February 11, 2007
The Russian Bear got his start in Ottawa Valley
By TIM BAINES - Ottawa Sun
Ivan Koloff, The Russian Bear, who for many years terrorized wrestling's "good guys," is, in real life, a Valley boy.
Yep, he grew up in the Ottawa Valley -- as Oral Paris (okay, the name may be changed a bit to protect his identity). And he still has two brothers -- Ray and Morris -- living in the area.
Young wrestling fans may not appreciate this, but Koloff was a star, a man who brutalized opponents like Bob Backlund, Ric Flair, Dick the Bruiser, The Crusher, Dusty Rhodes, Billy Robinson, Whipper Billy Watson, Gene Kiniski and The Mighty Igor. He beat Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF heavyweight championship in 1971, later dropping the belt to Pedro Morales.
The road from the Ottawa Valley, where he grew up with six brothers and three sisters on farms near places like Chrysler, Chesterville, Winchester and Finch, was a rollercoaster ride, but Koloff has found his peace ... as an ordained minister.
The Russian Bear, as it turns out, isn't so Russian. But he sure had wrestling fans of the day convinced.
"The image of Ivan Koloff was that of a crazy guy," he says softly over the phone from his North Carolina home. "And you had to act that way, or the promoter would fire you. Business was business. If you were a bad guy, you acted like a bad guy. I tried to play it up."
After moving from Ottawa to Guelph as a teen, he spent time in jail for an ill-fated cattle rustling scheme.
"My younger brother and I tried to create our own business," he says. "We ended up stealing cattle ... and I went to the big house. I served five months of a six-month sentence."
With his jail time done, Koloff returned to Ottawa.
"I worked in construction," he says. "We were living, four or five months through the winter, in a bus in a farmer's field."
He joined Jack Wentworth's wrestling school in Hamilton. A career was forged -- a career that would yield incredible highs and desperate lows.
WRESTLED AS RED MCNULTY
After wrestling as the Irish rogue, Red McNulty, he shaved his head and found a new identity -- in 1968 he became Ivan Koloff at the suggestion of Jacques Rougeau Sr.
"My talking was a combination of Mad Dog Vachon and what I thought a Russian would sound like.
"I remember wrestling Johnny Rougeau in Ottawa ... Abdullah the Butcher in Hull ..."
But stardom had its pitfalls.
"You travel in that fast lane ... it's such a demanding business," he says. "The mentality is: 'Are you a man or are you a mouse?' Pretty soon, a few drinks escalates into getting drunk every night. I started with painkillers, but I still hurt. So I turned to marijuana, cocaine ...
"It wasn't until I received (God) in my heart that I was able to overcome the alcohol, the drugs and the chewing tobacco."
Koloff says his life took a turn for the better some 11 years ago.
"I was raised a Roman Catholic, but stubbornness held me back from accepting The Lord," says Koloff, who was convinced by his wrestling "nephew" Nikita Koloff to attend a church revival, with some 3,000 people on hand.
With newfound "peace," Koloff devotes much of his time to charities, including the Children's Miracle Network and, as a minister, performs marriage ceremonies. With Scott Teal, he's also put together a book: Is That Wrestling Fake? The Bear Facts.
Age doesn't stop The Russian Bear from wrestling.
"I still don the tights, maybe once a month," he says. "I still get people coming up and sizing me up. They'll say: 'Are you Ivan Koloff?' Sometimes they hold a grudge. They'll say: 'I still hate you.'
"If I'm in the mode of being The Russian Bear, barking at people, I have to watch myself around here. My wife (Renae) will put me in my place."
- TNA is airing a dynamic This is TNA special tomorrow night on Spike TV. The Best Of show will feature Jeff Jarrett vs. Sting (Career vs. Title); AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels vs. The Latin American Xchange (Six Sides of Steel match); Christian Cage vs. Rhino (Eight Mile Street Fight); Cage vs. Jarrett vs. Sting vs. Abyss vs. The Truth Ron Killings (King of the Mountain match); and Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe. There'll be plenty more TNA highlights.
- Tomorrow night's RAW won't be live in the U.S. (replaced by the Westminster Dog Show), but Donald Trump will appear live, no doubt to do some jawing with Vince McMahon, who has threatened to force The Donald to join The Kiss My Ass Club.
- As it turns out, Scott Steiner is Cage's consultant ... enough said.