January 5, 2007
Ivan Koloff "bears" all in new autobiography
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
At the pinnacle of his career, he was WWWF World champion, ending the reign of the legendary Bruno Sammartino. However, it's the depths of Ivan Koloff's life that are most surprising in his new autobiography, "Is That Wrestling Fake?" The Bear Facts.
It's the fourth book from wrestling historian Scott Teal, and his publishing empire, Crowbar Press. The first, Inside Out: How Corporate America Destroyed Professional Wrestling by Ole Anderson, allowed the opinionated founding member of the Four Horsemen to really let loose. The second, "Wrestlers Are Like Seagulls" From McMahon to McMahon, by J.J. Dillon (with Philip Varriale), offered tremendous behind-the-scenes insights into both the WWF and WCW. The third book was Jody Hamilton's Assassin: The Man Behind the Mask, which explains life behind the mask and in WCW's Power Plant.
For Teal, working with Koloff was a different experience than the previous three authors.
"Ivan deals with his own faults and doesn't really put anybody else down," said Teal. "He feels that he has enough stories to tell on himself and didn't feel the need to run somebody else down. He doesn't give as much insight about the inner workings of the wrestling business itself as Ole Anderson, J.J. Dillon, and Jody Hamilton did, but it's a good look at life on the road as a wrestler through the eyes of somebody who was there."
Teal was taken aback by just how wild Koloff's life had been. "I never realized that he had such a problem with alcohol and drugs. He makes a good case as to why the boys get caught up in those things (injuries, no time off, wrestling 7-10 times a week, etc.)."
In a recent conversation with SLAM! Wrestling, Koloff was pretty matter-of-fact about it all. "I did a lot of crazy things, with my lifestyle of the drinking and the drugs and all that stuff," The Russian Bear said.
Koloff told Teal that he wanted to do a book to use it as a "testimonial more than anything."
For the last number of years, Koloff has been speaking at church functions and indy wrestling shows, explaining how he was saved by the love of God. The book will be a textbook of sorts for patrons at these affairs, who are always asking for more tales. "It's a way of conveying some of the stories, and using it for some good," said Koloff.
The book goes right back to Koloff's early days, growing up on a farm in the Ottawa Valley, through his wrestling training with Jack Wentworth in Hamilton, to his early days as Red McNulty. His first big break came with the Rougeaus in Montreal, where he was made into an evil Russian.
From there, Koloff catapulted to fame in 1971 by dethroning Sammartino. After that, he was a drawing card from the AWA to the Mid-Atlantic territory, to Florida, as well as overseas.
Koloff was surprised by the memories that came up during his discussions with his co-author. Teal was great at research, Koloff said: "Just asking questions about some names would spark some memories, and that trails off into something else that you're talking about."
Teal was appreciative of Koloff's openness. "Ivan was easy to interview because he was very upfront about his life. Even though he had every right to, he didn't boast about his career, so it made me believe that he was shooting straight with me."
The book is 230 pages, and contains more than 200 photos, including many from Koloff's personal collection.
"Is That Wrestling Fake?" The Bear Facts is only available through Teal's Crowbar Press website, and books are expected to arrive back from the printer next week. Pre-orders with personalization are available, but act quick – the deal ends Friday night.
SLAM! Wrestling Producer Greg Oliver has interviewed Ivan Koloff on numerous occasions, including most recently, for the upcoming book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels, with Steve Johnson. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.