Bholu Pehlwan (1922–1985) was one of the most popular wrestlers of 1950s. His name has been recorded in the annals of wrestling. He lived in Amritsar till age 9. Then during one of his school holidays Bholu moved to Patiala to visit his father who was
a serious wrestler. During the same year Bholu started his wrestling career in Radhanpur under the guidance of Hamida Pahalwan Rehmaniwala, real name Abdul Hamid Al Maroof Rehmani, who was an official wrestler of that state. In 1935, at age 13 Bholu made his first appearance in a wrestling contest at Lahore. He competed with wrestler known as Ahmad Bakhsh to a draw for duration of twelve minutes.
On 27 March 1939 Bholu wrestled Ahmad Bakhsh for the 2nd time at Lahore. The Judges were Sardar Abdus Samad City Magistrate and Inspector Gayani of Naulakha Police Station. From 1935 till 1940 Bholu succeeded against some of competent Indian Pehlwans like Mangal Singh, Kharak Singh, Bora Singh, Bulhar Pahalwan and Aleem Pahalwan of Baroda. During 1940, Bholu competed in the war fund wrestling competitions staged by the Government in every part of subcontinent to boost up war funds. Bholu Pehlwan defeated a number of wrestlers including a local champion Ghousia Pehlwan twice in Lahore and for the 3rd time in Bahawalnagar.
In 1944 Bholu defeated Puran Singh Amritsari in Ajain in a recorded time of 6 minutes. Later the same year, he defeated another wrestler with the similar name known as Puran Singh Patialawala, in Ludhiana in 3 minutes. In 1945 Bholu beats a Sikh wrestler known as Darbar Singh in Kasur in shortest duration of 1-minute.
In 1946 Bholu was scheduled to fight Jeuti Pehlwan in Kolhapur but on the day of the match Jeuti refused to fight and slipped away. Public turned furious and burnt the wrestling arena. The police resorted to firing in order to control the enraged spectators and the alleged wrestling contractor was jailed. But Hamida Pehlwan soon arranged a rematch between both wrestlers to compensate the public money. Bholu agreed to wrestle without payment and defeated Jeuti in this second event in Kolhapur on a final decision. Later in another contest in Kolhapur he defeated the top contender Shiv Govinda within 2 minutes.
During the same year Bholu fought a series of wrestling bouts against the Champion of Kolhapur, Mulla Patarakia of Nipani who had the reputation of previously beating highly talented men like Nizam, Ghulam Mohiuddin, Hussain Baksh Lahori and Allah baksh Pehlwan. Bholu surprisingly overpowered Mulla Patarakia in a wrestling event arranged by the Maharaja in front of a huge crowd. This contest was also witnessed by the Maharajas of the neighboring states. Anyhow Patarakia refused to accept his defeat and demanded a rematch with Bholu in his hometown of Nipani. As a result of that, a few days later Bholu fought Patarakia in Nipani and defeated him for the second time on a unanimous decision.
After the Partition, Bholu Pehlwan settled down in Pakistan. He formed the 'new age' Gama-Imam Tandem with his brother Aslam. During 1948, before winning the Pakistani Championship, Bholu trained from 02.00 hrs till 10.00 hrs and from 14.00 hrs till 19.00 hrs daily. His training routine consisted of around 5000 squats and 3500 pushup stretches including Santola and Zor on daily basis. For his conventional wrestling workouts Bholu also used Chakki, Lizam and Mugdar twice a week.
During the early days after the partition Bholu fought Younus Gujranwalia at the Minto Park in Lahore and won the match but later there was a rematch in Karachi. In April 1949, Bholu Pahalwan won the Rustam-i-Pakistan title by beating Younus Gujranwalia Pehlwan for the national wrestling Championship title in a recorded time of 8 minutes. The Governor General of Pakistan Khawaja Nazimuddin was the Chief Guest of this wrestling event. This was the most significant event in the Pakistan’s wrestling history. Bholu Pehlwan was declared the first legitimate Wrestling Champion of Pakistan.
