Rest in peace, Ivan Koloff
[1942 - 2017]
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.