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wrestler of the circus ‘Busch’, f.r.t.l. Anglio (Martinique), Pengal (Turkey), Padonbny (Russia) and Kara Safi (Turkey) - Published by: ‘Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung’ 12/1907Vintage property of ullstein bild Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

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Photo Vault: Russian Hercules and circus wrestlers of the 1900s

In this edition of Photo Vault, we see Ivan Maximovich Poddubny also known as Champion of Champions and the Russian Hercules.

Both professional wrestling and mixed martial arts can trace their lineages through the circuses and carnivals that took place on piers and in big tops throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was there were audiences were delighted by larger than life characters showing off feats of strength and skill in a combative contest that may, or may not, have been the real deal.

In today’s edition of Photo Vault we have pictures from some figures who helped blaze the trail that would one day be walked by Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Royce Gracie and Jon Jones.

The picture above was published in the Berliner Illustrite Zeitung magazine in 1907. It was taken by an unnamed photographer.

In the antique image we see a quartet of wrestlers belonging to the iconic Zircus Busch (or Busch Circus). The metadata for this image names the men as—from left to right—Anglio from Martinique, Pengal from Turkey, Padonbny from Russia and Kara Safi from Turkey.

Out of the group ‘Padonbny’ aka Ivan Poddubny is the most famous. Known as The Champion of Champions and The Russian Hercules, Poddubny was born in 1871 to a family of Zaporozhian Cossacks in what is now Cherkasy Oblasty, Ukraine.

Before joining the circus Poddubny worked on the docks of Sevastopol. His first success as a greco-roman wrestler came when he participated in the 1903 World Championships in Moscow and Paris. From then on he became a touring wrestler with various circuses.

In the 1920s he toured the USA and, at age 56, won a male beauty competition there. In the US he reportedly earned half a million dollars. However, he was unable to withdraw any of that money from the bank because he was not a US citizen. He returned home after this disappointment and continued circus wrestling until he retired at age 70.

During the Nazi occupation of Kuban, Poddubny refused orders to train German wrestlers. In 1939 he received the title Honored Artist of the Russian Federation. In 1945 he was given the title Honored Master of Sports. He died in 1949.

wrestler of the circus ‘Busch’, f.r.t.l. Anglio (Martinique), Padonbny (Russia) and Pengal (Turkey) - 1907Vintage property of ullstein bild Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Our photo vault is also filled with images from Circus Busch. Check out the gallery below for vintage images of weird and wonderful acts, such as Madame de l Oris and her trained cows and Siegmund Breitbart aka ‘the living quarry’.

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