With the recent success of Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers in WWE and the promotion’s move into India, I’ll always wonder if my late, dear friend, Marlon Kalkai, known as Tiger Khan, who triumphed in Calgary for Bruce Hart’s promotion Stampede Wrestling, would have reached his dream had the timing and his fate been different. I wanted to share what I wrote upon his death over a decade ago in the hope that his name and legacy will always be remembered.
This may be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write.
On Tuesday, June 27, 2006, I checked my messages and heard the words I’ll never forget. "Evan, this is Lou (wrestler Falcon Coperis). I’m sorry, but I don’t know any other way to say this, so I’ll just go ahead and say it. Marlon’s dead. They found his body in California. Call me…"
Feeling like I had been punched in the face, I wanted to dismiss it as "just an Internet rumor." Hey, hadn’t Scott Steiner "died?" And Paul Orndorff and Billy Graham before him?
Hell, even Paul McCartney was dead for a while back when I was a kid.
And wasn’t there at least one other wrestler using the moniker Tiger Khan?
I wasn’t going to allow this to be a reality. I just wasn’t. Not my friend "Tiger." Not the guy I traveled with up and down those many New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania highways all those years as he pursued his dream. Not my buddy who I flew 3,000 miles with to a show in California. Not my "little brother" who I roamed the streets of Tijuana, Mexico with at 3 AM on one of the countless evenings we enjoyed together. Not the rising star I proudly watched wrestle Jerry Lawler and Little Guido and Sabu and oh so many others.
So instead of dealing with a situation I just couldn’t handle, I lay down on my bed and took a nap that felt like the sleep of the damned.
When I got up I felt more tired than before. The horror of that call now hit me.
Was Marlon dead?
"Should I call Lou right now?" I pondered for what felt like the longest time.
"No!" I said to myself, dreading a confirmation.
I called journalist Jeff Archer who was also close to Tiger and who spoke with him regularly. At age fifty-seven, Jeff was a much older father figure to him. He helped guide Marlon through the tough times in his life, many of which involved his trying to make the transition from wrestling to the "real world." For in the past few years, Tiger had grown disenchanted with a business that provided him with too many lies, too many bounced checks and far too many disappointments. The WWE dark match tryout at the Meadowlands may have been the last straw. So close, but yet so far. Right there in the dressing room. In their ring. 16,000 fans. After that, his enthusiasm for the sport was almost cyclical. A few months of vowing to make it, juggling tours around the world and meaningless indie shots, but with even longer gaps where he didn’t want to be bothered.
Even though we all knew he wasn’t cut out to be a nine to fiver, Tiger had just moved to California in search of a job outside of wrestling. Residing a mere hour from Jeff, I thought that maybe he had heard "something," while hoping against hope that he hadn’t.
Relaying the message to him, he told me the San Diego news had offered nothing on Tiger. But then he uttered the command I simply didn’t want to hear.
"Of course you have to call the guy back. Call him now."
But what if it were true? How could I handle this? Hadn’t we shared each other’s dreams on those long road trips? Wasn’t I going to be a famous writer and Marlon was going to be a star in the WWE?
"When I make it Evan, I’m going to take you with me…you were always there for me."
And I was. Whether it was publicity, small loans, or just keeping him company on a long ride to a show, I never said no to this friend with the brightest of smiles, a passion for life, and a personality that lit up a room.
How could I?
Bracing myself, I started to dial. I felt my heart race a little faster as my sinuses pounded away. I felt weary as I tried to summon up the strength to talk.
"Lou…it’s Evan…is it true?"
And it was.
Marlon’s mom had told him herself. The Trinidadian mom I had met so many times. The mother who sat at his local matches in support of the child she loved so much. The mom who had me over at their house for Christmas and other parties. The mom who, like myself, was now devastated.
Tiger. Marlon. Dead.
Suddenly hearing my voice start to break, I tried not to cry. I’m sure the pure shock of it was the only thing that helped me keep my composure.
A neighbor had found the body. He had gone to sleep and like so many other wrestlers before him, simply didn’t wake up. "It was probably a heart attack."
He was thirty-three years old.
My blood pressure must have spiked because I suddenly felt light-headed. Hell, I knew Marlon partied. Hard at times. I once traveled hours with him to a show he wrestled on. Driving me all the way back to New York, he informed me that he was leaving right then to Atlanta for a party. Pointing to some pills that would keep him awake, he assured me he’d be fine.
But the last time I saw him some two months earlier in Manhattan, he wasn’t fine. Looking fat and bloated, I felt alarmed as that just wasn’t him. I asked Jeff to stay on top of him. But he had sounded happy recently when we had spoken. "I’m ripped, Evan. Back in shape. I feel good…" he exclaimed in that rapid-fire, life-affirming tone of his.
