Wrestlemania 35 saw curtains come down on one of the greatest careers in sports entertainment. Kurt Angle will be regarded among the best exponents of the art of professional wrestling. A man who was originally an Olympic gold-medallist transformed himself into a peerless performer inside the squared circle.
Wrestlemania 35 saw him deliver his parting shot to the wrestling world and, as is customary, he went out with a loss. However, this icon of WWE has a very colourful past. This includes some of the best matches ever witnessed in WWE as well as side-splittingly humorous promos.
But if one goes back to the first appearance that the multiple-time champion made in WWE, it may be very offensive to Indian viewers.
Well before The Great Khali made his debut in WWE, there was another Indian wrestler who was featured in the company's programming. Tiger Ali Singh is a Canadian wrestler of Indian origin who was with WWE (earlier WWF) in the late 1990s.
India was still a country mired in oriental stereotypes at that stage and, unsurprisingly, Singh's character was of a rich, turbaned neo-maharaja from India. The most common act of his gimmick was to offer money to people in the audience for indulging in humiliating acts.
To be fair to WWE, this characterisation was not new. It was very similar to 'Million Dollar Man' Ted DiBiase's on-screen persona. Like the latter, Singh even had a servant as his sidekick.
On the March 7, 1999, episode of Sunday Night Heat – a weekly show of WWE – Singh was doing his usual stuff of offering money to members of the audience for parting with their dignity. This time the task required one of them to blow their nose in the American flag.
His attention went to a man sitting in the front row. This was Kurt Angle – not yet revealed as a WWE member and referred to by commentators as the hero who 'stood up for the American flag at the Olympics.'
Tiger invited him into the ring to perform the unpatriotic act and, initially, he seemed to agree. But instead of defiling the Stripes and Stars, he grabbed the Tiranga – carried by Singh's servant named Babu – and blew his nose in it. This was followed by a scuffle where Angle bested the Indian wrestler.
This feud didn't continue and Angle went on to bigger things in WWE. At a time when the company has realised the massive economic potential of the Indian market and is catering to it in a big way, this episode – whose video is available on YouTube – would not be mentioned by the organisation.