January 13, 1996
Tiger Jeet Singh's career is burning bright
The Canadian wrestler has made a fortune in Asia by pummelling, bellowing, demolishing -- and not just his opponents in the ring.
By BRUCE LIVESEY -- For the Financial Post
There is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality to Jagjit Singh
Tiger Jeet Singh bio and story archive
On the one hand, as the professional wrestler picks from a tray of
Indian sweets in the den of his palatial home -- in Milton, Ont.,
just west of Toronto -- Hans has all the outward appearances of a
kindly, devoutly religious, Sikh millionaire who dotes on his family
-- a millionaire who is a 6-foot-3 bearded giant, weighs 265 pounds,
and has forearms the size of redwoods.
On the other hand, when Hans slips in a videotape to play on his
big-screen TV, his Mr. Hyde suddenly appears. For there is Tiger
Jeet Singh, Hans' wrestling alter ego, running amok in a Japanese
arena, bedecked in a turban and brandishing a menacing sword.
Bellowing like a bull elephant in heat, he attacks members of the
ticket-paying audience, scattering them hither and yon. One shot
shows the Tiger beating a prone wrestling opponents with a folding
chair. Another shows him knocking an unsuspecting referee to the mat
with a karate chop to the back of the neck. Blood is in plentiful
Some of the Tiger's foes aren't even wrestlers. He once mauled the
editor of Tokyo's largest sports daily newspaper. Another time, the
Tiger demolished a Mercedes with a baseball bat in downtown Tokyo
during rush hour. ``I am very hot blooded,'' Hans observed casually
as he reached for another delicacy. ``If I think someone should be
slapped, I will slap them.'' He claims that Japanese wrestling fans
will not wash those parts of their body he has struck, so honored
are they to be pummelled by Tiger Jeet Singh.
Of course, much of this is just the high kabuki theatre and
hyperbole endemic to the world of professional wrestling, a sport
that, in many respects, is a throwback to the Roman circuses. Hans,
a poor Indian immigrant who came to Canada 30 years ago with little
in his pockets but spare change, realized that to enjoy one day all
the trappings of a wealthy country squire, his wrestling persona --
Tiger Jeet Singh -- had to be an outlandish, larger-than-life
villain -- a rotter the fans would love to hate. It was, and
remains, a marketing ploy of pure genius.
The Tiger's fame and fortune is a well-kept secret in Canada. Yet
in Asia, the Middle East and South Africa, where professional
wrestling is treated as a serious sport, and wrestlers like movie
stars, Tiger Jeet Singh is a household name. In Japan, a comic strip
is published about his exploits, while the Tiger's every foray into
the public domain is headline news. The 50-year-old packs arenas
with crowds of up to 60,000 -- people who pay anywhere from $70 to
$200 a pop to watch him wrestle. While he refuses to disclose his
income -- other than to say ``I make healthy money'' -- one estimate
suggests he rakes in $60,000 a bout -- $1 million a year. Even his
children have difficulty grasping the magnitude of his fame abroad.
Mick, 23, Tiger's eldest son, recalled first seeing his father fight
in Japan five years ago.
``I could not contemplate the persona and how huge it was,'' he
said. ``These thousands of people waiting on every punch and kick. I
remember thinking, `This is not Michael Jackson -- this is your
Now Mick, himself a 6-foot-5, 300-pound colossus -- is being
groomed to follow in his father's footsteps and has adopted the
moniker of Tiger Jeet Jr. Mick is a multi-talented wrestler,
kickboxer and ``street fighter'', who holds the streetfighting title
for World Martial Arts Wrestling (WMW), a wrestling federation based
in India. Tiger is the WMW's world wrestling champion.
Hans did not get rich by accident: he is an extremely astute
businessman. He has a large portfolio of real estate holdings, and
his tours are sometimes sponsored by Pepsi International. Asian and
Canadian companies queue up to get him to endorse their products.
This winter, he will be investing in Sports & Injury Rehab Clinics
Inc., an Ontario-based chain of physiotherapy and rehabilitation
clinics. ``He has a peasant cunning, and gets to the white and black
very quickly,'' said Sohan Koonar, Sports & Injury's president.
``He's a very intelligent man.''
Yet the Tiger has made some business mis-steps. In 1989, he and a
group of investors bought into an Edmonton condo complex called
Rundle Park Village. Hans says they intended to sell the $45,000
condo units for a tidy profit.
But two things prevented this from happening. First, the real
estate market collapsed. Second, three of the men involved in the
venture -- including the Tiger's brother-in-law -- were inflating
the condos' prices without the other investors' knowledge. They
pocketed the profits made on the sale of the units -- instead of the
When the other investors realized they had lost a lot of money,
they complained to the RCMP in 1994. They also fingered the Tiger as
being involved in the scheme to rip them off. Hans and the three
other men were charged with committing fraud. But when the case went
to hearing in December 1994, the crown dropped the charges against
the Tiger, convinced he was not part of the fraud alleged. ``I was
one of the victims of this project, too,'' Hans declared.
