Celebrity status to be leverage by Sangram Singh in promoting pro-wrestling

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NEW DELHI, Aug 18 (AGENCIES): Wrestler Sangram Singh had his share of highs and lows in his career. Eight years of his life having spent on a wheelchair, he overcame several hurdles to become an international wrestler and a fairly successful one at that.

He won two professional wrestling championships, one of which saw him signing so called ‘Death Contract’. Today, Sangram divides his time between wrestling, doing television shows, managing his own sportswear range and being a motivational speaker.

Now, call it a businessman’s acumen or a desire to give back to the sport, Sangram has launched his own wrestling tournament “KD Jadhav Memorial Kushti Championship” which aims to promote talent from the small towns and villages of the country.

The one-day event will be held on September 15 at the Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi featuring five bouts including the main event which will see Sangram himself returning to the mat as he squares off against American Kevin Radford Junior.

While his dream of representing India at Olympics and standing at the podium with a medal never took flight due to several reasons, it didn’t have any negative effect on his mindset as he worked hard to carve out a career in the professional arena. “I once dreamt of winning an Olympic medal. But due to several reasons ranging from financial to lack of a mentor, I was unable to realise it. So, my only target was to play for India and whatever I earned from that, was spent for taking care of family. It is the story of most of our sportspersons,” he said on Friday.

During his speakership assignments, Sangram interacted with a lot of students and realised that several among them confessed of not knowing much about amateur wrestling. After witnessing pro wrestling in South Africa, he came up with the idea of packaging the sport in an exciting format that would appeal to the masses.

“With the knowledge that I gathered from my overseas travels and interaction with students, I thought let’s come up with a format that is both viewers friendly exciting and aimed at the youth,” he said. “Because I have been told by several youngsters that they are unable to understand amateur wrestling while on the other hand, they can talk for hours on WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).”

“I was in South Africa when this idea struck – six rounds of three minutes each. In my opinion, this was a blockbuster idea and I readied myself mentally and psychically to get ready for it. I lost eight kgs. We are starting from Delhi but will eventually host this in other Indian cities and will give chance to young wrestlers belonging to remote villages.”

Sangram also forayed in the entertainment industry and participated in two popular Indian reality shows – Big Boss and Nach Baliye. And he accepts that people started recognising him after that. But not for his exploits in the wrestling arena but for the guy “who was in Big Boss and Nach Baliye”.

He now wants to leverage that fame to promote his first love – wrestling. And presents some compelling arguments how his celebrity status can further the penetration of the sport in India.

“Being a celebrity helps a lot. Just look at the impact Bollywood stars like Salman Khan and Amir Khan made with their wrestling movies. When I started, there was little awareness of the sport, virtually nobody knew who I was or what I did. But now whenever I participate in wrestling tournaments, kids recognise me someone who appeared in Big Boss and Nach Baliye. They don’t recognise me as two-time Commonwealth Heavyweight champion,” he argues.

But he is not disheartened because he admits that when it comes to sports, cricket still dominates in India. “I don’t blame them for that because cricket continues to be the dominant sport in our country. But now things are changing, other sports are now making their presence felt. So, my celebrity status will help a lot in promoting this event too.

Sangram takes a trip down the memory lane, recounting his days when he used to travel tens of kilometres on foot because he had no money to travel by bus. But now, he is a successful man and now wants to be a helping hand for those who are from underprivileged background.

“There was a time when I used to travel 20 kms on foot because I didn’t have any money to pay for the bus fare. But today, I am not claiming that I have achieved a lot. I am still a nobody but as much as I can, I want to help kids from underprivileged background to study and achieve their ambitions. By the time I leave this world, I pray to god to help me make a difference to lives of lakhs and crores of children. It doesn’t matter whether that ability comes through wrestling or becoming a superstar,” he said.

He idolises KD Jadhav and thus name championship after him as a tribute. He hopes that through his new venture, he will be able to take wrestling to new heights in the country. “The fact is, still 90 per cent of the (Indian) population is unaware of the difference between amateur and professional wrestling, especially those living in small towns and villages. We have tied with Doordarshan to enable us to reach every corner of the country wherein private channels don’t have any presence,” he signs off.

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