But they had found "the body," I reminded myself. This magnificent athlete, my beloved friend, had somehow become "the body."
His sister called me the next day to discuss arrangements. Trying to piece together how this could have happened, we both "knew." Like so many of his peers, Tiger had dabbled on and off with steroids. I had even had "the talk" with him. "I cycle on and off," he explained, trying to alleviate my concern. He rationalized that he didn’t take the kind of doses that killed so many of our wrestling heroes.
Hanging up, she said, "Take care of yourself," in a consoling manner. Hell, she was his sister. Shouldn’t I be consoling her? And knowing he was living "the wrestling lifestyle," shouldn’t I have been firmer with him? Wasn’t I thirteen years older and a teacher by trade? Shouldn’t I have been the role model? An odd combination, this tough street kid who loved techno and clubbing, and this old-school guy who woke up for work while Marlon was still out from the night before. But on several occasions, he’d say, "We’re going to go out drinking…" And he laughed that laugh of his. "I’m going to get you drunk, Evan…"
And although I’ve never, ever been a drinker, how could I not party with my buddy when he hit town again? Inevitably, instead of pulling him away from the table, I’d match him drink for drink.
A feeling of guilt suddenly overpowered me. But the whole thing still didn’t seem real. I thought back to how many times we wouldn’t see each other for months, and I’d look forward to hanging out with him again. He’d give me a big hug and tell me how much he’d missed me. And he’d always say, "I love you, man…"
And now a cremation was scheduled. Gone. Truly, totally, gone off the very face of this Earth.
Sitting on my beaten old couch with my face in my hands, my body suddenly felt out of control. Bent over, I started rocking back and forth and the tears started to pour. Hearing sobs that sounded far away, I realized they were my own.
All those dreams of his. Lost.
It suddenly hit me that I had work to do. Knowing that wrestling was what he had been most passionate about, I didn’t want his career to get short shrift. Rushing to the computer like a maniac, I began furiously writing a press release on his passing. I read it again and again, almost not wanting to send it out, because this would somehow make it "final."
It is with the utmost sadness that I must announce that the body of my long-time friend Tiger Khan (Marlon Kalkai) was discovered in California recently. A former main-eventer for the legendary Calgary Stampede Promotion, this veteran was a world traveler, having appeared in Trinidad, England, Wales, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the U.S., and a variety of other stops. With his classic "foreign heel" gimmick, he’s faced such legends as Jerry Lawler, King Kong Bundy and Sabu.
I am providing these career highlights and interviews I have of him for those who want to cover his tragic passing in greater detail. Anyone desiring to reprint the materials can do so with my permission and appreciation. I thank you in advance for honoring a good human being who devoted much of his life to professional wrestling.
My condolences to his many friends, fans, and family.
Sending it out to my huge media and e-mail list, I hoped it would get him the press he deserved. Oddly, it felt like the old days, with me trying to garner my friend some good ink.
And it did.
The floodgates opened. Posted everywhere, the phone calls and e-mails didn’t stop for days.
Media from Canada called me for interviews about him. Tribute websites were being designed with some already up. A memorial card was agreed upon. A documentary featuring him was in the final stages of editing. And a book on his life was confirmed.
Yes, Tiger Khan was now, finally "over" in a big way.
How terribly sad.
Tiger was not only a friend but one of my heroes. He would fearlessly get in the ring with guys twice his size. And when a monster like Typhoon picked him up over his head and threw him over the top rope several feet through a table below, I’d just cringe. But Marlon would just shrug it off. Hell, he loved the rush. And flying into dangerous, exotic lands to wrestle, he ultimately flew out having experiences few could ever share.
One of Tiger’s favorite stories was of going to a McDonalds on a Middle Eastern tour with a crew of wrestlers. The next night they couldn’t find the very same restaurant. You see, terrorists had blown the joint up right after they’d been in there.
Yes, Tiger Khan lived on the edge. He probably packed more into his thirty-three years than most people ever do in double or even triple that time on Earth.
But like so many wrestlers before him and most likely after, he treated his body like a chemistry set. And in the end, it was his downfall.
Tiger Khan. Dead at thirty-three.
To the day I die, I’ll always love you like a brother, Marlon. And I’ll never stop missing you. But damn it, I thought you were smarter than this.
I thought you were smarter.
TIGER KHAN CAREER HIGHLIGHTS:
- Champion- Pennsylvania Championship Wrestling 11/97-6/98
- Main-eventer Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling (Promoter Bruce Hart) 10/99-7/00
- Feuded with Sabu. Also with promotion: Phil Lafon, Kurrigan, Cuban Assassin
- World tours with stars such as Yokozuna, Jerry Lawler, Konnan, etc.:
- Main-evented vs. Jerry Lawler for promoter Mike O’Hara
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