: Ivan, thank you for spending some time
with the Mid-Atlantic Gateway this evening. You
were a superstar with
Crockett Promotions not just one time, but during
three separate stints in the Mid-Atlantic area.
It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity to
talk to you about your outstanding wrestling
Koloff: I appreciate the kind words. I’m
glad to be here,
. I enjoyed reading your interview with Abe
(Jacobs) a few weeks ago.
Thanks…Abe is such a great guy. Just a true
I met Abe Jacobs in Australia way back in
1970. So…we got to wrestle each other over
there. Abe was very, very good.
No question about it! Well, Ivan, while fans
remember you as the ‘Russian Bear,’ you
actually are from Canada. Tell us about your start
in the wrestling business.
I originally came out of Jack Wentworth’s
wrestling school in Hamilton, Ontario.
This was in the early 1960s, I believe?
Like many of your colleagues, I’m sure you
have some stories about when you got going in the
(laughing) Oh yes! When I was at the wrestling
school when I first started, I got so excited with
the very first match that I was involved in. At
the wrestling school, on Thursday nights they
would put on a show with the students…maybe a
couple hundred people would show up. And a couple
of the professionals would be there too.
got so involved with the bad guys beating up the
good guys type of thing…that I jumped up and hit
a guy by the name of Sailor Clark in the stomach
and knocked him through the ropes…
And when Sailor Clark’s partner came around,
I did what I saw on TV---I picked up a chair and
hit him over the head with it! (everybody laughs)
was a big guy when I started…I was about 240
pounds and I was bench-pressing about 350 pounds.
In six months I had progressed fast…so I picked
this guy up and put him up against the wall and
started hitting him. I wanted to get a name in the
business, and figured that was the way to do it!
But pretty quickly they ushered me out of there!
Ivan, your career started with a
When was your famous wrestling persona, Ivan
Ivan Koloff was born when I was up in
Montreal, later in the 60s. That was where he
became really known…famous, you might say, with
people up there really loved the Rougeaus. Johnny
Rougeau…and Jacques Rougeau, his brother—they
were the champs up there for a long while. I ended
up tagging up with Hans Schmidt against those
I bet you took some big heat against the
Rougeaus…particularly with your Russian gimmick.
I had people take nails and bend them, and
shoot them at me with elastic bands…and they’d
jab into my forehead. I had knives thrown at
me…and chairs! One incident I remember when Hans
Schmidt and I were tagged up against [the Rougeaus],
the fans filled the ring up with chairs…it was a
Being a Russian in those days was no piece of
cake, I’m sure! (laughs)
A lot of run-ins with fans, that’s for sure!
When did you pick up the moniker, the
That really started when I was up in New York
[with the WWWF], I believe. I think it was
1968-69…I was up there against Bruno
(Sammartino). I was up there a whole year against
him then, but never won the title.
But of course you later came back and defeated
Bruno for the title up there in early 1971.
Yes, that’s right. But the ‘Russian
Bear’ thing really started in that earlier stint
in New York.
had me doing a thing then that originated in
Montreal, when I first started. I used to run from
the dressing room out to the ring, and then run
round and round outside the ring about four or
five times. They’d announce my opponent, and
then I’d jump up in the ring and attack him and
beat him up. I’d put him in the inverted
backbreaker or the bear hug, and defeat him. Then
I’d jump out of the ring, and run around the
ring again…and back to the dressing room.
this stage, I was 280-90 pounds…which was a lot
of weight for me to carry. They dubbed me the
‘Russian Bear,’ because I looked like a bear
running around out there!
In the early 70s, you had that short and
really stocky build…you probably would have
matched up pretty favorably with a bear! And come
to think of it, Bruno sort of had that same build
Well, for a little guy I was a big man…in
the sense that I wasn’t very tall. I was only
about five foot nine or ten…but I was carrying
300 pounds and doing the weights and everything.
Back then, guys weren’t into steroids like they
were years after that. You know, the way I looked,
I think I just stood out.
against Bruno…we sort of complimented each
other. He was maybe an inch or so taller than me,
but we were both stocky and also complimented each
other in terms of style.
Chappell interviews Ivan Koloff in Lenoir, NC
After you lost the WWWF Title to Pedro
Morales, I guess your next memorable run was in
the AWA, where you were a top contender to Verne
Gagne’s version of the World Heavyweight Title.
Yes, I was up there for Verne Gagne during
1972-73. And I ended up meeting George Scott while
I was in Minneapolis. George came up there…to
scout out the talent, I guess. (laughs)
George Scott had just gotten the book for the
Mid-Atlantic territory, and right before you came
Crockett Promotions during the early months of
1974, George had already brought in (Super
Jardine and Johnny Valentine to the area.
