Great Gama vs. Zbyszko

The London wrestling match

In the early 20th century, the Indian fighters used to travel to Europe in order to participate in various tournaments.  The famous Indian grappler Ghulam Hussein alias Great Gama of India , Accompanied by his younger brother Imam Bakhsh, sailed to England in 1910 to compete with the Western Wrestlers. He arrived in England in April.  By early May the Indians wrestlers were at their training camps. Their weights ranged about 200 lbs. They would rise early in morning, wrestle for two hours, then drink milk with Indian spices. Followed by a Breakfast comprising of Yogurt, eggs and rice, prepared by an Indian cook. A rest followed and then in the afternoon at 1500 hrs., there would be two hours of exercise. At about 1900 hrs, the main meal of chicken or mutton would be taken. Finally, before retiring for the night at 9:30, another quart of milk with spices: the wrestlers had brought twenty varieties of spice with them.

Gama Pahelwan was managed by the English wrestling promoter Mr. Benjamin. He started working for a company that staged wrestling shows in England. Gama wrestled for about two hundred times without any loss before entering the world competition at the Exhibition in London. The first professional wrestler to take on GAMA’s  challenge was the American Benjamin Roller. In this bout, Gama pinned Roller in 1 minute 40 seconds the first time, and in 9 minutes 10 seconds the other. And then within the next 2 months Gama wiped out all opposition and finally met Stanley Zbyszko in the match which was to be one of the greatest ever.

On September 10, 1910, Stanislaus Zbyszko of Poland came across the Great Gama of India in a world championship match. With hundreds of wrestling fans forced to return home, around 100,000 spectators jam packed the stadium at White City, London to the point of suffocation. This match was Ł250 in prize money and the championship belt. plus media coverage by the John Bulls Magazine. There was a strong misconception among the Indians  that this was contest was for the John Bulls wrestling championship Belt. But that was not true. John Bulls wrestling magazine gave this championship, the news coverage. The floor of the ring was covered with foam padding. The wrestlers from Italy, France, Scotland, Japan, America and Great Britain were all seated inside the stadium. Gama and Zbyszko were seated in their respective corners.

Stanislaus Zbyszko (Stanislaus Cyganiewicz) born April 1, 1879 stood just 5’8”, built like a house, carrying 260 pounds of chiseled muscle. Started his wrestling career in his native Poland before World War I in the Greco-Roman style. He possessed gifted strength and was a master wrestler of this style. while in college he studied music, philosophy and law in Vienna, Austria and later joined the renowned Vindobona Athletic Club, where he gradually developed an imposing physique. He also practiced the gymnastics. In 1903, Health & Strength listed him among the continent’s leading heavyweights and he  eventually took the ring name “Stanislaus Zbyszko;” and after 1906, he increasingly began to make the switch to catch-as-catch-can freestyle wrestling. He was a world traveler and became extremely popular in the Polish-American community. He was the most influential European wrestler of all time. Zbyszko was a legitimate "hooker" in the ring, possessing a vast knowledge of holds that could inflict pain on his opponent. he was subsequently recognized among the world’s top catch wrestlers when he battled the fabled Frank Gotch to a one-hour draw in November 1909 in Buffalo, NY.  The following year, he scored heralded victories over Dr. Ben Roller and “the Terrible Turk” Youssuf Mahmout, thus confirming his reputation among the world’s elite grapplers. Zbyszko was now regarded among the premier wrestlers in the world.

The India’s feared Great Gama, born 1878, an undefeated champion who had been unsuccessful in his attempts to lure World Champion, Frank Gotch into a match, was only 5'.7'' tall and touched the scales at about 200 lbs. He was the son of renowned wrestler Muhammad Aziz of Kashmiri origin.  Maharaja Bhawani Singh, the ruler of Datia patronized the young wrestler and his brother Imam Bakhsh. Fame came to Gama at the age of 19 when he challenged, then Wrestling Champion of India, Raheem Baksh Sultani Wala. At 6'9" tall with an impressive record, Raheem was thought to easily beat the 5'7" Gama, but the bout continued for hours and eventually ended up as 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 title Champion of India. In the second match Gama managed to destroy the lungs of Raheem Baksh Sultaniwala but the bout remained a draw. By 1910, Gama had defeated all the prominent Indian wrestlers who faced him except Rahim Baksh Sultaniwala. At this time, he focused his attention to the world championship. 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 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 commentator was speaking loudly on the loudspeaker. And public jubilious with the feelings of spectators. After a brief while a team of the Japanese wrestlers accompanied by some young women entered the arena for a handshake with both wrestlers. The accompanying Japanese women also presented flowers to both the wrestlers. Gama rose from his seat in appreciation. The public watched this Eastern tradition with surprise. Soon the Japanese people departed from the ring. All of a sudden the names of both wrestlers were called out on the loud speaker and both men rose from their seats, came forward and stood facing of each other. Zbyszko was wearing a hunters outfit, jacket and the Gum Boots.  While Gama was wearing a gown with a covering over his head and was bare footed.

The referee explained the rules and regulations of the match and then the wrestlers changed in to their wrestling outfit. This match was to be fought in the Catch as Catch Can wrestling style.

