Born Dalip Singh Rana he is better known to wrestling fans as The Great Khali. Standing well over 7 feet tall and weighing between 350 and 400 lbs he is an impressive sight. However, these days you’ll be hard pressed to find any WWE fans still impressed by Khali, or his matches. Even in his prime he could hardly be considered a mat technician, but now, on the wrong side of 40 and with wrecked knees, he is largely used as a special attraction or comic relief. While he may be happy in this role – even if his knees are not – there is so much more to Dalip ‘Great Khali’ Singh than slow motion wrestling matches and unintelligible speech.
Dalip grew up in Himachal Pradesh, India. The village where he grew up provided him with a picturesque, albeit humble, start to life. With little money for education, young Dalip worked on construction sites, lifting and cutting large rocks and stones. Couple this occupation with a keen interest in powerlifting and – at this stage – an undiagnosed tumour developing near his pituitary gland causing an excess secretion of growth hormone, and you have the image of physically very impressive young man. The sheer intimidating presence of young Dalip resulted in an offer to join the Punjab Police as a constable. Now financially secure our man was able to join gyms and boxing clubs to further his development as a bodybuilder and athlete.
At the age of 26 it would be fair to say that Dalip reached his physical peak when his interest in bodybuilding turned into a tangible reward when he became Mr India 1997, and then again in 1998. Having conquered the world of bodybuilding – to this day he is considered the world’s largest ever bodybuilder – Dalip set his sights on another goal; becoming a professional wrestler. His bodybuilding accolades had already turned Dalip into a role model and minor celebrity in the Punjab region of India. However, his quest to become a wrestler would completely eclipse these achievements.
In 1999 Dalip travelled to California where he attended a training school for All Pro Wrestling. Getting the basics down Dalip made a handful of appearances for the promotion before landing a job in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Called ‘Giant Singh’, our man made his debut alongside Giant Silva – of Oddities fame – as a member of Masahiro Chono’s ‘Team 2000’ stable. The giant tandem were called ‘Club 7’ and are still widely considered to be the largest (in terms of height) tag team in wrestling history. The duo inevitably split, spawning a couple of pretty ropey matches between the tandem.
Dalip’s exposure in NJPW did not go unnoticed in the states, however rather than WWE his first offer of work came from Hollywood. Bagging the role of ‘Turley’ in the Adam Sandler remake of ‘The Longest Yard’ Dalip joined fellow wrestlers Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kevin Nash and Goldberg on the cast. This experience led to a contract offer from WWE, for whom he made his debut as ‘The Great Khali’ on the April 7th 2006 episode of Smackdown when attacked The Undertaker.
From here we wrestling fans pretty much know the rest of the story. Khali is probably most memorable for that initial feud with The Undertaker and his one and only World Heavyweight Championship reign a year later. Since his reign as World Heavyweight Champion – which was thrust upon him due to an injury to Edge – Khali has slowly worked his way down the card to become a staple of WWE’s comedy division, alongside the likes of Hornswoggle, 3MB and Santino Marella.
During his transformation from ‘Punjabi Nightmare’ to ‘Punjabi Playboy’ Dalip managed to make more movie appearances, in both Hollywood and Bollywood, and in 2012 even underwent surgery to remove a tumour, something you will not hear mentioned on WWE TV.
The tumour removed put pressure on Dalip’s pituitary gland, increasing secretion of growth hormone, leading to a condition known as acromegaly. Symptoms of this condition include a prominent brow, bulbous nose and protruding chin; all of which are displayed by Dalip. Even though his tumour has been removed Dalip still runs a significantly higher risk of developing heart problems. It was acromegaly that caused the heart problems that ultimately claimed the life of Andre The Giant. Incidentally, Paul ‘The Big Show’ Wight also suffered from this condition, but he opted to undergo surgery to remove the offending tumour in his early twenties.
These days Khali/Dalip is used sparingly as his body is simply not up to the task of working multiple matches each week. Moreover, he is probably kept off cards as we, as viewers, probably aren’t up to the task of watching him wrestle on every show. That said, for however much people poke fun and take shots at Khali’s performances in the wrestling ring they would do well to realise the journey this man has made to arrive at where he is today. His successes in and out of wrestling coupled with the hurdles he has had to overcome are what make Khali great.