Bholu seldom wrestled within the country after these matches. He competed with foreign wrestlers who were active in India during the early1950’s. In Jalandhar and Bombay Bholu Pehlwan dominated some of the finest men in wrestling Including Emil Koroshenko, George Pencheff, Goldstein, George Zbisko, Zybisko-2 and Harbans Singh etc.
Bholu had two main Akhara's (Wrestling’s dujo) within the country. The Bilal Gunj Akhara was located in Lahore. In 1948 Bholu formed another Akhara known as Dar-ul-Sehat at Pakistan Chowk in Karachi. The Dar-ul-Sehat also known as Bholu-ka-Akhara trained in Pakistani style wrestling under the supervision of professional wrestlers. It also provided the weight training and body building facilities to the members. The Bholu’s Akhara trained around 55000 members during the 60’s. Bholu gave special attention to this institution. He personally trained the members that included 60 to 70 serious wrestlers. In 1953 Bholu challenges the World Champion, Lou Thesz in order to win the world championship.
He even asked the Government through Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra to arrange a match between him and the reigning world champion. Bholu even offered a sum of 0.1 Million to the world champion for a match with him. But the match between Bholu Pehlwan and Lou Thesz never took place for some unknown reason. He later attempted to confront the World Champion Indian wrestler Dara Singh but Singh was to a great extent billed to fight elsewhere in America and could not afford time. During the early 1960s Bholu challenge the wrestlers worldwide through publications in different newspapers. He remained matchless because the average wrestler seemed reluctant to compete against him.
Bholu Pehlwan received the 1962 Pride of Performance Award. He was granted a 20-kanal land by the President Ayub Khan in honour of services rendered to the sport of wrestling in Pakistan. Bholu performed Hajj in 1963. Finally in 1964 the Pakistan Wrestling Association declared him Rustam-e-Zaman. They imposed a condition on him that Bholu should wrestle abroad and must win a world title in order to sustain his Title of Rustam-e-Zaman.
Since most wrestlers were reluctant to fight him due to unknown reason, Bholu offered a sum of 5000 pounds through promoter Orig Williams of the United Kingdom to anyone who could beat him. And Finally in May 1967, Bholu Pehlwan competed in a world championship event sponsored by the Eastern Promotions Limited in UK and defeated the Anglo-French heavyweight Champion, Henry Perry for the World Heavyweight Title in Empire Pool, Wembley Stadium, London, UK.
Later after winning the world championships from abroad, his status as Rustam-e-Zaman, was officially confirmed on September 1967 by the Pakistan Wrestling Association in a ceremony held in Karachi and presided by Home Minister, Kazi Fazlullah.
The Bholu Brothers, included Bholu, Azam, Aslam, Akram and Goga were the sons of Imam Bakhsh Pehlwan (Rustam-e-Hind) and nephews of Gama, the greatest wrestler that our land has ever produced. Wrestling was a way of life for them. Some of the main wrestling gyms were owned and operated by the Bholu Pehlwan family (formerly known as Gama Wrestling Family).
The Bholu Brothers were trained by Gama, the world champion. Soon after the partition, Bholu Pehlwan acquired the title of Rustam-e-Pakistan in 1949. His younger Brother Aslam also known as Acha successfully conquered the Rustam-e-Punjab title in 1951, Azam was branded as Rustam-e-Hind in 1953, Akram gained fame for his victories and Goga better known as the resident Champion. All of them were amazing. 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.
In earlier days when the sport of wrestling prevailed in Pakistan, the passion for wrestling was such that the wrestling fans jam-packed the stadiums in almost every city of Pakistan, when 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 Pakistani Bholu Brothers were very popular in the East. They were renowned wrestlers with outstanding skills. The Bholu's never needed an introduction, people had a high regard for them and honoured 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.
Aslam Pehlwan (1927–1989) also known as Acha the world renowned Pakistani champion, was the adopted son of the GREAT GAMA, and the backbone muscle of Pakistani wrestling faction. Aslam was a comical figure in real life but turned furious and powerful when he entered the ring. He weighed more than 300 lbs and stood 6 ft 4 in tall. He was trained in extreme wrestling environments by the superman of Indian wrestling known as Hamida Pehlwan. He 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 Pehlwan, "the lion of Punjab". He won the Rustam-e-Punjab title in 1951 by beating the top Pakistani wrestler known as Younus Pehlwan (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 became 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.
