Ivan Koloff WWWF World Heavyweight title after defeating Bruno Sammartino for the title

Ivan Koloff ‘The Russian Bear’ Dies Reportedly Of Liver Cancer

Ivan Koloff “The Russian Bear” has died at the age of 74.

According to PEOPLE, a crowdfunding page had been set up for the wrestler born Oreal Perras on February 2 by his daughter, Rachel Marley, requesting financial support for “urgent medical care.” Rachel had revealed that her father had been bogged down with liver disease for a decade and that doctors had pointed out that his health was rapidly declining.

“My dad was diagnosed with liver disease 10 years ago and while he has been living with it, he chose not to make this announcement public to his fans and friends. But doctors are now saying that his liver function is getting worse day by day…there are no medical options available for my dad for a cure.”

Ivan Koloff died on Saturday.

It has been a devastating few days in the wrestling world as former stars Nicole Bass and George “The Animal” Steele both passed away on Friday. Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan said he was helpless with the string of deaths in the wrestling universe, adding that his faith was the only thing making him stand strong.

“RIP Ivan Koloff, it’s been a tough week. Chavo, Nicole Bass, George Steel, Ivan and Marty Prince. I would feel helpless if not for my faith.”

Fellow wrestling icon Ric Flair, who was close to The Russian Bear shared the passing of his friend in a Facebook post on Saturday morning. Flair appreciated all that he learned from Koloff, adding that he would be deeply missed.

“I learned so much from one of the greatest workers in the history of this business. You will be missed my friend.”

The Russian bear was always touted as a Ukrainian, but he was actually born and raised in Canada, according to the Bleacher Report. Oreal Perras left high school at 18 and devoted his life full-time to the grappling sport. He started wrestling under the moniker of Red McNulty. His Irish character villain went on to build a strong following in Toronto and Japan.

He debuted as Ivan Koloff “The Russian Bear” in an International Wrestling Association match in 1967. He won the Heavyweight Championship and joined WWWF under the tutelage of Captain Lou Albano in 1969. The Montreal native would go on to clinch the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship defeating the defending champion, Bruno Sammartino by pinfall. The legendary match took place in 1971 at the Madison Square Garden in New York.

The Russian Bear became one of the most hated characters in wrestling history after he halted Sammartino’s seven-and-a-half year reign as WWWF Champion. Koloff’s win over Sammartino remains one of the most shocking moments in pro-wrestling history because almost everyone believed Bruno would win the bout. The fictitious Ukrainian strongman would hold the belt for only 21 days before losing it to Pedro Morales.

Ivan Koloff later migrated to the National Wrestling Alliance from the WWWF and became the leader of a group known as “The Russians.” The group won the NWA tag team title for five years in a row. Koloff was extremely popular as the bearded Russian villain in the 1980s because it was during the height of the Cold War.

The Russian Bear found more wrestling success with Jim Crockett’s Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling and Championship Wrestling from Florida. Ivan always played a super villain in the ring, forging rivalries against the likes of The Road Warriors, The Rock n’ Roll Express and the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.

The Russian Bear ended his career as a seven-time NWA Georgia Tag Team Champion, five-time Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Champion, Five-time NWA Florida Tag Team Champion, three-time NWA Television Champion, and one-time WWWF Heavyweight Champion. He garnered a slew of other promotional titles across North and South America.

Ivan Koloff is a member of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, Southern Championship Wrestling Hall of Fame and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. He was not inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

The Russian Bear retired in 1994 and dedicated his life to a Christian ministry he started in North Carolina. Oreal Perras was a champion for the Children’s Miracle Network and shared his testimonies at various churches and prisons before he passed.

He wrote the 2007 autobiography Is That Wrestling Fake? The Bear Facts. In 2014, he published Life in the Trenches, a publication that documented his struggle with drugs, alcohol and a subsequent conversion to Christianity. The book includes testimonies from fellow wrestlers like the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “Rowdy” Roddy Pipper, George “The Animal” Steele, Diamond Dallas Page, Jim Abbott and Dan Severn.

[Featured Image by George Napolitano/MediaPunch/IPX/AP Images]