WRESTLING HERITAGE

British wrestling history 

S: Ajit Singh and Shem Singh

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A Touch of Indian Spice


Ajit Singh




Ajit Singh, Dara Singh and Ajit's cousin Tehal Singh Bhakar. Tehal Singh was also a renowned wrestler and well respected member of the Sikh community in Britain.

Derived from the Sanskrit word for lion, the name Singh was adopted as a title by Rajput warriors and decreed by Guru Gobind Sikh to be the name of all male Sikhs. Consequently there are millions of Sikhs in the world (one estimate we have seen is 36 million) and it is one of the most common names in Britain. They are not all wrestlers, but in the 1960s and 1970s there were enough wrestling Singhs to create a  knotty problem for fans. We have the son of Ajit Singh to thank for helping us untangling the knot. 

A popular Indian wrestler in southern England during the 1960s was the head butt specialist Ajit Singh Bhakar, known in the wrestling community as Ajit Singh.  Ajit was a good friend, and training partner of Dara Singh, with whom he can be seen in the photograph standing on the right, with Dara Singh in the middle, and their trainer on the left hand side. The two men were friends for many years both in Britain and in India when Ajit returned to live in Mumbai.

The barefooted light heavyweight was born in Lahore, which was in India at the time, but became part of Pakistan following the partition of India.  Ajit began amateur wrestling when he was nine years old, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Ajit's father, Khazan Singh Bhakar, was an accomplished wrestler who travelled the world and lived in Britain from 1938-9, before returning home. He later  moved to Singapore, where he was eventually joined by the rest of the family, his wife and five children including Ajit and Shemsher, who were both destined to wrestle professionally in Britain. The family travelled to Britain, in 1949, setting up home in Manchester. Khazan Singh Bhakar was to become a prominent member of the Sikh community, a founder member, and President, of the first Sikh temple in Manchester.
 
Once settled in Britain Ajit decided to pursue his interest in wrestling. There could have been fewer better places than Manchester with a thriving amateur and professional wrestling scene.   Martin Conroy  had been a wrestler for twenty years and began training the young Ajit and preparing him for the professional ring. That professional debut came in 1952; a winning debut against Rochdale's Dennis Keegan. Within a short time Ajit was wrestling around the country, often facing more experienced men like Danny Flynn Les Kellett and  Arthur Beaumont.

Ajit made the first of his television appearances in April, 1957, when he lost to the considerably heavier Bill McDonald. Further televised contests against top men such as Steve Logan, Clay Thompson, Bert Royal, Ernie Riley, Ray Fury, Peter Rann and Jackie Pallo, were to follow up to 1970. Wins at the Royal Albert Hall over Alan Colbeck, Jean Morandi and Vic Coleman are testimony to the Ajit's standing.  

Ajit trained his younger  brother,  Shem Singh,  to wrestle and he too went on to become a popular 1960s wrestler.

From time to time  he returned to India where he continued wrestling under the name Daljit Rao, (the name Ajit Singh already in use by a prominent wrestler).  
Following his retirement from British rings Ajit returned to India and settled in Mumbai, where he  promoted wrestling, took up acting and also  opened his own fitness centre. The gymnasium was hugely successful and many of the top Bollywood stars were regular visitors.  

Following a long illness Ajit Singh died in May, 2009.Derived from the Sanskrit word for lion, the name Singh was adopted as a title by Rajput warriors and decreed by Guru Gobind Sikh to be the name of all male Sikhs. Consequently there are millions of Sikhs in the world (one estimate we have seen is 36 million) and it is one of the most common names in Britain. They are not all wrestlers, but in the 1960s and 1970s there were enough wrestling Singhs to create a  knotty problem for fans. We have the son of Ajit Singh to thank for helping us untangling the knot. 

A popular Indian wrestler in southern England during the 1960s was the head butt specialist Ajit Singh Bhakar, known in the wrestling community as Ajit Singh.  Ajit was a good friend, and training partner of Dara Singh, with whom he can be seen in the photograph standing on the right, with Dara Singh in the middle, and their trainer on the left hand side. The two men were friends for many years both in Britain and in India when Ajit returned to live in Mumbai.

The barefooted light heavyweight was born in Lahore, which was in India at the time, but became part of Pakistan following the partition of India.  Ajit began amateur wrestling when he was nine years old, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Ajit's father, Khazan Singh Bhakar, was an accomplished wrestler who travelled the world and lived in Britain from 1938-9, before returning home. He later  moved to Singapore, where he was eventually joined by the rest of the family, his wife and five children including Ajit and Shemsher, who were both destined to wrestle professionally in Britain. The family travelled to Britain, in 1949, setting up home in Manchester. Khazan Singh Bhakar was to become a prominent member of the Sikh community, a founder member, and President, of the first Sikh temple in Manchester.
 
Once settled in Britain Ajit decided to pursue his interest in wrestling. There could have been fewer better places than Manchester with a thriving amateur and professional wrestling scene.   Martin Conroy  had been a wrestler for twenty years and began training the young Ajit and preparing him for the professional ring. That professional debut came in 1952; a winning debut against Rochdale's Dennis Keegan. Within a short time Ajit was wrestling around the country, often facing more experienced men like Danny Flynn Les Kellett and  Arthur Beaumont.

Ajit made the first of his television appearances in April, 1957, when he lost to the considerably heavier Bill McDonald. Further televised contests against top men such as Steve Logan, Clay Thompson, Bert Royal, Ernie Riley, Ray Fury, Peter Rann and Jackie Pallo, were to follow up to 1970. Wins at the Royal Albert Hall over Alan Colbeck, Jean Morandi and Vic Coleman are testimony to the Ajit's standing.  

Ajit trained his younger  brother,  Shem Singh,  to wrestle and he too went on to become a popular 1960s wrestler.

From time to time  he returned to India where he continued wrestling under the name Daljit Rao, (the name Ajit Singh already in use by a prominent wrestler).  
Following his retirement from British rings Ajit returned to India and settled in Mumbai, where he  promoted wrestling, took up acting and also  opened his own fitness centre. The gymnasium was hugely successful and many of the top Bollywood stars were regular visitors.  

Following a long illness Ajit Singh died in May, 2009.
Shem Singh
Alan Dennison and Shem Singh
Another of the popular Indian wrestlers who worked for both Joint Promotions and the independents in the 1960s and 1970s. Shem was the brother of Ajit Singh and a skilful  middleweight that we watched in the 1960s.

Born in Calcutta in 1929, one of five brothers, he came to the UK from his home in Singapore  in 1949, when he was nineteen years old . Shem's father had first visited Britain in 1938, but returned with his family in 1949. He was a prominent member of the community in Manchester and founder member of the first Sikh Temple in Manchester.  

Working in a factory and as a dock worker Shemsher Singh Bhakar's first love was  wrestling. Wrestling was in the family genes.  Although he had wrestled in India and Singapore it wasn’t until 1958 that Shem Singh made his UK debut, defeating Tiger Woods in Macclesfield.  

Shem continued wrestling in Britain during the 1960s. Two televised contests came his way, against Bobby Steele in 1964 and Julien Morice in 1965. The photo above shows him in action against Alan Dennison. Like many he ended his career on the independent circuit.
Shemsher Singh (right)  is pictured here with the  boxing legend Randolph Turpin, who turned to a wrestling career after his successful boxing career. Shemsher wrestled him twice, losing the first bout and then drawing the second.