Malaya in 1958. There he beats their Idol, Hari Ram in a challenge bout. Then in a match in Chittagong against Big Bill Verna of Australia, he dislocated his left shoulder and was hospitalized. But even then he evaded defeat and the match ended in a draw. When his shoulder healed, Akram was back in action and agreed to tangle with the giant King Kong of Hungary. In this bout Akram defeated King Kong (Emile Czaja) in just 3 rounds. And when the new threat to the Bholu Brothers in person of Bhola Gadi, the champion of Lahore defeated the Bholu brother, Azam alias Raja in May 1962, in the historical cities championship tournament. Akram then wrestled Bhola Gadi at Iqbal Park, Lahore in a challenge match. On this occasion, after a furious struggle between the pair Akram lifted Bhola Gadi sky-high and slammed him on the mat for the initial three counts. Hence the next opponent for Akram was the highly reputed, Haji Afzal, a very clever but lighter wrestler. But this proved Afzal's turning point and Afzal was pinned in 15 minutes. In Nepal, Akram defeated the Kabul champion, Sardar Khan. Then in a challenge fight he trounced Pyara Singh of Indian, Punjab. Some of his memorable victories are over Haji Afzal, King Kong, Aussie, Clyde Kennedy, Hardam Singh, Gurnam Singh, Hari Ram, Emile Koroshenko, Tony Kontellis, Con Papalazarou, Baron Von Heczey, Bloorma, Sam Betts and George Gordianko. He drew matches against Shaikh Wadi Ayoub, Bert Assirati and Big Bill Verna. Akram has lost some of the fights but his overall performance was good. He has suffered defeat at the hands of Kala Pahalwan " the Lion of Punjab", and The Honolulu Champion, Antal Haiti. Akram remained active in professional wrestling until he lost an important match of his career against Antonio Inoki in 1976.
The fearless and daring, (Moazzam) Goga Pahalwan (1937-1981) comes from the household brimming with wrestling victories. A part of the Bholu Brothers wrestling team, the 1937, Amritsar born Pakistani Champion, Goga Pahalwan was trained by the Great Gama for15 years. Goga whose real name was Moazzam, was lightly built. He displayed a blazing fighting style with quick reflexes. Some of his Favorite maneuvers were Reverse flying kick and leg breaker. Goga feuded with a number of famous wrestlers including Tiger Jogindar, Gunpat Andolkar, Eric Taylor, Earl Maynard, Killer Karl Kox, Zebra Kid, Wanik Buckley, Louis Kovacs, Kid Zemboa, Billy Robinson, Klondyke Bill, Sam Betts, Haruka Eigen, Tarlok Singh and Harbans Singh. His local opponents included Haji Afzal, Boonta Singh, Siddique Nukehwala, Sohni and Garnam Singh. However Goga lost a few matches to wrestlers like Sam Betts. In professional Tag team wrestling he teamed with Akram Pehalwan and Majid Ackra. Goga died in Gujranwala City on 6th Feb 1981 during an exhibition bout against his nephew Nasir Bholu.
Hassu was the 2nd eldest son of Imam Bux and perhaps the earlier member of Bholu brothers. His real name was Hussain Bakhsh. He was a part of the Bholu Brothers team of wrestling but his name was never heard publicly because he gave up wrestling earlier, so he is not well-known among the wrestling fans like his brothers.
Jhara ( 1960-1991 ) was the frontline Pakistani wrestler of the 1980's. He was the son of Bholu's younger brother, Aslam Pahalwan. He joined the Bholu Brothers later when they have almost retired from active professional wrestling. He was a sort of replacement for them but that didn't work well. Probably, he was the best in Pakistan and was trained by five top Pakistani trainers (Khalifa;s) of Indian wrestling, including Arshad Bijli. Zubair Jhara defeated a number of international wrestlers including Robert Saito, Jules Strongbow-2 and S D Jones etc. He also accomplished victory over local Pakistani champions like Zawar Multani , Goga Gujranwalia, Abbas Multani and champion of Bahawalpur, Ghulam Qadir . Jhara also scored a controversial victory over the World martial Art Champion, Antonio Inoki of Japan in 1979. He was billed from Lahore.
Nasir Bholu b. 1960 is the last familiar name of the Gama Wrestling Family, which has ruled the Indian wrestling for the past three centuries. Nasir lives in Lahore and is known as the son of the celebrated Bholu Pahalwan. Nasir Bholu Jr. debuted in wrestling on 26th May 1978, by beating Big Bill Clark, while he was studying at the D.J.Science college in Karachi. He defeated Yasir Ali of U.A.E in 1979. In 1982 he won a local wrestling championship tournament in Bangladesh by beating David Stallford and was decorated, the Asian Champion by the Pakistani wrestling promoters. Nasir also defeated professional wrestlers such as the The Assassin, 1968 Olympic medalist- Hurricane Mike Hanessee and Indian wrestler, Kanwar Jeet Singh. His career was short lived due to lack of training facilities in Pakistan. Nasir was also a film actor but he was more successful as a businessman. He run gyms in Karachi and Lahore and does business with China.
However, speak on their abilities, no matter how good were the Bholu Brothers. But they were a step below the Great Gama and Imam Bakhsh . Gama came out of the subcontinent and fought world renowned wrestlers. Maybe the original Ghulam who died young may have been the master of them all, but it's all frozen in history now. further once those old-timers are gone, their personal stories disappear with them into the past. First Gama vanishes into history, then Bholu and then Aslam. Now there are many stories that live on. But of course like many things else that is also lost to the sands of time.