WINTERVILLE, N.C. — Ivan Koloff, a professional wrestler known as “The Russian Bear”, died Saturday in North Carolina after suffering from liver cancer. He was 74.
Koloff, born Oreal James Perras, once held the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship and was active in the wrestling community for more than three decades.
In the early 1970s, Koloff was a primary rival to then-champion Bruno Sammartino. Koloff defeated Sammartino in 1971 in Madison Square Garden for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship.
“This act on Jan. 18, 1971, allowed ‘The Russian Bear’ to cover the WWE Hall of Famer and score an astonishing three-count to become WWE Champion, ending the Italian powerhouse’s record-setting seven-year title reign,” according to WWE.
Multiple wrestling legends offered their condolences to Koloff on social media, including Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Honky Tonk Man and Brutus Beefcake.
“We have been close friends since the day I started in the business in 1972,” Flair wrote on Facebook, along with posting a photo of the two. “I learned so much from one of the greatest workers in the history of this business. You will be missed my friend.”
RIP Ivan Koloff,it's been a tough week,Chavo,Nicole Bass,George Steel,Ivan and Marty Prince,I would feel helpless if not for my faith1loveHH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) February 18, 2017
— Miracle (@RealMikeBennett) February 18, 2017
Rest in Peace Ivan Koloff. Thank you for your part in making me love professional wrestling.
— Christopher Daniels (@facdaniels) February 18, 2017
Ivan Koloff, RIP Brother
— Brutus Beefcake (@brutusbeefcake_) February 18, 2017