Standing at a massive 2.16m and weighing a whooping 157 kgs, Dalip Singh Rana, or The Great Khali has had an interesting journey from Himachal Pradesh to San Francisco to Punjab now. He tells Tanuj lakhina about his career and what he’s up to now
Dressed in a black suit with a grey tie as Dalip Singh Rana - prominently known with his ring name ‘The Great Khali’ - appeared on stage, the first thought that popped into my mind was, ‘His tailor must ask him for a lot more money!’ and you can’t blame me. He stands at 7 foot 1 inches and weighs 157 kilograms and rightly deserves the nickname ‘The Punjabi Monster’. The difference between his size and of others was visible as Uttarakhand CM Harish Rawat showed by standing on a stool!
The two were in the capital to announce the launch of a talent hunt programme in Uttarakhand in association with Khali’s wrestling academy Continental Wrestling Entertainment (CWE) and also to reveal that the programme would be launched in February 2016 with a two-day spectacle of fights. Not shying away, Khali accepted Rawat’s invitation to enter the ring as well.
Khali was the first Indian to sign a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and even held the World Heavyweight title.
But his journey hasn’t been easy and has had a few detours on the way.
Funnily enough, his life changing moment happened by chance as he worked as a stone cutter in the hills of Siramur, Himachal Pradesh.
“I have come a long a way since my humble beginning as an ordinary stone cutter. A simple response to a chance question by a Punjab police officer who passed me one day while I was working along a road changed my life forever. He asked me ‘Why I was working so hard even after my shift was over’. My response was that ‘unlike others I had a bigger stomach to fill and thus needed to work harder than the rest’ and that landed me a job with the Punjab Police,” he said at the launch of the programme.
The salary earned gave him reason to be proud and the additional money gave him a chance to buy a TV which led to his love for wrestling to begin. “That gave me a bit of pride too that now I was someone who had a job and was earning a good amount. For the first time in my life I could buy a TV, a decision that changed my life forever I not only got introduced to wrestling but decided to make it my passion and my profession,” he said of his early career.
With a new found purpose, he started working on his physical side as a body builder. Thanks to the support of his family and confidence in his abilities, he set off for San Francisco to train and hopefully get inducted into WWE.
He had a fairly good start before a bump appeared down the road from none other than the WWE itself! “After six months there, I signed a contract with World Championship Wrestling (WCW). There I continued to learn the trade and to fight but then Vince McMahon, chairman of WWE, bought the company. It left me disappointed because only in 7-8 months that I was there, the company was bought. I was not sure how things would transpire now and what would happen to my career,” he said disappointingly.
The ray of light soon emerged though. “Still, I told myself to stay positive and after training for a few more months, I got an offer from New Japan Pro Wrestling and I wrestled there for three years. And it should be noted that most of the famous WWE wrestlers have been involved in Japan at some point.”
Asked which of the two wrestling styles he enjoyed more, he hinged towards Japanese for the wrestling aspect and WWE for the exposure. “I feel the Japanese wrestling is tougher in all respects including the physical aspect. It is tougher too and there is a lot more bloodshed. The only reason WWE has an advantage is that it is global while Japan wrestling is broadcast only in Japan. But in all, I feel WWE is better because there is more chance at getting publicity and the audience is huge. The TV audience makes it a global sport.”
Films & TV
Khali has appeared in six movies and three TV shows including the popular Bigg Boss where he finished runner-up in the fourth season. However his big break came in 2005 with The longest Yard starring Adam Sandler and a host of other celebrities. “At this point, I got an offer to act in a movie (The longest Yard) which involved Sandler and a host of other wrestlers such as Kevin Nash, Bill Goldberg and Stone Cold Steve Austin. They were looking for someone huge and that came to me. When Sandler saw me, his first reaction was - ‘Wow! He’s huge! I want this guy in the movie!’”.
Entry into WWE
Noticing his frame and abilities, he got the call from WWE to come over for a trial and he readily agreed. His training and work in the ring was watched by the talent hunt team and the owner presided himself as well - an anomaly says Khali. “I worked on the movie for about four-five months when the call came from WWE. They asked me to come over and sign a contract with them. And this is what I had been waiting and working towards. So whatever happened prior to WWE was a phase but wrestling was the ultimate dream and I got to it.
“I signed the contract in 2005. McMahon sent a limousine to get me from the premier of The longest Yard in New York and he wanted to see me in person. Normally he doesn’t do that but in my case he made an exception. He asked if I wanted to work with WWE and I gladly said yes,” said a beaming Khali.
He debuted on Smackdown! - one of WWE’s weekly shows on 7 April, 2006 by clobbering The Undertaker but his first in ring debut arrived a fortnight later. His winning run continued until the second week of August when he was beaten by The Undertaker himself in a last Man Standing match.
On October 31, 2014, Khali wrestled his last and his contract expired in November upon which he returned back home.
“I worked with the WWE for 9-10 years and now I’m back in India with my own training school Continental Wrestling Entertainment (CWE). It is a great opportunity for young athletes to learn and shine. Such a stage didn’t exist earlier and we’ve got a few coaches from the US too,” he said about his academy.
With roughly 100 students under his wing, Khali is optimistic about the academy and hopes to make it an international competition in the future. But, for now, he was happy with the way things are.
“We started in January this year and have more than a hundred students. And they’re a very strong and energetic group, let me tell you that!”
Doping in wrestling
It is well known that wrestlers get injured while in the ring or during training but have little recovery time forcing them to use banned substances. Khali didn’t deny that such things do exist but stated that the number of wrestlers doing it has reduced considerably in the past decade.
“Yes some people do take steroids to circumvent injuries but as compared to yesteryears, it has reduced considerably. So around 12-13 years ago, usage of steroids was much higher but it is lesser now,” said Khali.
When pressed further about such substances being banned, he shrugged and said: “Yes it is. There is a ban on usage of drugs and steroids. If caught during a drug test, you’re suspended. The second time you’re found guilty, you’re fired. But wrestlers do take them at the prescription and behest of doctors,” he finished.