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By Mike Johnson on 2017-02-18 08:42:00

Former WWWF champion "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff (real name Oreal Perras), the man who famously ended the first championship reign of Bruno Sammartino, has passed away following a battle with liver cancer.  He was 74 years old.

Koloff's defeat of Sammartino in Madison Square Garden is legendary.  Bruno was the Italian superhero who was passionately loved by fans.  On 1/18/71, Koloff came off the top rope with a flying kneedrop and pinned Bruno, leaving MSG stunned.  Bruno has often told the story of how he initially thought he broke his eardrum in the match because all he heard was silence even though the venue was sold out.  Instead, it was thousands upon thousands of Bruno fans standing there in absolute shock because the unstoppable had been stopped.  The closest comparison today would be Brock Lesnar ending The Undertaker's streak at Wrestlemania 30, silencing and shocking the Superdome in New Orleans.  Koloff actually expected there would a be a riot when he pinned Sammartino and was prepared for one mentally, but instead, there was eerie silence.

Although he played a Russian brute for the majority of his career, Koloff was actually from Canada and trained to become a pro wrestler immediately out of High School.  He debuted, initially, as the eyepatch wearing Red McNulty from Dublin, Ireland but morphed into "The Russian Bear" while headlining for Montreal's IWA, where he was champion and headlined for the first time in his career.    Internationally, Koloff worked in Japan and for Jim Barnett's WCW in Australia, which was one of the hottest promotions during its time period.

After his IWA run, he made his way to the WWWF, where he headlined against Sammartino and won the championship.  Koloff was designed to be a transitional champ and dropped the belt 21 days later to Pedro Morales.  At the time, WWWF was built around champions that appealed to certain ethnic backgrounds and Morales was a massive star with a huge surge of popularity from Puerto Rican fans.  He defeated Koloff and was off to the races, the perfect replacement for Bruno on that in that era.  Koloff would remain with WWWF for much of the 70s, challenging different top champions.

In the 1980s, he migrated to the National Wrestling Alliance, working for a number of areas, but none more notably than Jim Crockett Promotions in the Carolinas.  In the heart of the cold war era, booker Dusty Rhodes pushed the U.S.. vs. Russia theme as Ivan was given Barry "Krusher Krushev" Darsow as his partner, winning the NWA World Tag Team championships, setting the stage for the first title win from The Rock N' Roll Express.

What Ivan may be best remembered from in that era was the introduction of Nikita Koloff as Ivan's nephew, who was sent by the Kremlin to help destroy the Americans.  Although Nikita was really from Minnesota, he did an excellent job of getting over the character and Ivan was the perfect veteran to help teach and bring him along.  The introduction of Nikita actually helped add longevity to Ivan's career.  With Nikita's booming voice promising that "Uncle Ivan say you go down!" during promos, Koloff took on the role of evil mentor as much as tag team partner.

After Nikita was turned babyface to help fill the void left by Magnum TA's car accident, Ivan feuded with his nephew for defecting and would end up part of Paul Jones' army.  When he himself turned babyface, his nephew would eventually reunite with him in storyline but by 1989, Koloff would be gone from the promotion.

Following Crockett, Koloff worked the independent scene.  He was a regular on Carolina independents, where he was an institution thanks to his time with Crockett Promotions.  He appeared for Smoky Mountain Wrestling and even some early ECW cards.  He penned an autobiography Is That Wrestling Fake? The Bear Facts where he wrote about his life in the business and becoming a born-again ChristianHis faith was extremely important to him and he regularly toured and spoke at churches and other religious events. 

In recent years, Koloff was a regular at the Mid-Atlantic Legends Fanfests in Charlotte, NC, a popular guest and a well respected veteran.  It was obvious to anyone who saw him walk that the business had taken a hard physical toll upon Koloff as he had an obvious bad limp from hip issues dating back to decades of bumping. 

In recent years, there had been a call from certain circles to induct Koloff into the WWE Hall of Fame and truth be told, it made no sense that he wasn't inducted as he was one of, if not the only, few living former WWWF champions not to be honored at that level.  Once Bruno Sammartino was in, there was no argument against the man who shocked MSG not being inducted as well.    Koloff was at MSG when Bruno was inducted.   Koloff was sued by WWE in 2016 after attorney Konstantine Kyros made it clear in a letter to WWE that Koloff was likely to sue the company regarding allegations of wrongdoing when it came to concussion-related issues, which from a legal standpoint, destroyed any chance of Koloff being inducted while those lawsuits were still active.  He may be inducted one day (and obviously will be celebrated by the company now),  but if and when it happens, it will either be as part of the company's Legacy honorees or be an induction that Koloff did not get to personally celebrate.

On behalf of everyone associated with, I'd like to express our deepest condolences to the family, friends and fans of a true legend, Ivan Koloff.

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