Azam Pehlwan (Rustam-e-Hind) was the Champion of Lahore and the Far East. He was a conventional wrestler, a Pehlwan who later adopted the freestyle professional wrestling. Azam also known as 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.
Akram Pehlwan (1930-1987) also known as Iki Pehlwan was a well-known Pakistani wrestler and a part of the Bholu Brothers Tag Team in professional wrestling during the late 1960's. He fought most of his wrestling matches with foreign wrestlers in distant countries and also within Pakistan. Some of his well known opponents include Haji Afzal (1963), George Gordienko (1967), Anton Geesink (1968) and Antonio Inoki (1976).
Akram was initially trained in Lahore as a student of the Great Gama. Akram actually started his professional wrestling career in 1953 as he wrestled the Ugandan and Kenyan wrestlers in East Africa. He defeated the leading wrestler Mahindar Singh in Nairobi, capital of Kenya through a submission hold. The Mahinder Singh’s elder brother was the referee of that match. The East African public named him “The Lion” when he defeated the gigantic warriors of Kampala including the Ugandan Champion Idi Amin. Soon after this match he and Idi Amin became friends.
Akram's Pakistani opponents include Imam Baksh Ferozwala. Jero Pehlwan, Sheeda Gujanwalia, Goma, Hamida Ghaia Wala, Suleman and Sheeda Popat. He defeated Siddique son of Goonga Pehlwan in Sialkot, Bakhshu Pehlwan in Jampur, Mushtaq Pehlwan in Multan, Nazu Pehlwan in Bahawalpur, Gurda Pehlwan in Multan, Zamman Khan in Karachi, and one of the leading wrestlers known as Haji Muhammad Afzal in Lahore. The former Governor of Pakistan, Malik Amir Muhammad Khan was the Chief Guest of this event. The deputy superintendent Ghulam Hussain Butt was the referee.
In 1958, Akram was proclaimed the Champion of Malaya in Singapore when he defeated the wrestler Hari Ram. He received an expensive car as a reward for his achievements.
In 1965 Akram defeated Indian wrestler Hardam Singh at the National Stadium, Karachi in the third round. Akram's previous record shows that he participated in around 280 major wrestling events during the 50s. Some of which remained alive in the memories of people who watched him wrestle for a long time.
Beside that he also defeated Emil Koroshenko, Baron Von Heczey, Bloorma, King Kong (Emile Czaja) and others. During the 60s Akram Pehlwan remained a part of the Bholu Brothers wrestling team. Some of the opponents of Akram during the 60s include Tony Kontellis, Con Papalazarou, Shaikh Wadi Ayoub, Bert Assirati etc. The Pakistani sporting arenas were regularly packed with up to 60,000 fans. He competed in freestyle wrestling during the 1960s. In 1967 he toured UK. Akram's wrestling career ended in 1976.
Goga Pahalwan real name Moazzam, (1937–1981) was fearless and daring Pakistani wrestler, part of the Pakistani Bholu Brothers wrestling team. Amritsar born Pakistani Champion was also trained by the Great Gama. He was lightly built and 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, Dick Murdoch, Dusty Rhodes, Sam Betts, Haruka Eigen, Tarlok Singh and Harbans Singh. His local opponents included Haji Afzal, Boota Singh, Siddique Nukehwala, Sohni and Garnam Singh. In professional Tag team wrestling he teamed with Akram Pehlwan and Majid Ackra. Goga died in Gujranwala City on 6 February 1981 during an exhibition bout against his nephew Nasir Bholu.
Hassu real name Hussain Bakhsh, was the second 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.
However, no matter how good were the Bholu Brothers, they were a step below the Great Gama and Imam Bakhsh. Gama came out of the subcontinent and fought world renowned wrestlers and once those old-timers were gone, their personal stories disappeared with them into the past. First Gama vanished into history, then Bholu and then his brothers. Now there are many stories that live on. But of course like many things else that is also lost to the sands of time.