Photo Courtesy of Evgeny Lyder
Interviewer’s Note: Evgeny Lyder has wrestled for Israeli wrestling promotions for nearly ten years. He first came to the country in his youth from Ukraine. Lyder became immersed in wrestling through watching WWF programming and becoming a fan of Bret Hart. He immediately knew that he wanted to become a wrestler and eventually trained to work as one for the Israeli Pro Wrestling Association (IPWA). More recently Lyder has also performed for the All Wrestling Organization (AWO). In his career he has most notably heeled it up as a Russian villain and has also worn a few masks to portray other characters. In this interview Lyder and I focus on the topic of wrestling in Israel.
Daniel Johnson: Before we talk about the wrestling scene in Israel I wanted to ask you some questions about your background. Where and when were you born?
Evgeny Lyder: On November 1, 1981 in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. It was a part of the USSR then.
Daniel Johnson: Cool, were you a fan of wrestling in the USSR or did you not get into it until moving to Israel?
Evgeny Lyder: There was one time when they showed wrestling on TV over there in 1990 or 1991, when NJPW did a tour in Moscow, if memory serves. But I only became a fan when my family moved to Israel and I started watching WWF programming.
Daniel Johnson: What WWF star did you idolize growing up?
Evgeny Lyder: Bret Hart.
Daniel Johnson: What stuck out about him for you?
Evgeny Lyder: Pretty much everything, his wrestling style, the entrance theme, the attire, and so on. He just looked cool to me.
Daniel Johnson: Awesome! How did you make the leap from being a fan to wanting to actually become a wrestler?
Evgeny Lyder: There was no leap. From the day I was hooked on wrestling I knew I wanted to become a wrestler myself when I grew up.
Daniel Johnson: How did you first begin training as a wrestler in Israel and with whom?
Evgeny Lyder: I was doing military service at the time and I learned there was a wrestling promotion here in Israel called the Israeli Pro Wrestling Association. By then it was sort of a side-project for the MMA club. I sort of lied to my superiors about doing some studies to complete my SATs and was given a day-off once in two weeks, so I started training with the fed. When I first got there, the guy who was training us actual pro-style, Gery Roif, was away so my first trainer was actually the MMA guy named Raanan Tal. Then Gery returned after a few months and I completed my training under his guidance.
Daniel Johnson: How long was it from when you first began training to when you first wrestled in front of a crowd?
Evgeny Lyder: Eight months or so.
Daniel Johnson: You mentioned IPWA, what other organizations have you wrestled for in Israel?
Evgeny Lyder: The All Wrestling Organization, for the last couple of months. Until now the IPWA was the only promotion in the country.
Daniel Johnson: Wow, so there are only two promotions in the entire country? Are there any tiny promotions out there or “backyard” stuff going on that you know of or are those two promotions it entirely?
Evgeny Lyder: There’s a really small operation run by a former IPWA guy in his hometwon, basically him and 5-6 guys he trained putting shows for the neighbor kids once in a while, and there’s been talks about some new promotion opening soon, but I don’t know much about it.
Daniel Johnson: Switching topics a bit, different crowds often value different aspects of wrestling. In general what is more important in Israel the in-ring product or mic work?
Evgeny Lyder: I’d say in-ring product matters more because for the most of the time there are not many angles or storylines. The crowd is used to appreciate straight wrestling.
Daniel Johnson: In regards to in-ring product what are your favorite wrestling moves to perform and how tough is it to settle on a finisher?
Evgeny Lyder: As a fan of technical wrestlers such as Hart, Kurt Angle, Taz and William Regal, I try to learn and use as many different suplex variations as I can. I also use European uppercuts a lot, because I suck at throwing punches. As for a finishing move, I used to use a fireman’s carry driver for years (first saw Lash LeRoux use it as his finisher in WCW and absolutely loved the move), but lately I’ve switched to the brainbuster.
Daniel Johnson: Since you mentioned Israeli fans tend to favor the in-ring product over mic skills did you take Israeli audiences into account when developing your gimmick? If so or even if not how did you decide on your gimmick?
