I remember sitting in front of the television screen as a kid with a Capri Sun and a box of CrackerJax waiting in anticipation to watch my first wrestling match. On July 9, 1985, the Tag Team Champions, Ivan Koloff and Krusher Kruschev were set to take on the up and coming Rock N Roll Express. This was at a time when live championship matches on a Saturday afternoon were rare and at a premium. It was also when time limits were given with the shear purpose of setting up a memorable ending.
While admiring my first wrestling match at the bright young age of 7, I fondly remember asking my Mom why the one guy (Ivan) looked so old. Little did I know, but he was a savvy veteran and one of the most respected wrestlers of his time.
Ivan “The Russian Bear” Koloff was one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars and most nefarious characters to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots. In a week where wrestling news has been less than ideal, we are sadden by the news of his passing. At the age of 74, Ivan did his best to stand up against a decade-long battle with liver cancer. He still made his rounds as a guest and signed as may autographs as possible. Unfortunately, it was the one final battle he couldn’t overcome.
Koloff’s name is synonymous with wrestling history as his career spans back to the 60’s. He held Championships all over the world, with his most prestigious victory dating back to 1971 when he defeated the Great Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Title courtesy of his famous knee drop from the top rope. Not only was this a memorable moment for Koloff, but it was also one of the most iconic moments in wrestling history as a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden watched in shock as Sammartino’s nearly eight-year reign as champion was over. Even as Koloff later admitted that he may not have been prepared for such a high-profile match, he warmed up quickly and still was able to deliver.
Koloff was one of wrestling’s top heels and truly took to his Russian persona. He spoke in a raspy Russian voice, wore heavy stomping boots, and always carried his trademark Russian chain. During his time in the WWWF, Koloff wrestled World Heavyweight Championship title matches against legends such as Sammartino, Morales, Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund. He also found a great deal of success in the NWA where he created the Russian faction that included Krusher and Nikita. They were a top villainous group during the late 80’s and were responsible for the tremendous following that surrounded Georgia, Florida, and Mid-Atlantic territories. They were consistently trusted to hold the tag team titles in those various promotions and used the strengths of three men just like a modern day Wyatt Family.
Since we were given the news earlier in the year that his health was declining, it wasn’t a shock to hear the news. However, when you witness the strength and power of an individual being torn down by the weight of the Big “C, it takes a toll on your psyche. Koloff’s death comes just one day after the passing of George ‘The Animal’ Steele, giving the wrestling world very little time to recover.
Close friends and longtime pro wrestling figures shared the news of Koloff’s passing in numerous tweets Saturday morning that give us some insight to how respected Ivan truly was within the business.
I learned so much from one of the greatest workers in the history of this business. You will be missed my friend. I’m sad to wake up and hear of the passing of my very close friend the Russian Bear Ivan Koloff. Rest in Peace
Uncle Ivan & I used to laugh about “Red McNulty.” He was shocked that I knew. (Thx to Big Cowboy.) We’ve lost another, great one.
Honky Tonk Man:
Condolences go out to the Ivan Koloff family on Ivan’s passing. Another fantastic guy and a real first class gentleman.
As you can see, the Russian Bear portrayed a great character, but was still had a soft heart. He was an old school wrestler who relied on his technical skills and sheer power to get himself over inside the ring. Ivan will be forever missed and the imprint he left on the wrestling world will never fade away!
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