As India’s most famous yoga guru descended the ramp toward the wrestling arena in New Delhi, a voice boomed through the loudspeakers: “Please welcome the man himself! BABA. RAMDEEEEEEEEV!”
But instead of the heavy metal that accompanies World Wrestling Federation stars such as Triple H and Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ramdev was serenaded toward the ring by light Indian acoustic fare, reminiscent of what you might hear in an elevator in a New Delhi hotel.
There was one similarity with the WWF “fights,” though. This, too, involved a lot of acting.
Ramdev, 51, was matched against Andriy Stadnik, a Ukranian who won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The match was set up as a promotional kickoff for the second season of India’s Pro Wrestling League.
Ramdev knows a thing or two about promotion; he has cultivated an enormous worldwide following with his televised yoga instruction and now runs a giant health products company that sells everything from shampoo to instant noodles. He says the company, Patanjali, is worth more than $600 million, and was the fastest-growing consumer company in India in 2015.
The bout against Stadnik was billed as a chance for Ramdev to prove yoga’s powerful fitness benefits. Once he reached the wrestling ring, Ramdev did the Surya Namaskar or “Sun Salutation” pose, and then walked around on his hands for a bit.
You can watch highlights below. The breathless announcers, speaking in Hindi, as you’ll hear, have taken their cues right from the WWF.
Strangely, though, several Indian newspapers seemed to report the fight seriously. The Indian Express, which is widely respected, ran headlines unironically saying that Ramdev “beat” and even “trashed” Stadnik. While they noted that the match was “friendly,” there was no indication in the articles that Stadnik barely put in an effort.
And for someone with such a knack for theater, you’d think Ramdev could’ve at least rigged the bout so that it was close. But Ramdev proceeded to “beat” Stadnik 12 rounds to none.
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Video of the match
NewsX reported: “It was a one-sided affair as Baba Ramdev dominated the match throughout beating his opponent with a huge margin of 12-0.”
Ramdev had apparently “challenged” Stadnik to the fight earlier in the day, saying, “I have fought bouts with national-level wrestlers. But playing against an internationally renowned player will be more exciting. You will witness the real power of yoga in this match.”
The “real power” of yoga is something Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been eager to promote. Yoga is one of the vectors through which India exerts its cultural influence around the world. Modi himself says he rises at 5 a.m. each morning for yogic stretches and breathing exercises.
On the other hand, India performs poorly for its size and geopolitical heft when it comes to the Olympics, where Stadnik excelled. In Rio last year, India came away with just two medals — or one for every 650 million of its people. In a twist of fate, Stadnik actually beat out an Indian, Sushil Kumar, for his medal in Beijing.