On Saturday, WWE fans all over the world learned that former WWWF Champion “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff died at the age of 74. ESPN reported that Koloff suffered through a lengthy battle with liver disease that lasted at least 10 years. Ivan Koloff goes down in WWE history as one of the few people to actually defeat Bruno Sammartino during his time on top of the company.
Ivan Koloff was one of the greatest heels in WWE history, taking on the role of the foreign Russian menace in an era where the Cold War raged on and many people feared the communist menace. In reality, Ivan Koloff was a Montreal, Canada, native named Oreal Perras.
It was Bruno Sammartino who personally scouted and brought Ivan Koloff to the WWE and the two enjoyed a long and violent feud. Sammartino, who had held the WWWF Championship for seven years, lost his title to Ivan Koloff in a match at Madison Square Garden.
While Ivan Koloff was only meant to be a transitional champion so the WWE could put the title on Pedro Morales, it caused one of the most dangerous scenes in professional wrestling history. According to Bruno Sammartino at the time, he thought he had suffered a ruptured ear because everything went completely silent.
However, Sammartino said that fans were crying in Madison Square Garden because their hero lost the world title to the evil Russian. Things grew dangerous after that when the crowd began to get restless and seemed ready to personally attack Ivan Koloff.
That was a true testament to the lengths that Ivan Koloff went to in order to keep kayfabe on his character. He was one of the most legitimately hated villains in the WWE even though people who knew him said that he was one of the nicest people they ever knew.
Ivan Koloff set a great example for me in the way he treated people. So sad to lose such a great man. A true legend. https://t.co/nsgb3bCP6M
— Mick Foley (@RealMickFoley) February 18, 2017
A fierce competitor in the ring who was able to anger (and excite!) fans worldwide. RIP to one of best villains in our business, Ivan Koloff pic.twitter.com/ErPvsInV4o
— Triple H (@TripleH) February 18, 2017
— Sean Waltman (@TheRealXPac) February 18, 2017
Over the years, Ivan Koloff had a lot of interactions with other great wrestlers. Before The Iron Sheik became a tag team partner to Nikolai Volkoff, it was Ivan Koloff and Nikolai Volkoff who teamed up as the evil Russians.
Later, when Ivan Koloff left the WWE and created a powerful faction in the NWA with Nikita Koloff and Krusher Krushchev, he developed a relationship with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who had his own major faction with the Four Horsemen.
BEFORE THERE WAS IRON SHEIK THERE WAS IVAN KOLOFF. HERE WITH MY BROTHER NIKOLAI. HE MAKE THE GARDEN SHAKE. RIP BROTHER pic.twitter.com/4q4SIVcb0u
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) February 18, 2017
I'm Sad To Wake Up And Hear of the passing of my very close friend the Russian Bear Ivan Koloff. We have been close Friends since the day I started in the business in 1972. We traveled the Roads all through the 70's and 80's together. I learned so much from one of the greatest workers in the History of this business. You will be missed My Friend. Rest In Peace
A post shared by Ric Flair® Nature Boy® (@ricflairnatureboy) on
Ivan Koloff is the third professional wrestling legend to die this week alone. Earlier in the week, Chavo Guerrero Sr., the brother of Eddie Guerrero, died. Yesterday, George “The Animal” Steele died as well.
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The WWE posted a tribute to Ivan Koloff on their website.
“Koloff, nicknamed “The Russian Bear,” quickly became a primary rival to one of the most beloved WWE Champions of all time, Bruno Sammartino. In an infamously memorable instance in WWE and Madison Square Garden history, Koloff crushed Sammartino’s throat with his knee by jumping off the top turnbuckle. This act on Jan. 18, 1971, allowed “The Russian Bear” to cover the WWE Hall of Famer and score an astonishing three-count to become WWE Champion, ending the Italian powerhouse’s record-setting seven-year title reign.”
It will be interesting to see if the WWE has two tributes on Monday Night Raw, one for “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff and another for George “The Animal” Steele.
[Featured Image by WWE]