Evgeny Lyder: Sure. There is a large community of immigrants from former USSR republics here in Israel, and there are a lot of stereotypes tied to them, like most of the “Russians” can’t live without vodka or that every “Russian” guy works as a security guard at the mall. This sort of thing. When I first got a real gimmick, it was suggested by one of the fans, actually, I became the “Russian Sickle” ( the nick suggested by a friend). Basically I was carrying a Russian flag around, spitting vodka into opponents’ eyes to blind them and did a Cossack dance while kicking the opponent. By the time I joined the AWO I grew a little tired of the gimmick, so I tweaked it a little. Now I’m still this Russian guy, but more into clubs, parties, glamor and so on. Think early Johnny Nitro.
Daniel Johnson: You mentioned how your gimmick has developed over time. Are there any past gimmicks you have had that you enjoyed?
Evgeny Lyder: There were a few masked gimmicks, actually, each a one-time thing, to put someone over. In 2008 it was Yagi San, a puroresu goat, in 2009 it was El Bandito, and a few months back it was The Goatfather, a mafia goat. I enjoyed doing the Yagi San bit the most, but unfortunately I’ve lost the mask shortly after the match and couldn’t find another online.
Daniel Johnson: One of the things I find most interesting about wrestling interviews is the road stories and ribs that wrestlers often have? Do you have any particularly good road stories or ribs that you could share?
Evgeny Lyder: Don’t know if it counts, in 2008, right after the show where I was doing the Yagi San gimmick, a couple of guys went to party in downtown Tel Aviv, with our wrestling gear on. We basically went into a bar wearing tights, masks and everything. Some people freaked out, but not many, because at night in downtown TA there are a lot of strange people wondering around. So you can barely surprise anyone by walking around in a goat mask.
Daniel Johnson: Nice! Getting into some more broadly based questions about the Israeli wrestling scene what are the big local wrestling names in Israel?
Evgeny Lyder: Currently active or in general?
Daniel Johnson: Currently active.
Evgeny Lyder: Gery Roif, first of all, he’s pretty much the Hulk Hogan of Israeli wrestling, the patriarch. Then there are Yossi “The Bull” Kalmanovich, “Platinum” Sharon Palty, who received a tryout with the WWE a few years back, Idan Boulder, and “BlonDevil” Chris Korvin, who’s been around like forever. I think only Gery’s been around longer.
Daniel Johnson: Who are your favorite wrestlers to work with in Israel? Are any of the ones you just mentioned on your list of favorite opponents or favorite partners?
Evgeny Lyder: Out of those I mentioned, I’d say Yossi, because he’s a main event guy but is very down to earth, approachable and easy to work with. And Chris, him and I have been feuding on and off since my debut match in 2003. Other than them, there’s a guy named Ken Kerbis. Working with him is a cruise. He’s only 18, but already one of the best workers in the country.
Daniel Johnson: Is there any place online that interested fans could check these wrestlers out (a YouTube channel, website, etc.)?
Evgeny Lyder: Sure, here are some of their matches.
AWO WrestleFest: Ken Kerbis vs. The White Leopard
AWO WrestleFest: Hellboy vs. Chris Korvin
Yossi Kalmanovich vs. Sharon Palty (c) for the IPWA Championship
Daniel Johnson: Awesome! What mainstream wrestling programming is on Israeli television? How popular are WWE and TNA there? Do you watch either regularly?
Evgeny Lyder: They air WWE and TNA here, neither one is very popular. That is, there is a wrestling fan community that follows wrestling of course, but that’s about it. There were a couple of wrestling booms over here, one in the eighties, when WCCW toured Israel, and the other in 1993-4 when the WWF did a few tours as well. Then you could see wrestling magazines, cards, action figures being sold everywhere, and in every schoolyard there were kids pretending they’re Lex Luger or The Undertaker. But since then, the interest in wrestling’s been pretty low. I watch WWE shows and try to follow TNA but it’s a bit hard with my working schedule.
Daniel Johnson: Are there any fans of non-American foreign wrestling there? Do promotions like NJPW or AAA have a fan base in the country?
