As the undefeated wrestling champion of the world in the early 20th century, Gama Pehlwan is widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, as well as a savior of many lives during a turbulent time in India’s history.
In a career that spanned more than half a century, Pehlwan won more than 5,000 matches, earning him the nickname The Great Gama. To honor his athletic achievement, Google dedicated a Doodle on Sunday to the Indian wrestler’s legacy on his 144th birthday.
Pehlwan was born Ghulam Mohammad Baksh Butt on May 22, 1878, in what is now Punjab, India. Each day, he would perform at least 3,000 pushups, 5,000 squats and grappled with 40 other wrestlers — a training regimen that inspired martial arts great Bruce Lee.
He first gained attention for his athletic ability at the age of 10, when he won a strong man competition attended by more than 400 wrestlers. At the age of 17, the 5-foot-7-inch Pehlwan was matched against a heavily favored 7-foot tall Indian wrestling champion, wrestling in a contest that ended in a draw after several hours.
A Muslim by faith, Pehlwan is credited with saving hundreds of Hindus from violence that erupted over the division of land between India and Pakistan during the partition of India in 1947. He is said to have faced down angry mobs in Lahore and paid for the safe passage of hundreds from the colony when the violence escalated.
After winning the World Wrestling Championship in 1927, he was bestowed with the title of Tiger by his opponent. With willing opponents hard to find, Pehlwan retired from wrestling in 1952.
He died in Lahore in 1960 at the age of 82.