Just like Steele, some of Ivan Koloff's greatest fame comes from being one of the most notorious challengers to Bruno Sammartino. In the case of Koloff, he became the one adversary who did the unthinkable: he took the title from the Italian strongman. The story of the winter night in 1971 when Koloff shocked the entire Madison Square Garden crowd is stuff of legend. Remember the stunned silence when Brock Lesnar ended "The Streak?" By all accounts, this is the best modern day equation.
Interestingly enough, throughout my fandom I've always more associated Ivan with NWA wrestling. Aside from a brief early '80s WWF run, he really never appeared for that company again. His runs with Jim Crockett Promotions have much more stood the test of time. The fact that many more of those matches exist on tape obviously helps.
You can't help but want to refer to the man as "Uncle Ivan." I even did so in person more than once. Hey, when Nikita Koloff says something, you follow his example. Alternating between wrestler and manager, Ivan terrorized heroes like Dusty Rhodes, The Rock N Roll Express, and of course "Boogie Woogie Man" Jimmy Valiant. You believed his promos. You believed that he truly was a "Russian Bear."
When I met Koloff for the first time, I had the same reaction that most fans did. After so many years of hearing him speak with the Russian accent, for it to suddenly be gone was jarring. Once you got past that, you were stunned by another fact: Ivan was one of the nicest gentleman that you would ever meet. It was exactly like visiting with a kindly uncle who you grew up watching from a distance.
Seeing Ivan and wife Renae at conventions and shows was always a pleasure. To say that their presence will be missed is an understatement. I truly treasure each time that I was able to briefly speak with them.
"The Russian Bear" is now at rest with the Lord. He spoke of his faith so highly, that all I can imagine is that wonderful smile on his face. Just like all of his years in the ring, this should bring smiles to all of our faces, too.
Rest easy, comrade.