NWA World Heavyweight Champion and UFC 5 Tournament Champion Dan Severn 
Although the worlds of professional wrestling and ultimate fighting are rivals today, such wasn’t always the case. In fact, one wrestler who worked to bridge the gap between the two was Dan “The Beast” Severn, who worked in both UFC and in the NWA. On February 24th, 1995, Severn defeated Chris Candido for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Severn would reign as champion for four years before losing the title to Japanese wrestler Naoya Ogawa. In 1996, Severn fought in the UFC 5: The Return Of The Beast tournament, defeating Joe Charles, Oleg Taktarov, and finally Dave Beneteau to win the UFC V tournament championship.
Earlier this week, it was announced that the former WWWF World Heavyweight Champion Ivan Koloff was dealing with some heavy medical issues. Unfortunately, Ivan has lost that fight, as he passed away early this morning. He was 74.
The man known as “The Russian Bear” actually got his start in his homeland of Canada, where he began his career in the early 1960s as Red McNulty, an Irish hooligan character. After gaining some experience, Koloff traveled to Japan where he honed his craft before returning to Canada as Ivan Koloff, a Russian villain from the Ukraine. In 1969, Koloff debuted in the World Wide Wrestling Federation, managed by Captain Lou Albano and becoming one of the biggest stars in the company. Koloff’s target was the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion Bruno Sammartino, who was the biggest hero the company heralded. After feuding with Sammartino for some time, on January 18th, 1971, Koloff defeated Sammartino in Madison Square Garden for the WWWF Championship with a knee drop from the top rope, ending Sammartino’s 2,803 reign as champion!
Koloff holds the distinction of being one of the company’s most promiment main event villains, having wrestled championship matches against Sammartino, Pedro Morales, Superstar Billy Graham, and Bob Backlund and being one of only two men to have challenged all four fan favorite champions. Koloff was also the first opponent to ever challenge for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship in a steel cage match. Outside of the WWWF, Koloff also found success as a tag team specialist, teaming with Nikita Koloff and/or Krusher Krushev in a team often referred to as The Russians.
Koloff traveled through the 70s and 80s as a journeyman superstar, wrestling in Georgia, Florida, and the Mid-Atlantic territories for the NWA, capturing the NWA World Tag Team Championships in 1981 with partner Ray Stevens. This was only one of several reigns Koloff would have as a tag team champion, having also captured the titles with such wrestlers as Nikita, Pat Patterson, and Ole Anderson. In 1992, Koloff wrestled in the very first ECW card, as well as the first Smoky Mountain Wrestling television taping.
To say that Ivan Koloff had a successful wrestling career would be an understatement. He was a career heel, working dilligently through every notable company and with a “who’s who” of talent in his 30+ year career. Ivan was a wrestler’s wrestler, a good hand, and a talent who could make even the most bland superstar look like a million bucks. Rest in peace, Ivan Koloff.
Japanese Heavyweight Champion Rikizodan [December 22nd, 1954]
Known as “The Father Of Puroresu”, Rikidozan was the first hero of Japanese professional wrestling when the sport was still fairly new to Japan. In the years that followed World War II, Japanese wrestling fans had a hero in Rikidozan, who would defeat American wrestlers. While Rikidozan was viewed as a hero in Japan, he was always a villain when wrestling in the USA.
In 1958, in one of the most historic wrestling matches in history, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was defended for the first time in Japan, as the champion Lou Thesz defended the title against Rikidozan. Thesz, realizing the impact such a move would have in history, agreed to put Rikidozan over for the championship. The move proved to shift a significant change for professional wrestling, as it legitimized the sport in Japan and led to Rikidozan
establishing the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance, Japan’s first professional wrestling promotion, in 1953.
On December 22nd, 1954, Rikidozan defeated Masahiko Kimura for the Japanese Heavyweight Championship, the lead title in the Japan Wrestling Alliance. In 1958, Rikidozan vacated the title when he won the NWA International Heavyweight Championship. Rikidozan is remembered for his feuds against Freddie Blassie and The Destroyer, and for training the likes of Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba.
Sadly, in 1963, Rikidozan was stabbed with a urine-soaked blade by a member of the Yakuza. He died one week later of peritonitis. His attacker, Katsuji Murata, served seven years for manslaughter, and claimed that every year on the anniversary of Rikidozan’s death (December 15th), he would call Rikidozan’s family to apologize and would visit his grave.
“If you’ve read ‘Big Gold’ by Dick Bourne, you know the nameplate for my Father was never on the actual title
after my Father defeated Ric at The GAB’. It was rumored to not even
exist, but it was ordered and it does exist. I found it in a
cigar-box. And on the eve of the 30th ANNIVERSARY and with @HeyHeyItsConrad ’s help, it officially goes on the original ‘Big Gold’.
The ‘hard times’ for you Pop are over. Just good times ahead sir.”
The reason that this is such a big deal for wrestle-nerds like myself is the mere fact that no one outside of Jim Crockett Promotions has ever seen this nameplate before. The original NWA World Heavyweight Championship was a special order from the Crumrine Jewelers out in Reno, NV and only a handful of name-plates were ever purchased from that same company to fit the Big Gold Belt. Until today, the only nameplates people knew existed for sure were “RICK FLAIR” (sic), “RIC FLAIR” and “STINGER”. Order receipts for both a “DUSTY RHODES” and a “RONNIE GARVIN” Crumrine nameplate do exist, but no one had photographic evidence of them since the plates never were officially fastened onto the championship during either Rhodes or Garvin’s reign.