Igor Zaripov, a Las Vegas-based Cirque du Soleil performer and star of the James Cameron-produced “Worlds Away” Cirque du Soleil motion picture in 3D, is a man of many talents. Diverse talents.
He is known as the “Mouth of Steel.” He can pull things with his mouth and teeth. Heavy things.
While on tour with “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour” at London’s 02 Arena, Zaripov pulled a red double-decker bus weighing 27,249.14 pounds with his mouth and teeth.
When at first he couldn’t budge the 13½-ton beast, the Guinness Book of World Records people thought he only was manufacturing drama, like on one of those TV reality shows where the bachelor acts as if the bachelorette isn’t his type.
It turned out most of the heavy bits of the bus were in the rear-axle area. So Zaripov went to the back of the bus, put the bit between his teeth and pulled again. Soon the red double-decker bus was rolling toward Piccadilly Circus sans engine exhaust.
If you’re ever driving on a deserted stretch of interstate highway late at night, and your alternator goes out, it would help were Igor Zaripov riding shotgun.
Zaripov, 30, also holds Guinness records for fastest time pulling a car 100 feet with his mouth and teeth (15.7 seconds) and longest aerial suspension with the mouth and teeth (2 minutes, 32 seconds). The latter was set in Times Square on “Good Morning America.”
When they threw it back to the studio, Sam Champion and Josh Elliott were holding their jaws.
In case you are wondering, the Mouth of Steel goes to the dentist every six months, for a checkup and a cleaning. He said his dentist once remarked that he has jaw muscles like a great white shark.
Igor Zaripov has been living in a ranch home in southeast Las Vegas for 10 years. It’s easily the longest time he has spent in any one place.
He is a fourth-generation circus performer, born in Moscow. People born into the circus life don’t put down roots. This is why if you are a trapeze artist, or a bearded lady, you often can get away with fudging on your taxes. The IRS usually will have trouble tracking you down.
Zaripov built a gym where the family room should be in his home. He built it himself; he swung the hammer with his hands, not his mouth. In the backyard there are gymnastics rings. The muscular Zaripov hasn’t been hanging and twirling from them recently, though, owing to a scar on his right shoulder that looks likes a railroad spur.
He tore his biceps during a Cirque performance on tour. He did not immediately seek treatment. For the show must go on.
Zaripov lives with his wife, Maryna, and their 2-year-old son, Alexei, who stripped down to his underpants and was bounding around the gym within seconds. So it appears there will be a fifth generation of performing Zaripovs.
Igor met Maryna in Cirque du Soleil, when they were performing in Ka. Igor had devised this concept act in which he holds a female performer with his teeth while suspended 60 feet in the air. The female performer was Maryna. One supposes a girl learns to trust a guy when he’s holding her in the air with his teeth.
Maryna is no longer with Ka. Now she’s with Criss Angel, where she performs a little closer to the ground.
I also met Zaripov’s mother, Galina, who was in for a visit from Moscow. Igor’s mother was a trick rider on horses. I did not meet his great-grandfather, Karim Zaripov, who began the Zaripov circus legacy in Uzbekistan in 1893.
“Since I was 2, 3 years old, every day I’ve been watching my mom performing,” Igor said. “Five years old was first time I actually stepped on stage to perform. And I loved it. It just came naturally.”
His mom had volunteered him for the straps, a gymnastics-based performance art during which Igor would twirl and fly about, upside down. But a guy can get tired of the straps after a time, and so Igor started getting ideas for other routines and stunts. Such as pulling giant double-decker buses with his teeth.
This is what can happen when you are hanging upside down from the straps and the blood rushes to your head.
“I like to challenge myself. I decided to try something else,” said Zaripov, who has this idea for a TV show where he and other acrobats and strongmen would perform these amazing feats, and then explain how they train for them, physically and mentally.
I suggested he call Nik Wallenda, and perhaps they could come up with a stunt where a Zaripov drags a Wallenda across the Grand Canyon with his teeth while on horseback and suspended from a high wire.
Zaripov, who smiles a lot and is the most personable Russian I have met — much friendlier than some of the Russians who skated on the checking line for the old Las Vegas Thunder — still was laughing at the idea when I noticed what appeared to be bowling trophies on the windowsill of his homemade gymnasium.
That’s exactly what they were.
A few years ago, when the cast of Ka was looking for a way to bond outside the showroom, a bowling team was formed. Because he likes to challenge himself, Zaripov joined the Ka bowling team, though he had never before lifted a bowling ball with any part of his person. That was in 2004.
By 2005, the engraving on the trophy on the windowsill said Igor Zaripov’s bowling average was 210.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.