Russian hero Ivan Ivan Poddubny in the early XX century was known to the whole world by his Ring name – The Champion of Champions, Ivan The Terrible, The Russian Hercules. Germany and America offered him a fortune, but he preferred his homeland to all the benefits, till the end he positioned himself as a Russian fighter. During the Nazi German occupation, he was detained by the Gestapo.
They saw quietly walking along the street an old man in a battered hat and a gray shirt and trousers with a five-pointed star on it – the Order of the Red Banner of Labor, which Poddubny never took off. Gestapo released the old man with a star. Glory saved Poddubniy – whatever, his name was well known. He refused to leave the Soviet Union to train German wrestlers. He died undefeated on August 8, 1949, in the town of Yeysk, in the Kuban region in Southern Russia. At the grave Poddubniy engraved: “Here lies the Russian hero”.
Poddubny was born into a family of Zaporozhian Cossacks in the village of Poltava Governorate, Russia.
He was the oldest among seven children. As a young man, Poddubny worked as a fitter in the ports of Sevastopol and Feodosiya for seven years, and in 1898 he started traveling with circus tours.
Ivan inherited from ancestors big growth, phenomenal power and extraordinary endurance, and through his mother, who sang beautifully – fine musical ear. As a child, on Sundays and holidays, he sang in the church choir. Since childhood, Ivan was accustomed to heavy farm work. Father Maxim Ivanovich himself had heroic growth and herculean strength. After many years Poddubny said that the only person who was stronger than him – his father.
In 1893-1896 Ivan Poddubny worked as a longshoreman in Sevastopol and Feodosiya, in 1896-1897 he worked as a clerk in the company “Livas”. And then the circus of Ivan Beskorovainy came to Feodosiya. In the troupe along with the familiar characters – jugglers, “girls of rubber” and sword-swallowers were well-known athletes and wrestlers whose portraits adorned all the city walls. The posters said that everyone can compete with them by force. It was a chance for Poddubny and he was not going to miss it – he volunteered to fight with elite athletes … who all suffered a severe defeat from an unknown young fighter.
Since 1897 Poddubny performed at the circus as an athlete, weightlifter and wrestler, repeatedly made tours in Russian cities and abroad. He visited about 50 cities in 14 countries – in Italy, North Africa, Belgium, Germany, the USA – Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco. He collected a full house. From 1905 to 1910 Russian hero Ivan Poddubny has turned into a legend.
In 1923-1924 he worked at the State Circus, then spent three years on tour in Germany and the United States.
February 23, 1926 about him wrote all telegraphs: “Recently Ivan Poddubny won in New York the best fighters of the New World, having won the title of Champion of America. ‘”Six-time world champion among professionals impressed everyone not only with his phenomenal strength and skill, but also sporting longevity, because in 1926 he was 55!
In November 1939 the Kremlin awarded him for outstanding achievements “in the development of Soviet sport” with the Order of Red Banner of Labor, and the title of Honored Artist of the RSFSR. In November 1939, he was given the title of Honored Artist of the RSFSR, and in 1945 that of Honored Master of Sports.
During the war, Ivan Poddubny lived in German-occupied territory in Eysk. He refused to go to Germany and prepare German athletes, saying that “I am Russian wrestler. I am and I will remain”. Ivan Poddubny left carpet in 1941 at his 70 years of age. In postwar years he lived in terrible poverty, from hand to mouth, surviving as most of the people of that time, and he had to sell his awards.
Ivan Maksimovich died from a heart attack August 8, 1949 in Yeisk – a small resort town on the shore of the Azov Sea, Russia. He was buried there, in Yeisk, in the city park, which now bears his name. Here is a monument to him, and nearby are the Museum of IM Poddubny and sports school in his name.