Zangief is a massive fighter, weighing 400 lbs and standing slightly over 7 feet tall, placing him among the tallest characters in the entire Street Fighter roster. Since his debut in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in 1991, Zangief has been portrayed with a beard and a mohawk, along with a uniquely-shaped formation of chest hair on his torso and on his shins. His massive frame is almost entirely covered in scars from his bouts with brown bears in the barren and remote area of Siberia.
Zangief's wardrobe consists of simple red wrestling trunks with a gold belt, along with red and gold wristbands and his red wrestling boots. In one of Zangief's concept artworks, he wore a tank top and had a sailor anchor tattoo on his left arm. He would retain the tank top in all his Street Fighter II portraits (except Turbo Revival and HD Remix), in order to indicate what color the player chose for him.
Starting with Street Fighter Alpha 2, Zangief was adorned with a red cloak that he would remove before starting his matches. The cloak became an accepted fixture of his image, and he was shown with it in the 1994 Street Fighter II animated movie. Although modern 3D interpretations of Zangief have so far not shown him with his cloak, he is still depicted as wearing it before matches in his ending movie on Super Street Fighter IV.
Born and raised in the Soviet Union, Zangief is an incredibly patriotic character who has been motivated in some way to fight for his Motherland in every single game he has ever been in. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior depicted that Zangief was from the U.S.S.R. when the game was released in February, 1991. The Soviet Union would cease to exist the following December, but due to the heavy use of Soviet iconography in and around Zangief's character, including his home stage (an iron plant complete with a giant hammer and sickle logo imprinted on the floor), Zangief was depicted as being from the U.S.S.R. as late as 1998, when Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released (though justifiably, the Alpha series takes place between the first and second games, meaning the U.S.S.R. still existed as of then). Street Fighter IV was the first time Zangief was depicted as being from the Russian Federation in 2008.
Zangief's personality has varied from one media source to another, but he is mostly been portrayed as a very fearless and tactical fighter who is prone to quick temperaments, and is always very competitive. Zangief is a man who is immensely proud of his physique, and constantly belittles his opponent's smaller muscular build and blaming their losses on their smaller physique. Despite his short temper, Zangief has shown himself to be rather gentle-natured with a good sense of humor at times, once entering a tournament partly to win the admiration of a group of school children. According to the instruction manual of Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition for the Sega Genesis/Mega-Drive, Zangief is described as being "good natured, with a great sense of humor, and totally fearless."
Zangief can be easily misled by his overwhelming sense of patriotism for his home country. In Street Fighter Alpha 2, it was revealed that the President wants Zangief to train and fight around the world primarily to boost his own prestige abroad, although Zangief fails to realize this and continues to fight for the glory and honor of Russia, no matter what the reason may be.
While not fighting, Zangief enjoys hopak (cossack dancing), and borscht. Some of the things which he does not like includes young women (because he views them as a distraction), bears that do not know how to wrestle properly, and (according to the manual for Super Street Fighter II Turbo for the 3DO) projectiles such as Hadokens, Yoga Fires, and Tiger Shots.
Zangief's name is possibly derived from real-life pro wrestler Victor Zangiev, a former Soviet amateur who trained as a professional in NJPW, and who also competed in WCW and UWF International. Zangief's prototypical name was Vodka Gobalsky. Zangief's biography apparently plays upon the association between Stalinist regimes and state-funded athletics programs utilizing bodybuilding drugs following the domination of the 1954 World Weightlifting Championships by the Soviet Union. His appearance was possibly influenced by several professional wrestlers who performed with the New Japan Pro Wrestling Circuit during the time period of Street Fighter II's development in the late 1980s and early 1990's. Specifically, his physique is similar to that of Soviet wrestler Salman Hashimikov, while his facial appearance, including his beard, seems to be a slight nod to American wrestler Steve "Dr. Death" Williams, who was a staple in Japanese Pro Wrestling throughout the 80's and 90's.
Zangief is similar to the original 1987 version of Birdie, as both characters are depicted as very large men with mohawk haircuts. Zangief is also similar in terms of build and fighting style to Mike Haggar from Capcom's Final Fight series, whose spinning clothesline move he emulates, not to mention that Zangief's alternate costume in Street Fighter IV is a nod to Haggar's costume. There is a theory supported by Saturday Night Slam Masters on the Super Nintendo that Mike Haggar and Zangief know each other as former wrestling partners before Mike became the mayor of Metro City.
Street Fighter Alpha 2
Zangief is a national Russian hero nicknamed the "Red Cyclone". The President promised Zangief the country's full support in exchange for traveling around the world and showing off the might of the Soviet Union (and to improve his image abroad, an objective which Zangief wasn't made aware of).
During his travels to prove his Russian might, Zangief encounters Birdie, and the two trade barbs about their appearance. Later, Zangief meets Ken Masters, who calls him a 'mama's boy', angering him and starting a fight. After Ken is defeated, the President appears, congratulating Zangief, who is then sent to train in remote Siberia (albeit with a limited budget).