Such mis-steps are rare. The Tiger is also tapping into his
extensive contacts in the Pacific Rim to fashion himself as a
corporate matchmaker between Canadian and Asian companies. The towns
of Brampton and Milton have already crowned him their business
ambassador to attract foreign investment. ``I try to help my
community and my country,'' Hans declared.
The Tiger's affluence is visible when you visit his home. He and
his family live in a 14,000-square-foot mansion at the far end of a
corn field on 25 hectares of land. There's a swimming pool, tennis
court, sauna, seven self-contained suites, 18th-century-style
furniture and Italian marble fireplaces.
Elegant Japanese prints hang on the walls. A Mercedes is parked in
the garage. As Hans gives a tour of the massive three-storey house,
he points to snapshots of the Tiger hobnobbing with prime ministers
and famous sports figures. Last July, for instance, he and his son
toured South Africa where they met Prime Minister Nelson Mandela.
The Tiger's good fortune was hard-earned. Hans was born in
Ludhiana, a small village in the state of Punjab. His father was a
major in the Indian army. In 1965, at the age of 19, he emigrated to
Toronto, arriving with $6 in his pocket. ``We heard that Canada was
a land of opportunities,'' he said simply.
Soon after, Hans drifted into professional wrestling, eventually
signing with Frank Tunney, a Toronto wrestling promoter. Tunney
introduced him to Fred Atkins, a trainer and conditioning coach with
the Toronto Maple Leafs, who dubbed Hans ``Tiger'' after witnessing
his ferocious, no-holds-barred style of fighting. The name and his
volatility proved immensely popular among wrestling fans.
The Tiger fought on the Canadian and U.S. wrestling circuits,
grappling with opponents like Sweet Daddy Siki, Andre the Giant,
Hans Schmidt, Whipper Billy Watson and Bulldog Brouwer. Retired
wrestler Ron Doner, who tag-teamed with Hans, says the Tiger was a
fan favorite because he was so magnetic in the ring. ``He created
much more excitement than most other wrestlers would,'' says Doner.
During the 1970s, Tiger became one of Canada's top-billed and most
skilled wrestlers, earning up to $80,000 a year, often fighting in
Maple Leaf Gardens. But, he said, ``I was not satisified,''
especially when he realized how much money he could make in Asia.
He made a name for himself in Japan while visiting the country in
1\972. He got into a brawl with Antonio Inoki, Japan's equivalent to
Hulk Hogan, in a shopping centre. The resulting publicity propelled
Tiger into the limelight. He returned to Japan to beat Inoki in the
ring, becoming infamous in a land where professional wrestling is
the third-most-popular sport behind baseball and sumo wrestling.
Nowadays, he spends three months a year fighting in Asia.
Moreover, the style of wrestling in the Orient was similar to his
own. Since the 1980s, North American wrestling has been dominated by
the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), which markets a tame,
bloodless product practised by steroid-pumped,
Schwarzenegger-wannabes who can become famous on looks alone. In
Asia and the Middle East, however, wrestling is a much different
sport, one in which technique, broken bones, open wounds and weapons
are part of the picture. One time, Tiger ran his sword clean through
the leg of an opponent. And when he once fought the late Andre the
Giant in Acapulco, the two men were bleeding so copiously that
Singh's wife, Sukhjit, passed out. She has refused to watch him
fight ever since.
Indeed, Tiger can point to a meaty arm and display twisted scar
tissue where a wound required 40 stitches to close. ``I have been
hospitalized a number of times,'' he said, adding with a shrug,
``it's part of my profession.''
Nevertheless, his body is feeling the wear and tear of too many
blows and chairs upside the head: Tiger Jeet Singh is slowing down
somewhat these days. But there are no imminent plans to retire the
tights, nor shutter the family franchise. While son Mick initially
had designs on becoming a basketball player, having been offered
more than 20 U.S. college basketball scholarships including one from
Notre Dame, after seeing his father fight in Japan in 1991, he
decided to embrace the wrestling vocation.
Said Sohan Koonar, a family friend: ``I think Mick could one day
become bigger than his father.''
Yet Mick may have to wait awhile before he gets centre stage all to
himself. Twelve years ago, Tiger Jeet Singh tried to retire. But he
became bored, restless, even sickly.
Today, as he sits in his mansion watching videos of himself, the
Tiger obviously relishes the adulation of his fans.
Even if it does mean attacking them with his sword now and then.