By Mike Mooneyham
June 10, 2007
First in a series
Ivan Koloff has come a long way during his 45 years in the wrestling business.
The once-hated “evil Russian” who evoked rabid emotions among mat fans throughout the world is now spreading a much kinder, gentler message.
It’s all in his new autobiography, “Is That Wrestling Fake? The Bear Facts,” co-written with Scott Teal.
Koloff is candid and sometimes graphic in describing his journey from a hardscrabble upbringing in Canada to becoming one of the most celebrated bad guys in wrestling history. It’s a journey that almost killed him, he admits, but he credits an amazing spiritual awakening with bringing him to where he is today.
And, at 64 years of age, that means a solid home life in Winterville, N.C., with wife Renae. No more wrestling bad guy. Unless, that is, he gets a gig to make a few scowling faces on an independent show, shake his steel Russian chain and mug for an audience that still fondly remembers him all these years later.
Koloff, who became a born-again Christian in 1996, is active in various charities such as the Children’s Miracle Network, often appearing at local Wal-Marts to sign autographs and pose for pictures, and is even an ordained minister who travels to churches and prisons to share his testimony and spread the gospel message.
Koloff, born Oreal Perras, thought writing a book might touch others’ lives.
“I wanted to let everyone know what the Lord has done to me and how he delivered me from drugs and alcohol. He gave me the strength to overcome that when I turned my life over to him. I just feel like they’re so many people today suffering from addictions of all sorts to go along with the challenges of life. If I can change, they can change.”
So just how does a laid-back kid from Canada became one of the most villainous Soviet menaces this side of Moscow?
“That’s just it,” says Koloff. “It’s a long story.”
Irish Red To The Russian Bear
The story begins when Koloff gets the wrestling bug while growing up on a number of dairy farms in Ottawa. Conditions were hard back then, but Koloff, the middle child of a family of seven boys and three girls, accepted his station in life simply as the way things were.
Running water and electricity were conveniences found in their barn instead of their home. Koloff would split wood, and carry water to the house for drinking and washing. The family didn’t have a car and went to church in a horse-and-buggy during the summer months and took a sleigh in the winter.
“I guess I can say today I was probably raised the same way a lot of Russian kids were raised,” says Koloff, foretelling the irony that would later mark his career.
Koloff had dreams of becoming a professional wrestler. He eventually followed that dream by traveling to Hamilton, Ontario, to train under former British Empire champion Jack Wentworth while working full-time at a steel company.
“I was such a big mark and fan myself of wrestling. I was kind of a shy guy and just in awe of the business. When I found out wrestling was a work, I was so disappointed,” he says.
But after being in the business just a few months, he adds, he was glad it was a work. “I definitely wouldn’t have had as long a career.”
Koloff’s trainer suggested that the curly, red-haired youngster wrestle as a one-eyed Irish rogue named Red McNulty.
“That Irishman did all right, but he ended up dying on the snowbank in Calgary,” jokes Koloff, who went through Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion en route to Johnny Rougeau’s Montreal-based outfit. It was Rougeau who gave him the name Ivan Koloff, and the rest is history.
Koloff’s new book, which is 230 pages and contains more than 200 photos, including many from his personal collection, is available through Scott Teal’s Crowbar Press Web site at www.crowbarpress.com.
– The United Wrestling Federation, owned by NASCAR driver Hermie Sadler, will return to the area with a live event July 19 at Rick Hendrick Jeep Chrysler. The show will include a pre-show meet and greet as well. A double-elimination tag-team tournament will be featured and will include Rick and Scott Steiner, Konnan and LAX (The Latin American Exchange), The Naturals, Too Cool (Scotty Too Hotty and Grand Master Sexay), Diamonds in the Rough, Team Macktion, Jay Lethal and Petey Williams, AJ Styles and Joey Mercury, and more. Former WWE women’s champ Amy “Lita” Dumas will appear at The Plex with her band, The Luchagors, at a post party following the event. Ticket holders to the UWF event will get free access to the party. Tickets go on sale June 16 online at www.uwfusa.com and locally at Rick Hendrick Jeep Chrysler and The Plex. Tickets start at $10. For more information, visit www.uwfusa.com … Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has split with his wife of 10 years. The 35-year-old pro wrestler-turned-action star announced his separation from wife Dany Garcia Johnson in a recent statement to People magazine. Garcia Johnson is the CEO of a wealth management firm. The pair have a 5-year-old daughter … Scott Steiner is recovering from trachea surgery in an intensive care unit in San Juan, Puerto Rico.. Steiner, who is listed in stable condition, was injured in a match last Sunday night.