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 Ivan Poddubny

Born:   October 8, 1871
Deceased:   August 8, 1949

Legendary wrestler


Ivan Maximovich Poddubny was born into the family of a hereditary Zaporozhye Cossack Maxim Ivanovich Poddubny in the Poltava Province in 1871.

The whole kin was famous for their physical strength. Ivan also inherited big height, phenomenal strength and extraordinary endurance from his paternal ancestors, and at the same time he got an ear for music from his mother, who sang beautifully. His father Maxim Ivanovich boasted a giant stature and Herculean power. Many years later Ivan Poddubny said that the only person stronger than him was his father.

As a child Ivan sang in a church chorus on Sundays and holidays. From childhood Ivan got accustomed to hard peasant work, and from the age of 12 he worked as a hired farm labourer.

In 1893 — 1896 he worked as a port loader in Sevastopol and Feodosiya, and then in 1896 — 1897 worked as a salesman in the Livas firm.

In 1896 Ivan Poddubny defeated famous athletes of that time — Lurich, Borodanov, Razumov, and Pappi from Italy in Beskaravayniy’ Circus in Feodosiya. The victories marked the start of his extraordinary career as a wrestler. 

Ivan Poddubny weighed about 130 kgs and was a vegetarian. From 1897 he performed on circus arenas as a weight lifter athlete and a wrestler. He repeatedly toured in Russia and abroad, having visited about 50 cities in 14 countries.


Though he lost rare fights now and then, but he never lost any competition or tournament in 40 years of performances. He repeatedly won World Cups in Greco-Roman wrestling among professionals, including the most prestigious of them — the one in Paris in 1905 — 1908.

In May, 1915 he won a victory over the champion Alexander Garkavenko (aka Black Mask), and in two days later defeated the champion Ivan Zaikin in Yekaterinoslav.

During the Civil War he worked in circuses of Zhitomir and Kerch. In 1919 he won the best fighter of anarchist Makhno’s army in Berdyansk. In 1920 Ivan Poddubny was arrested by the Odessa Cheka (The All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Speculation, and Sabotage) and sentences to execution, however, was soon released.

  In 1923 — 1924 Poddubny worked in the Russian State Circus, and then spent 3 years touring around Germany and the USA.

On February 23, 1926 all the telegraphs of the world trumpeted the news: “Ivan Poddubny has won over the best wrestlers of the New World in New York and become the Champion of America. The six-time world champion among professionals astounded everybody not only with his phenomenal power and skill, but also with his sports longevity, after all in 1926 he was 55! In 1927 Arkhangelsk defeated the well-known Vologda fighter Mikhail Kulikov.


In November, 1939 in the Moscow Kremlin he was awarded Order of the Red Banner of Labour for outstanding merits “in development of the Soviet sports” and the rank of the Honored Artist of RSFSR.

During World War II Ivan Poddubny in the town of Yeysk (a small resort town on the coast of the Sea of Azov) occupied by Germans. He refused to go to Germany and train German athletes, having said: “I am a Russian fighter. And so will I remain”.

He retired from the arena in 1941, at the age of 70. The champion spent his last years in terrible poverty: he even had to sell all his awards not to starve.

Ivan Maksimovich Poddubny died of a heart attack on August 8, 1949 in Yeysk. He was laid to rest in Yeysk, in a town park, which was later named after him and where his monument was set up. There is the Poddubny Museum and Poddubny Sports School located nearby. The inscription on his grave says: “Here rests a Russian bogatyr” (“bogatyr” is an epic hero of Russian folk legends).

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