Ivan Piddubny: The Champion of Champions

Many famous athletes born in Ukraine, but some names are lit particularly bright. Because of them people believe that there are real supermen in this land. One of them is a native of village Bogoduhovka of Poltava province (nowadays the village Krasenovka, Cherkasy region) Ivan Piddubny. Great athlete earned through hard work and indomitable will the nicknames Iron Ivan, Russian Hero, Ivan the Terrible and the Champion of Champions.

Ivan Piddubny was born in 1871, in a family of descendent of Zaporizhzhia Cossacks. He was the revived image of the Ukrainian Cossack in its heyday: a huge growth (184 cm, with an average growth of human of the XIX century up to 160 cm), the incredible strength and endurance. Ivan said that he knew only one person stronger than himself. It was his father, Maxim. It is noteworthy that Ivan’s mother got a talent for music that he inherited, and on holidays, he sang in the church choir. Ivan's ancestors in general were extremely healthy. From the maternal line (Naumenko family) virtually no one has ever suffered anything serious and sometimes lived to be 125 years old. And Piddubny family always had a heroic strength. His father was able to stop the cart holding the wheel, and was laying on the ground an adult bull holding his horns. Ivan told story, that one day he and his father had pull the cart laden with grain out of the mud. They had to unhitch the oxen and do their work for them. Ivan had three brothers - the same heroic strength like their father. The family was not rich, land was scarce, and in 12 years Ivan was a farm laborer. That’s why local wealthy farmer didn’t let the marriage of his daughter with Ivan, despites kids love was mutual. Ivan was frustrated because of this decision and departed to Sevastopol, where since 1893 worked a longshoreman for 14 hours a day. He wanted to earn more money so he was able to expand the parcel and to marry Olena. But life turned out differently. After three years of work in Sevastopol and Theodosia he joined the circus, where he met with Hungarian Emilia. However, the love wasn’t mutual. But even after leaving Ivan did not left the circus, he liked the attention of the public. At his performances was coming crowds. You can understand them, they was watching extraordinary shows. On one of them Ivan picked up on shoulders a telegraph pole at each end of which was sitting 10 people. But the favorite entertainment of the audience was a struggle. Ivan never lost. Once the public so wound up that endured the 114-kg giant from the arena at the hands. He liked the circus, and he earned big money. But the third failed love - gymnast Mary, who crashed during training - turned Ivan away from the circus arena for years.

In the early twentieth century, the word "sport" was only applying to the Russian citizens’ dictionary; began to appear the first sports newspaper. The circus’s struggle differs from the the sport struggle called the French fight. It has international rules, judging and prizes. In 1903, Ivan joined the Petersburg Athletic Company, where for a few months he mastered techniques and obtained special training before a major competition in Paris. In those years, there were no fair fights - almost all the competitions were rigged fight, and this state of disgruntled athletes easily "besieged" by violent means. In addition, the fighters could easily use various tricks to ease their victory - smearing the body with oil, throwing dust in the eyes, etc. Honest fights with honest judging were held once a year; there was even a special term - "Hamburg score". By 1910 Piddubny was 6-time world champion in struggle. In 40 years of performing Piddubny never lost a competition or tournament. Although he lost some fights, people thought it was a smart move, a maneuver to lull opponents to convince them that Ivan is not all-powerful and he is tiring too. There is also a legend that in 1905 between Ivan Piddubny and Japanese master of karate was a conflict. Japanese explained that after Japan's victory over Russia, he will keep life opponent when he loses. Piddubny did not lose. Being pretty knackered yet was able to capture the enemy and break his leg. However, no documentary evidence of this was found.

In 1910, Piddubny left the sport. It is not precisely known why. There are two versions. According to the first, a former opponent of the glorious descendant of Cossacks Raul de Bush never forgave him his losses by hiring assassins in Italy, the so-called "apashi", to get Ivan. Apashi did not succeed, the Ukrainian was stronger. But they still demanded money from the customer, and when he refused to pay, killed him, so Ivan left the when learned the details. According to the second version, the 40-year-old wrestler once again fell in love and decided to return to the country life with Nina Kvitko-Fomenko. All was well until the Ivan’s brother, who was a drunkard. He burned the mill - the foundation of the entire economy. Another three years the family was trying to restore well-being, but they could not, so Ivan had to go to the circus to work again. Though he lost his form in terms of technology, there were not losses, but draws occurred. One day the owner of the circus said that sooner or later wrestler will lose. He suggested to not waiting for the event, saying, "Tomorrow you lie to the opponent, so you will receive 3,000 rubles". Ivan agreed. And at the very beginning of the fight, before contact, he just dropped back. The audience was furious, owner of the circus angry too. To which Ivan replied: "You must learn to fall, and I did not learn that". Biographers note that Ivan always spoke Ukrainian language when horsing around.

Even when the Russian Empire was in flames of revolution, in 1917, Ivan continued to tour with the circus. There were dangerous incidents. In the Kerch Piddubny was attacked by hungry officers with the words "Bold-faced peasant!" Defeating them, he had to flee from the city. In Berdyansk he was captured by the anarchist Nestor Makhno, beating his best fighters. There could be troubles because of the angry Makhno followers, but the city broke "red". The "reds" were looking for a certain Ivan Maksimovich Poddubov responsible for the pogroms against the Jews. They imprisoned an athlete, but, fortunately, the error pointed before the sentence. Misfortunes never come singly. With the famine came infidelity - the wife ran away from Ivan taking two pounds of gold medals with here. In just six months, Nina sent a letter saying she was wrong, and she will go on knees all the way home for forgiveness. Ivan did not even write the answer. In 1920, he married the widow Mary Mashoshina with which he lived until the end.

It was a tour in Chicago. Ivan said that he did not like it: The Americans cannot fight, they grab the mustaches, they scratch, they hit in the face and there is continuous whistle in the stands, garbage all-around, and fights. In 1927, Ivan, his wife and stepson settled in Eysk (in the Russian resort city on the shore of the Azov sea). In 1941 the city was occupied by the Nazis. Piddubny reasoned, opening the billiard room with: "It is nothing to lose. My stepson, who was a wrestler too, in the early days of the war was killed, my wife mourns day and night, and I’m apolitical". In 1941, at the age of 70, Ivan stepped into the ring for the last time, having his last victory. Incredibly, the Germans really bypassed Russian hero side during the occupation, despite the fact that he walked down the street with the Order of the Red Banner of Labor on the chest! Even more, the Germans was asked him to go to Germany to prepare fighters there. Ivan refused: "I am Russian wrestler, and I’ll stay here". Even the Communists liberated the city, did not touch a fighter, even though he was engaged in private business, had no resistance to the Germans. Hunger, which has not spared athlete, finally knocked down the health of Ivan. He subsided on the eyes, and after a hip fracture the forced immobility was his verdict. In 1949, at the age of 77 years he was gone. Mary got hardly enough on a plate for her husband, and local authorities didn’t want to hold a big funeral. The real noise was raised by Americans: "How dare you to treat a Champion of Champions this way?!" The Soviets established a monument to the wrestler in the town square, and engraved on it: "Russian hero Ivan Maksimovich Piddubny. Honored Master of Sports. World wrestling champion. 1871-1949".
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