Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


Into the rabbit hole: Baliyan Akki and the story of a Pro-Wrestler from India

Into the rabbit hole: Baliyan Akki and the story of a Pro-Wrestler from India

Aditya Rangarajan

Published: 14 Jan 2018 7:09 AM GMT
For a country whose imagination has been captured by the larger-than-life Bollywood industry, the WWE is probably the closest manifestation of that in reality. In our minds, every thug that Salman Khan batters into oblivion on the screen is mirrored in the flesh when John Cena mows down an opponent with a flying shoulder tackle in the ring. How else can you explain away the fact that we eagerly pay to watch both overcome humanly insurmountable odds? Repeatedly. The ground reality here, however, is that we've all been hooked onto pro wrestling at some point or another in our lives. Some stay hooked on despite growing up (guilty). Others are at least good for a passing remark about the
good ol days of beer-fuelled carnage, raised eyebrows and lewd crotch chops. But wherever you fall on the spectrum of fascination that WWE inspires in this country, how many times have you seriously considered pursuing pro wrestling as a profession? How many times - after choke-slamming your poor, unsuspecting little brother onto the mattress - have you revelled at the moment and wished that you'd want to do this for a living? Yep. That's about right. Never. But Baliyan Akki did. He sincerely, actually followed his dream of being a pro wrestler. And he followed it all the way to Japan. Source: Singapore Pro Wrestling
All of 22 years old now, Baliyan Akki's introduction to pro wrestling five years ago was something straight out of a middle-class Indian fairytale.
He discontinued school after completing 12th standard and upon being asked to study further by his parents, came back with a reply that would earn most of us a sharp cuff over the ear and a reduction in pocket money for a week. I want to do wrestling all my life. Either I'm going to be big in that, or I'm just going to end up on your couch. Right. Couch it was then. For there was just no precedent for a young Indian to make it in pro wrestling in India. There was no Ramakant Achrekar with a keen eye for spotting talent. No Pullela Gopichand to mould you into a world beater.
There was just a run down wrestling ring in Jalandhar and plenty of time to learn the hard way along with his best friend, Zoro. He taught me, I taught him, says Akki of his formative years in the art. We saw stuff on the internet, watched DVDs from New Japan Pro Wrestling and followed their Dojo skills and drills. We made so many errors and learnt to correct them. I think that's why I have such a unique style...because nobody taught me to have a style. But that's not to say that he wasn't good at what he did. Far from it. Source: Studio 9 In fact, Akki's high flying style was so eye-catching that even in the two years he spent wrestling the odd show in India for a local promotion, WrestleSquare, he managed to attract the attention of promoters from other countries.
And before he knew it, he was rubbing shoulders with independent wrestlers from the world over in an event in Thailand - an event that he still credits with giving him his big break. The best thing that happened to me was a tour of Thailand that I did. A promoter there organised a show where he invited wrestlers from 7 countries, namely China, Hong Kong, France, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia and Russia. In the two days I spent there, I evolved more as a performer than I did in the two years prior. More importantly, though, the event afforded him a platform to showcase his talent to a broader audience and soon, the bookings from a plethora of countries followed suit.
But for Akki, whose style of wrestling was heavily influenced by the Japanese Strong Style, the Holy Grail was always plying his trade in Japan. Unlike in the WWE, which is the only promotion most of us are familiar with, pro wrestling in Japan - or puroresu as it's called there - assumes an entirely different hue altogether. As Akki surmises, The biggest market for pro wrestling is the US, the next one in Japan, followed by Mexico and Europe...but Japan is the most respected market in the world. To be good in Japan, you need to be technically sound, competent in the ring, right in front of the camera, good at storytelling. You need to be good at everything to make it there.
But there was only one problem. To make it there, Akki had to get there first. Source: Wrestle Square And while his body of work did invite interest from a Japanese Joshi promotion (a promotion specialising predominantly in Women's wrestling), he could not get a visa for three years which prevented him from jumping all over the offer right away. Unperturbed, he plugged away between the occasional show and periods of inactivity until, finally, the Japanese embassy saw fit to see past his nationality (Their rejection rate for Indians is around 85%, he quips) and eventually let him into the country late in 2017.
In the months since, however, Akki professes that he has more than made up for lost time. I'm actually sad it took me three years to come to Japan. Imagine me wrestling for three years here and being 22. I'll be at the top of the world, skill-wise. If I can wrestle for three years in Japan, when I'm 25, I can do anything I want. In my mind, I know I'm already three times as good as I was two months ago when I came here. Since the level here is so high, you need to play catch up all the time. But playing catch-up seems to be a small price to pay for a man with his best years ahead of him, although it took him three years longer than he would have preferred to end up in Japan.
In hindsight, that he started off without a coach only seems to have attuned his ability to keep his mind receptive to new schools of thought and grow as a performer in that time. That his Visa was repeatedly rejected has only allowed him to sharpen his skill set, travel the world and gain invaluable experience. Who would have thought a man who once chose a shot-in-the-dark future that he could only see through his television screen would end up living the dream? In hindsight, it all still seems so improbable. Which is probably why the reply I get shot back at me when I ask him if kids looking to make it in pro wrestling in India should follow in his footsteps, is as immediate as it is resounding.
Absolutely not! Despite being a country that is in love with pro wrestling, being a pro wrestler has always been a concept that we've viewed through a glass door. And even someone like Baliyan Akki, who is now enjoying a fair amount of success, understands that he's been lucky to be where he is, that his path to success is most likely an outlier rather than the norm that future aspirants should follow. I don't want to show you silver dreams, he admits. If you're not rich, think 100 times over if you want to do this. You have to be smart. If you're going to learn Lucha Libre, you have to go to Mexico. Not India.
Source: WrestleSquare How do you go to Mexico? I don't know. Because there is an excellent chance, you won't be able to do this. And I say this with a tough heart, but that's how it was for me, and that's how it's going to be for you. A sour note to end the interview on, I felt, but one that rings true nonetheless. In India, where the grassroots development of most sports not called cricket is virtually non-existent, where you have to scratch and claw just to keep your dream of being a pro wrestler alive, there are hardly any markers pointing you in the right direction, let alone a roadmap to success.
And while even Akki doesn't think to go about it in the way he did is wise for anyone who harbours the same dream, perhaps there is a lesson yet to be had in all of this. If you're in India and you want to be a pro wrestler, you need to accept the fact that a route to success will not be laid out for you. You need to take the fact that training in India can only get you so far, that real success in the industry will have to be sought after in shores abroad. Perhaps, if you're an average, sane person who values a specific and stable future, this would be enough to defeat any illogical aspirations that you may have entertained in some corner of your mind.
But if you're a man who is willing to risk his entire future by spurning education, a man who is ready to resign himself to his parents couch should your efforts fall short, a man who is willing to go to any uncharted lengths to ensure that you give your dreams a shot. In short, if you're a man like Baliyan Akki, then - and only then - can a case can be made for you. To take a deep breath, close your eyes and plunge into the rabbit hole, straight after him.
Please find below Baliyan Akki's social media handle details. Follow and support him on his journey
Twitter handle: @baliyanxakki
Next Story