The Lancashire wrestling phrase "Catch-As-Catch-Can" is generally understood to "catch (a hold) anywhere you can". As this implies, the rules are more open than its Greco-Roman counterpart which does not allow holds below the waist. Catch players can win a match by either submission or pin, and most matches are contested as the best two of three falls. The tapping out" signifies a concession, and rolling one's back could also signify defeat. A '''hook''' is a technical submission which could end a match within seconds.  Often, but not always, the stranglehold is barred. The Catch Wrestler can deliver the worst kind of unarmed assault with any tough submission maneuver to end the match quickly and decisively.  The'''Catch wrestling’’’ was an ancient sport originally developed from a variety of other styles, Most notably The British Collar-and-elbow style, Lancashire submission wrestling, the Indian style Pehlwani and Judo and Jiu Jitsu of Japan. Although catch wrestling did not normally include kicks and blows but this form is the ancestor of modern professional wrestling and mixed martial art combat.  It was immensely popular in Europe. And also had origin in the United States. The famous practitioners were US Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. The rules changed from venue to venue.

Both wrestlers exchanged holds for 5 minutes seeking other sides weak points and a chance to deliver an attack. Later Gama tried to grab Zbyszko in a hold, but Zbyszko slipped away. However, Gama attempted the same hold for the second time but failed to apply it successfully once more time. But later he made the third attempt and was successful in bringing his opponent down to the ground. Zbyszko landed face first on the floor and Gama landed on him. Gama tried to pin him but Zbyszko stick to the, and was all over him. Both men struggled for more then 20 minutes remaining in the same position. But Zbyszko kept himself glued to the mat. He resisted getting up. Finally Gama released him and got up. Sending a roaring sound across the arena. He asked Zbyszko to get up on his feet. Zbyszko got a chance and attacked the Indian. He caught Gama in a Greek submission hold. Gama resisted the hold, but Zbyszko managed to throw the Indian opponent off balance and bring him down. Gama landed on the mat and this time Zbyszko was on top of him. But Gama could fight as well as lying on earth as he could do in a standing position. Therefore he was able to break out of Zbyszko’s hold in less then 3 minutes. Both wrestlers got up and faced each other once again. Zbyszko lost his enthusiasm and now he was very cautious. The cautious struggle lasted for four minutes, and then Gama realized that his opponent had weakened up and was very careful in his approach. He immediately launched a series of attacks, and finally managed to apply his favorite maneuver (Pat Khench) by pulling both the feet’s of his opponent off the ground. And down went Zbyszko again. Now Gama was in a commanding position with both of them struggling on the mat. This time Zbyszko remained glued to the mat like a lizard for another half an hour and didn’t let go off the mat. He was desperately trying to avoid a pin fall. The sun was setting down and it was getting late so the spectators got impatient and started and started yelling and shouting. After 30 minutes Zbyszko somehow managed to slip away and got up on his feet’s and started shouting angrily in polish language. The angry public booed at him. This booing from the angry spectators got him mad. He charged at the Indian Gama with intense ferocity. Gama managed to avoid his aggression with ease. This made the pole mad and the attack continued for another 5 minutes, until suddenly Gama got strangulated in a Greek submission hold. In order to make the Indian submit, Zbyszko bought him down on the mat and started applying pressure from above. People saw Gama being crushed under Zbyszko’s weight. But after 3 minutes Gama managed to break out of the fearsome hold. Then suddenly both the wrestlers were struggling on their feet’s.

Until now, Gama remained in Zbyszko’s hold twice for only 3 minutes, while Zbyszko was dominated by Gama for 55 minutes. This was the beginning of psychological victory for Gama. His Polish opponent has tried every wrestling maneuver in the book. It was like banging your head on the wall. The public was able to judge, and knew that Gama was far superior. Zbyszko’s actions of sticking to the ground and remaining on the defensive to avoid defeat irritated the public as they were getting bored, and they started booing him. 

Gama Pahelwan wrestled Zbyszko for more then 2 hours in the Catch as Catch Can Style wrestling match. But the match remained undecided. Two hours passed out and nothing happened.  Zbyszko always remained glued to the floor and was not getting up. At last the referee warned him that if he continued doing this then he will be expelled from the contest. Alas Zbyszko got onto his feet’s and took a fighting stance staying at a safe distance from the Indian champion. Gama charged at him but Zbyszko tried to avoid contact and moved away. He avoided the Indian for 5 minutes and ran inside the arena, but finding no way out he again avoided con by dropping to the ground and sticking to the mat. The spectators got mad and yelled at Zbyszko to show some action. Gama  inflicted pain on Zbyszko's  neck by pressing with his knee. The Pole resisted the pressure on his neck, and started banging his feet’s on the mat to resist pain. They remained in this position for another 15 minutes. Zbyszko tried to get up but Gama didn’t let go free of his neck.  The Public got impatient and threw abusive language towards the arena. The referee warned Zbyszko.  Gama suddenly applied a dangerous hold and started punishing his opponent. Zbyszko signaled the referee, asking for a break. The Referee immediately stopped the match.  Zbyszko got up and asked the referee to postpone the bout for the time being. Zbyszko hugged the match for nearly 2 hours, but he was severely outmatched at the hands of the Indian Gama. He displayed tremendous power of resistance that saved him from defeat. The referee consulted the judges, and they allowed the break because the fight started at 1600hrs had come to a halt at 1845hrs, and darkness has set in. So the match was called off for 1 week.  The newspapers reported two hour and thirty four minutes, the actual time of this fight. The match lasted for 154 minutes.

The following week, Zbyszko never returned.  The bout was supposed to resume on 17th September 1910, but since Zbyszko didn’t show up at the arena, therefore the Judges awarded the world championship to Gama.

Great Gama was crowned the World Champion in London in 1910. He was awarded a Silver Belt, and a Championship Mace. The Mace is the symbol of the Indian World Champion or Rustam-e-Zaman. However during the following years Stanislaus Zbyszko also became the world champion of another wrestling alliance.


  1. Dastan-e-Shehzoran written by Akhtar Hussain Shaikh.

  2. Gama Pahalwan: the world champion written by Faheemuddin Fehmi.

  3. The Internet.