Exclusive: 'People's Champ' Anton Deryabin fires warning at Lokomotiv; talks wrestling in Russia and more (Part I)
Anton Deryabin, aka the ‘People’s Champ’, is one of the most beloved wrestling Superstars in Russia. As a 7-time IWF Heavyweight Champion, Deryabin has found a special place for himself in the hearts of the wrestling fans across the country.
He made his wrestling debut in the tag team division and has 3 IWF Tag Team Championships to his name. In 2007, Deryabin won the Moscow Champion Cup and thus, the ‘People’ champ’ was born. He is also the only person to have won High Stakes twice.
In December, Deryabin is set to face Lokomotiv in a Tag Team match at New Year Madness. Before getting busy in his training, he had a delightful conversation with me in which he revealed a lot of personal details concerning his profession, fans and the pro-wrestling business in Russia.
In the interview, the former NSW Champion talked about his love for wrestling, his heroes and everything about becoming the People’s Champion. Not only that, he also discussed why wrestling is losing its popularity in Russia and gave an honest account of the struggles of the wrestling industry in this candid encounter.
Below are the excerpts from the interview:
Q. You are set to face Lokomotiv at New Year Madness in a tag-team match. What’s your plan heading into this bout?
I always use the same plan. I believe in myself, I believe in my strength, my technique, and my experience. Lokomotiv is a veteran in Russian wrestling, and I understand that. He won in a triple-threat match and became the first Undisputed Champion in Russia. He now holds the biggest titles of two different promotions.
But I have to win because I think he is a ‘Paper Champion’. But I am the heart and soul of Russian wrestling. The fans are behind me and they want me to bring back the Champion. I have to win to tell myself that I am the best and to tell my fans that they deserve nothing but the best.
Q. You are the only person who has won High Stakes twice. Why do you think no one could beat you?
You know, all wrestlers say they are strong or they are big but I have a bigger heart – a bigger wrestling heart. It’s tough for me to understand this magic but the Russians fans love me. At the start of my career, these fans were screaming for me. They have been kind to me and I have been kind to them. They chanted my name… and I have been a babyface for 14 years now.
High Stakes is a big show. For the fans, it’s a true champion if the title-win is huge. I don’t know why I am the ‘People’s Champ’ in Russia. I’m not The Rock but I am the people’s Champion here in Russia. And this is the show where I need to show my potential. Each year, my skills improved and I became a better wrestler.
Q. How do you feel about extending your record and becoming the first person to win High Stakes thrice?
I want to win this competition for the third time to create my streak. You know, like The Undertaker’s streak or like Goldberg. I want to become someone who makes a mark for himself. A guy who is the focal point of High Stakes.
Q. What drove you to the wrestling business?
When I was 11, I saw Goldberg fighting on screen. And I was so excited. I saw it the first time and thought to myself that I want to be like this guy. I wanted to be a superhero. And that’s how it all started.
I think I can do a lot more in wrestling. I want to entertain people. I want to compete in famous wrestling matches in Russia. It is difficult but it will be a huge opportunity for me. I have done it for fourteen years and I still love it. I won’t say I don’t like wrestling like CM Punk. That’s not right. I loved the first match I saw and I will always try to give my best to sports entertainment.
Q. How did you feel when you were first hailed as the ‘People’s Champ’?
In 2009, there was a slot on TV and a lot of people were watching. We had the second-highest ratings among all other TV Programmes. The commentators then said, “Oh look at him, he is the ‘People’s Champ’.”
And you know, a lot of fans heard that and then talked about it on the Internet. There were so many comments that referred to me with that name.
In 1999, I saw The Rock wrestling and he was the ‘People’s Champ’. And now, fans here call me the ‘People’s Champ’. I am proud of this. For me, it was amazing. It’s them (the fans), they call me that… and for me, it’s my pride.
Q, What does it take for a wrestler to become the People’s Champ’?
It’s simple, help people love wrestling. Fans like to see good wrestling. Don’t come to just perform and earn money. No, that’s very wrong. You should have a Champion’s heart to become a Champion. No matter the profession, if you like what you do then your skills improve every day. The same goes for wrestling. You have to love the art.
I think I wasn’t a cool wrestler when I started. I was a new guy and I had to share the ring with cooler wrestlers. But I knew each match was important. So, give your best. You must have a Champion’s heart. It sounds like a fairy tale but it’s true. If you love our profession and dedicate yourself to it, your profession will love you in return.
Q. What do you think is the best quality in a person?
Honesty. I think honesty is very important. Nowadays people lie so much. I hate lying because when you know think about someone who lies, you think of them as a bad person. When you say the truth, it’s cool even if it is bad.
Like in wrestling, if someone has a bad match and I say, “Bro, you had a bad match. You should do this and this to improve,” he will learn from the mistakes and become better at his job. But I say, “Good, good match” even if the match was bad, he will never grow. That’s just bulls**t.
Q. What sets you apart from everyone else in this wrestling business?
I think kindness. I try to be kind as much as I can. If we talk about wrestling, I once had three matches in one day including a main event that was 40-minutes long. But after the match, fans wanted to celebrate. About 50 people wanted to click selfies, get autographs or just talk to me. And I didn’t say no. I always make them my priority.
In my real life, I help my friends if they face difficult times. I try to help them solve their problems. (laughingly) You can see my kindness on my face.