Evgeny Lyder: Not that I know of, except for a couple of friends of mine, one of whom is into the European scene and the other into Japanese wrestling.
Daniel Johnson: Similarly, do bigger American independent wrestling organizations have a fan base in Israel. How hard would you have to look to find a Ring of Honor or Dragon Gate USA fan?
Evgeny Lyder: Surely there are quite a few, just not someone I personally know of.
Daniel Johnson: Switching topics, is there any common places Israel-based wrestlers wrestle often outside of the country? Do you have any ambitions to wrestle outside of Israel?
Evgeny Lyder: There are two Israeli-borns, Aviv Maayan and Noam Dar who wrestle in the UK, Tomer Shalom in Canada, and two former IPWA guys, Hawaii Allen who wrestles in NY area and Juping Lee in California. I’d love to, but I don’t think I’m good enough for it. I’m too small and my conditioning is the shits.
Daniel Johnson: I know there have been many conflicts between Israel and neighboring countries. Do Israel-based wrestlers ever wrestle in the surrounding countries?
Evgeny Lyder: No. Two closest countries that I know of that have wrestling feds are Turkey and United Arab Emirates and, as you said, them and us do not get along.
Daniel Johnson: How, if at all do you see the wrestling scene in Israel changing in the future?
Evgeny Lyder: I just hope it stays alive.
Daniel Johnson: Has it declined recently or has it been about the same since you started in 2003?
Evgeny Lyder: It’s a bit complicated to describe…it’s like, until lately at least, you could never tell if the show you’ve just worked was your last. One year there are 5-6 shows, then the next it can be one or two. You can never tell when and if you’re going to wrestle again.
Daniel Johnson: Back to the future (or the topic of the future anyway) what do you see yourself doing in the near future? Basically, where do you see yourself in five years?
Evgeny Lyder: Hopefuly, still wrestling. Not main eventing, but being a solid midcarder. Maybe holding a title. Most importantly, wrestling on regular basis.
Daniel Johnson: What would you say your biggest accomplishment is in wrestling so far and why?
Evgeny Lyder: Main eventing the IPWA show that was aired by The Wrestling Channel in the UK in 2006. It was the only time our show was broadcasted outside Israel, and I was there, challenging for the heavyweight title. Other than that, meeting Bret Hart in 2005 when he came over to hype our TV show.
Daniel Johnson: Is there anything you would like to promote or that you think readers should check out?
Evgeny Lyder: Off the top of my head, I’d encourage them to check out IPWA and AWO matches on YouTube.
Daniel Johnson: This may seem unusual, but I like to ask everyone some variation of this question: What is the weirdest part of being an Israeli wrestler?
Evgeny Lyder: Lol probably the fact that you can travel to the other end of the country for the show and have a BBQ in your backyard on the same night.
Daniel Johnson: As part of my last few questions I like to ask five non-wrestling related questions just to make the interview a little unique. If you don’t have an answer or don’t want to answer one of them just feel free to say, “skip.”
Evgeny Lyder: Shoot.
Daniel Johnson: Outside of wrestling, what television shows do you enjoy watching these days?
Evgeny Lyder: Friends, Family Guy, Futurama and Everybody Loves Raymond and The History Channel.
Daniel Johnson: What was your favorite movie that came out this year?
Evgeny Lyder: I don’t follow movies that much, so I have no clue what flicks came out in 2012.
Daniel Johnson: No problem, what is your favorite food that you tried for the first time this year?
Evgeny Lyder: Carpaccio. It was pretty good, actually.
Daniel Johnson: What is your favorite song to come out this year?
Evgeny Lyder: “All of the Lights” by Kanye West.
Daniel Johnson: Did you vote in your last local election? If so would you be willing to say for who?
Evgeny Lyder: Didn’t vote.
Daniel Johnson: My last question: Is there anything you would like to add or talk about that we haven’t talked about.
Evgeny Lyder: I just would like to thank you for your interest and time.
See Evgeny Lyder wrestle for the AWO in Israel! Here he takes on Eyal Smiely: