The legend of the Greco-Roman wrestler Ivan Poddubny, who never lost a fight

Ivan Maximovich Poddubny was a famous wrestler from the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union. His career began around 1900 and lasted for about forty years. He never lost a fair fight. The wrestler performed in the circus of Odessa from July 1 to July 3, 1927.

Odessans adored Ivan Poddubny and literally carried him in their arms. And many milestones in the life of the famous athlete are associated with Odessa.

The famous fighter was born near Poltava, in 1871, in the village of Krasenivka in a family of the descendants of the Zaporozhye Cossacks. As a twenty-year-old boy, he left home and worked as a dock loader in Odessa, Feodosiya and Sevastopol ports.

In Odessa he was abandoned by his first wife Antonina, who escaped with an officer, stealing his gold medals. Later she regretted her actions and attempted to return, but he never forgave her. Still in Odessa, he was almost sent to be shot by the local chief Chekist Yuzefovich-Severny, confusing him with the organiser of the Jewish pogroms Poddubov.

Already a well-known wrestler, Poddubny performed more than once on the arena of the Odessa circus and at the Sibiryakov Theatre, scoring brilliant victories. Once a circus came to the city, the owners of which organised a belt wrestling championship. Poddubny took part in it and in two weeks did not lose a single fight. A year later, the athlete moved to Sevastopol and entered the local circus Gizhetto Truzzi. Then Poddubny performed and lived for some time in Odessa. Then, he moved to Kyiv, at the invitation of the owners of the circus, the Nikitin brothers.

in 1903, Poddubny joined the Saint Petersburg Athletic Club with which he participated in World Championships in Moscow and Paris. In 1905 he became the World Champion in wrestling in Paris and later toured Italy, Algeria, Belgium, Berlin, winning a championship in Nice. In 1906, Ivan won two more World Cups in Paris and Milan. Before returning to his home in Krasenivka in 1910, he also won several more world cups in Vienna, Paris, and Frankfurt.

Poddubny repeatedly won Greco-Roman wrestling “World Cups” among professionals, including the most authoritative of them in Paris (1905–08). In 1925–27 he performed in Germany and US.

During the Nazi German occupation, he refused to leave the Soviet Union to train German wrestlers.

He died undefeated at the age of 77, on 8 August 1949, in the town of Yeysk, in the Kuban region in Southern Russia from a heart attack.

Last year, in the city of Ananyev, Odessa region, a memorial plaque was installed in honour of Ivan Poddubny. The athlete once taught athletics here, and the residents decided to perpetuate his memory.