Eight years in a wheelchair are enough to break anyone’s spirit. But Sangram Singh isn’t just anyone. Not only did he overcome that, he just became the World Wrestling Professionals (WWP) Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion.
Before you go thinking India has finally arrived on the Mixed Martial Arts scene, we haven’t. The WWP is to sport what reality TV is to reality. Which is to say it isn’t sport. It’s sports entertainment.
Which isn’t to say that these wrestlers don’t get hurt. In fact, Singh had to sign a death contract, a waiver that absolved the organisers of any potential blame in case he died during the fight. The phrase ‘do or die’ could not be put in a more literal context.
Wrestling entertainment is also a multi-million dollar industry, with thousands of professionals vying to make it big. To make it to the top of a wrestling league doesn’t happen without amazing physical prowess and performing ability. Both of which Singh possesses in abundance.
So to belittle his achievements because it’s ‘entertainment’ would be foolish.
He isn’t just a wrestling entertainer either. Singh is a decorated wrestler. In 2003, he won the Silver in the Indian Men’s National Wrestling Championship, and he won Gold in the Johnie Reitz Big-5 Wrestling Competition in South Africa in 2006.
His list of achievements is quite staggering, but his achievement assume even greater significance given his incredibly tough past.
Born in 1985 to a humble family in Rohtak, Haryana, arthritis left Sangram paralysed at the age of three. He was wheelchair-bound for the next eight years. There was a time in his life when he could not even move his hand. “I started very small; moving my feet, standing up, undergoing severe therapy sessions at home”, Singh says about his struggle to recover.
At that stage, no one in their right mind would have expected much from Singh. But he had a dream – to be a wrestler. Which is probably for the best, because it would take a real fighting spirit to overcome the struggle that lay before him. Singh knows that better than anyone. “I have had a tough life, but I am proud that I fought my battle”, he said, in reference to his early years.
Not content with just overcoming his tribulations and achieving his goals, Singh is determined to be a source of inspiration to those around him. The Indian Army chose him as a motivational speaker for their Jawans, hoping his tale of struggle would inspire them.
In 2014, he was selected as the face of a voter awareness campaign for the elections in his home town of Rohtak.
He’s even a brand ambassador for People for Animals.
In between bashing people’s heads in and inspiring other people, he’s also carved a niche for himself in Indian television. He’s appeared on shows like Sach Ka Saamna, Survivor India and was even a finalist on Bigg Boss. His tryst with Indian TV histrionics probably holds him in good stead in the wrestling business.
What most people do not know, though, is that despite overcoming his paralysis and becoming a wrestler, Singh’s life could easily have taken an entirely different direction.
He was a constable in the Delhi Police until 2007, when due to logistical issues he couldn’t get permission to travel to Italy for a Wrestling Championship. That led to him leaving the police to pursue both his wrestling and acting career. The rest, as we say, is history.