Of note is that in all his appearances, the President is never identified explicitly by name, but bears more than a passing resemblance to the real life former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Street Fighter Alpha 3
Under orders from Gorbachev, Zangief is sent to combat the forces of Shadaloo, which is beginning to spread its corruption into Russia. Zangief has encounters many fighters along the way, befriending some such as E. Honda and R. Mika. It is believed that he lost to Blanka before he was could accomplish his final objective of destroying the Psycho Drive; however in his ending, he and Honda team up to destroy it (the canonicity of this ending is dubious). In R. Mika´s ending, she followed Zangief as he destroyed the Psycho Drive, and Zangief protected her from the falling apart base. It appears his story is a mix of the two. Nevertheless, the Psycho Drive gets destroyed by someone, at least, and Zangief returns to Russia satisfied.
Street Fighter II
He then participates in the second World Warrior Tournament, that was hosted by Shadaloo, at the behest of the president, but loses. After the tournament, Zangief, dissatisfied with the outcome, that Zangief must returns to training in the Russian wilderness, wrestling bears. Eventually, he is approached by the largest wrestling organization in the world with an eye to signing the "Red Cyclone" to their promotion.
Zangief at first refuses, saying that he is less interested in money than he is in bringing honor to Russia by demonstrating Russian strength. While he is promised a stage to better showcase his skills, with his matches watched by millions. Due to the obvious help this will bring to his will to show Russian strength, Zangief gladly accepts.
Street Fighter IV series
Zangief enters the World Tournament held by S.I.N. to prove to his young fans (some of whom are beginning to claim that martial artists are better) that he's still got it. After the tournament, Zangief frantically realizes that he hasn't gotten a souvenir, and says "I didn't even understand what the last guy was saying before I beat him." Through he then has an idea and takes a photograph holding the beaten Seth (main boss and host of the tournament) in a headlock, which is then viewed by the admiring young fans who recognize Seth as the "bad guy from the TV."
Street Fighter V
Prologue: A Red Omen
Zangief is quite shown beating an opponent with a Spinning Piledriver to win a wrestling match in the New York Fighting Tournament. After the match, he reads the latest edition of a wrestling magazine "Muscle Soul Fighers", sent by Rashid's servant, Azam. Zangief then flies to London, where he reunites with R. Mika who refers to him as "Master Zangief". Zangief wants to test her in-ring strength in a fight, and Mika happily complies.
After she was defeated by him, Mika comments on how she wants to follow in Zangief's footsteps to become a "great professional wrestler", and Zangief replies by telling her that the only way to properly follow in his footsteps is to have what he calls "Muscle Spirit". He proposes that the two embark on a training journey, fighting around the world to build muscle and obtain the strongest Muscle Spirit they can muster. Mika gladly accepts the offer, and the two fly to their first destination, China.
Once in China, Zangief meets with an old friend Azam as well as Rashid. Mika is surprised that Azam and Zangief are acquainted; Zangief tells Mika that Azam is the adviser of the "Muscle Soul Fighters Club" as he introduces him to her. Rashid, too, is surprised that Azam and Zangief know each other, as well as Rashid is a fan of Zangief's, having watched his wrestling victories on the internet and remarking that his muscles are amazing in person. Zangief comically challenges Rashid to a wrestling match on the spot, offering to (literally) throw Rashid "as [a] greeting", much to Rashid's surprise and terror.
After Zangief demonstrates his moves on Rashid, the latter remarks that he was tremendously powerful; Zangief states that this strength comes from a "great power and dedication of muscle". Mika also challenges Rashid, again much to Rashid's shock and terror. Zangief laughs, saying that Mika and Rashid should have a great match together. While the two go at it, Azam informs Zangief about Laura's message that he received, reading only "The usual place". Azam also reminisces when both are guided by their masters a lifetime ago. Zangief soon notices that Mika has beaten Rashid for not the first time, as she excitedly challenges Rashid to have "one more match" to keep working on her muscle spirit as Rashid tries to make an excuse for why they shouldn't fight again. However, Zangief and Azam laugh, the former remarking to Rashid that fiery spirits help everyone, not just pro wrestlers, and Azam tells him that the spirit that he inherits from his ancestors will fuel his power as a fighter and turn into muscle. Azam's statement confuses both Mika and Rashid, giving Azam and Zangief a hearty laugh.
Back in New York, while Zangief now teams up with Mika, both in different costumes, in a tag team match. Mika gets extremely nervous, due to this being her first match fighting alongside her hero. Zangief encourages her not to get so antsy, as her muscle spirit is ready for anything as is as well-trained as his own. Mika thanks him, and the two enter the ring.
At some point, he and R. Mika (as tag team partners) are in a wrestling match to face off both Alex and Laura. He also faces Balrog and One of the Dolls.
Street Fighter Universe
Asura's Wrath Universe