One body slam at a time, Bhupinder Gujjar is changing the image of South Asian professional wrestlers.
While they're often painted as evil personas, or "heels," the Windsor-based wrestler is a "babyface" — a good guy. And Gujjar says he hopes to spread the idea in North America that Indian wrestlers can win by fair play.
Gujjar is signed with Border City Wrestling (BCW) and Impact Wrestling. He's also in Border City Wrestling's show at the Essex Fun Fest on Sunday.
He spoke with Windsor Morning's Nav Nanwa Friday about his character, the reception he's gotten, and how he hopes to help change a stereotype.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: How did you get into professional wrestling?
A: I wanted to do it, but back home in India, we didn't have much opportunity. So [in] 2016, I got an opportunity to go to Khali's school to train for a little bit, like six months. Then I moved to Canada after six months training. I got trained here by Scott D'Amore. Since then, I just got into this profession.
Q: Everyone has a character in professional wrestling. It's one of the reasons I love watching professional wrestling. How would you describe your character?
A: My character is a new upcoming Indian star who's the face of Impact Wrestling in India. I'm aggressive; I do power moves. I can do flashy moves, too. I'm aggressive, but at the same time, I don't like to win by cheating. That's my character: win, but win with fair play.
Q: When I grew up seeing South Asian wrestlers like Tiger Ali Singh or, most recently, Jinder Mahal, a lot of them had a very stereotypical persona — almost like the evil foreigner persona — that would come out. You're quite the opposite. What can you tell me about that?
A: Impact Wrestling, I think, is the only promotion who's breaking these stereotypes. They launched me as a babyface. Usually you're going to see all the Indians, all the Asian wrestlers, all are heel, or evil, characters. But [with] Impact Wrestling, this is the first time that, to my knowledge, they launched someone as a babyface. And people are really liking my stuff and they love watching my stuff.
It's just a stereotype, as you said, that people launch all the Asian wrestlers as evil wrestlers or as bad guys. But now, working with Impact, I get a chance to represent India. I've lived in Windsor for over five years and I can say I represent Windsor, and people in India, in a good way.
Q: Why do you think it's important to change that narrative?
A: You need to change. People want to see something because India is a big market. Indian people like fair play, whatever the sport you play. I think Impact Wrestling knows that better, and Scott D'Amore, my coach, knows that better. That's why he gave me a chance where I can present myself in a positive way. And I think it's working pretty well.
Q: Are you getting feedback from the community, whether it be in Windsor or even when you're out in the U.S.? When you hear from South Asian fans, are they giving you that feedback that they like the fact that you're someone that promotes fair play or you're a babyface? Do they like that about you?
A: Yeah, definitely. Wherever I go, I get all the positive responses. Whenever I'm traveling, I kind of worried about whether people are going to like me or not because mostly people think Asian wrestlers are bad guys or evil wrestlers; they come to professional wrestling like heels.
But I'm getting a good response. People are chanting. People are telling me that you deserve to be here and that motivates me. I did a couple of events in Toronto, and I was so amazed to feel that people were taking my name and they stood behind me and they wanted me to win. I was amused by seeing all the support I'm getting from all over Canada and the U.S., and that's pretty cool.
Q: It hasn't always been the case, right? You mentioned it. A lot of Asian wrestlers are typically the evil foreigners or people who win by cheating, so to see you not do that is certainly something different. You trained in Windsor at the Can-Am Wrestling School, the same school that runs Border City Wrestling. What can you tell me about the wrestling scene here? Why did you choose Windsor as your next training ground after training in India?
A: When I moved here, I was looking for wrestling training and Scott D'Amore approached me, and I started training with Scott D'Amore. The training style is totally different. I don't want to say old school, but it's a mixture of old school, plus some modern techniques. Scott is one of the best wrestlers or promoters in the professional wrestling world. So here, I get a chance to learn from one of the best. And BCW; most of the professional wrestlers from Impact, or TNA, were here for some reason. Maybe they were staying here to train, or for any other reason, they were here. So I got a chance to learn different styles here and I got to try and learn lucha style, or heavyweight style wrestling.
Q: You're promoted quite heavily in India. You're almost the face of the promotion in India. What does that mean to you?
A: For me, it's like my dream came true because I always wanted to represent my country and Impact Wrestling, both in positive ways. So in India, now I can talk about Impact Wrestling because people don't care if you're winning by cheating, but now I'm winning by fair play. That means people are really watching me, like how I got into professional wrestling. They really want to know about me. And Impact Wrestling gave me this chance. So I'm grateful and thankful to Impact Wrestling that I can represent them in India in a positive way, and now I can represent India at an international stage like Impact Wrestling.
That's a dream come true because if you ask wrestlers, they want to do a great job in any promotion, and Impact Wrestling is my home promotion. They promoted me well, they gave me the chance to show my abilities, and now people are supporting me because they like my wrestling style. They know that I can do stuff; I don't just pick up guys and just drop them in a ring, which you're going to see most of the big guys do. My wrestling style is a little different.
Q: What can people expect from you this Sunday at the Essex Fun Fest?
A: I know that it's going to be a great success because loads of Impact Wrestling wrestlers are going to be in that show: Aiden Prince, John E. Bravo. These people are already on TV, and they're going to be on the show. So they are bringing their best game, especially me.
Definitely, I'm going to do my best and I'll try to entertain people, because that's what I do.