Yes, George had become the booker, and he
wasn’t only looking at the young talent in the
AWA…but others that were already established
that he could bring in and start for Crockett
right away. And indeed, over the next year or so,
he took a lot of guys out of the AWA!
And, of course, you were one of those guys!
Yeah, I ended up setting it up with him to
come into Charlotte in ’74, which was the year
after he’d been in the AWA scouting.
(McDaniel) ended up following me into the
Carolinas a couple of months later in 1974. And
then several of the other AWA guys also came in
later….Blackjack Mulligan, Superstar Billy
Graham and Dusty Rhodes all came in for George for
shots later in 1975.
When you first started for Crockett in ’74,
who were you teaming with?
You mentioned them earlier…
Jardine and Johnny Valentine. Those guys were
Jardine passed on the first Russian Chain to me!
did a Chain Match, and ended up saying that he
didn’t have any use for the chain any more…so
he gave me the chain!
Yes, he did a special match involving a chain
and he had the chain made for that. He told me
that’s what I should use…you know, the
Russians in Siberia with the camps and the prisons
up there with the chain gangs. He said it would be
an ideal match for me to specialize in.
Jardine not only physically gave you your first
Russian Chain---he actually created the ‘Russian
Chain Match’ gimmick for you?
That’s right! (laughs)
That’s unbelievable…I had no idea!
happened when you and Jardine were together in the
Mid-Atlantic area in 1974?
Yeah, that’s when the Russian Chain Match
was born---as far as me using it! (laughs)
I had always thought that your using that
gimmick predated your earliest days with
Crockett Promotions. And to now find out the Super
Destroyer was behind it all!
By the way, Ivan, you never lost a Russian
Chain Match, right? (laughs)
(laughing) Oh, yes I did…probably more than
I’d like to say!
I thought you’d always say on interviews
that you NEVER lost a Russian Chain Match?
Yeah…we’d go around and spread the rumor
that I was undefeated in those matches---and then
nobody asked for a long time! (laughs)
Nikita (Koloff) came along…and of course, we
then claimed HE was undefeated in the Russian
Chain Match! And you know, I’m not sure that he
did ever lose one…even against his Uncle Ivan!
What were your overall impressions of the
Mid-Atlantic area when you first came in during
The Crockett area…I really enjoyed wrestling
in that area because of the super talent that was
there when I arrived. I got to meet guys like Rip
Hawk, Swede Hanson and Johnny Weaver.
1974 was a fascinating year…a transitional
year for the territory. Older tag team guys like
Hawk, Hanson and Weaver were being slowly phased
out, while newer singles wrestlers like you,
Valentine, Jardine and Wahoo were really getting
It really was a great year. And,
, (Ric) Flair was in around that time, too! I was
only in a few months before he came in.
Yes! Of all those AWA guys we talked about a
minute ago…how could we forget Ric Flair?
I had made friends with Flair when we were in
the AWA. I celebrated one of his early birthdays
at Boone’s Farm, up there in Minnesota on one of
our Iowa trips. I remember having a headache for
about three days after that! (everybody laughs)
What are some of your other memories of the
very early Ric Flair?
Ric was…exceptional. Matter of fact, in the
AWA there were about a dozen guys in Verne
Gagne’s camp at that time---Flair stood out
among them all.
Ric would always make himself available…he
would volunteer to get in there every time. He
would take the most impressive bumps that I ever
saw, for a big guy. He was about a 300 pounder
So, even before Flair came to the Mid-Atlantic
area, you saw something special in him?
Yeah, definitely. Matter of fact, George Scott
asked me what I thought of him, and I told George
that the kid definitely had it.
then when Ric came into the Carolinas, I tried to
help him as much as I could, you know.
Did you consciously try to help out the guys
just starting out in the business, like the real
young Ric Flair?
I was one that had always gotten a lot of help
in my early career, and I guess I figured that was
what we were all supposed to do as we moved on in
the business. As you got more experience, it
became a veteran type thing where you’re
supposed to help the young guys.
would try and give as much advice as I could to
help them. As long as they caught me during those
days when I wasn’t partying and drinking too
How did you specifically help Ric Flair when
he first came into the Mid-Atlantic area?
Ric had a thirst for the idea of becoming
really successful, right from the start.
Ric first came to town in Charlotte, we got
together right away. He was overweight at the
time. But he was strong…as far as lifting
weights and everything. But he knew he had to lose
Did you help Ric drop some of that weight?
He got me to run with him! And I wasn’t a
runner back then. I had done some running, mainly
because of the thing I talked about in Montreal
and New York.
would get together at his place, and go jogging
around the block. He was getting ME in shape!