Wrestler of the Day – November 10: Ivan Koloff

Today we’re looking at the most evil foreigner of all time: Ivan Koloff.

Ivan got his start in 1961 as an Irish wrestler named Red McNulty. Then the Canadian found out that he was really Russian and became the Russian Bear Ivan Koloff. Funny how that sort of thing works. Anyway, he became a regular challenger to Bruno Sammartino’s WWWF Title and changed the world on January 18, 1971 in MSG.

Bruno Sammartino vs. Ivan Koloff

The footage is very old and of low quality so the details might be sketchy here. Also the match itself ran about fifteen minutes but only eight minutes of footage exists. Koloff grabs a quick headlock to start but is backdropped down as the champion escapes. A slam and an armbar put Koloff down but he grabs a headscissors to escape a cover. Bruno gets monkey flipped down but takes over with an armbar.

We’re clipped to later in the match and another armbar by Bruno. Either that or the referee has developed the powers of teleportation. We’re clipped again only seconds later to Koloff holding Bruno in a bow and arrow hold. For the third time in about 30 seconds we’re clipped to Bruno trying to escape the hold but Ivan holds him in place. Again we’re clipped to Ivan cranking on the hold even more. Bruno finally escapes the hold and turns it into one of his own but Ivan makes the rope.

They circle each other a bit and we’re clipped to them circling each other again. Bruno grabs a headlock but gets shoved off and shoulder blocked down. Koloff grabs another headlock and we’re clipped to Bruno being shoulder blocked down again. Bruno hooks a drop toehold into a leg lock but we’re clipped to further in the same hold. The champion stomps on the leg but we’re clipped to Koloff choking away. We’re immediately clipped again to Koloff stomping on Bruno before sending him hard into the corner.

Ivan keeps punching and kicking away and we’re clipped to him doing more of the same. This is one of the most clipped matches I’ve ever seen but for footage over 42 years old, there’s not going to be a much better option available. Koloff pounds away even more and we’re clipped to Bruno making his comeback with right hands to the ribs and a kick to the same place. A slam by Sammartino gets two and we’re clipped to him holding Ivan in a chinlock. We’re clipped again to a cover by the champion but Koloff is too close to the ropes.

We’re clipped again to Bruno hammering away and getting two off a punch to the ribs. Another clip takes us to Ivan in a chinlock again and another clip takes us to later in the same hold. The hold gets two and we’re clipped to Ivan sweeping Bruno’s leg out. We’re clipped yet again to Ivan doing the same thing before we’re clipped to Ivan kicking Bruno in the chest.

A fourth clip in fifteen seconds sees the referee accidentally being knocked down by Koloff in the corner but he’s right back up. Ivan slams Bruno down in the corner and goes up top, dropping a knee in the stomach of the champion. He covers Bruno and history is made as we have a new world’s champion for the first time since 1963.

Rating: C. The rating is based on what we were able to see. While it’s certainly not as intricate or flashy as the matches we regularly see today, there was definitely an energy to the match and nothing looked terribly bad. The problem here of course is the ridiculous amount of clipping, but from what I understand we saw about half of the match here, which is more than I’ve ever seen before.

From 21 days later in the same building.

Ivan Koloff vs. Pedro Morales

Obviously the commentary (performed by WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross) was recorded later as this was on an official WWE DVD. Pedro is another of those ethnic heroes, this one of Puerto Rican descent. Koloff is absolutely loathed while Pedro is as over as free beer in a frat house. Pedro loads up his big left hand to start but Koloff backs away to the ropes. I believe there’s a clip there but it might have just been a camera angle switching. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Ivan doesn’t want to get into a fist fight with Pedro so he keeps locking up with him. They continue circling each other and we might have another clip to later circling. Pedro grabs a headlock and the fans lose their minds. Things speed up with Morales kicking Koloff off of him and taking the champion down with a headlock takeover. Koloff fights up after being held on the mat for a few moments. They stand up but Pedro keeps the hold on Ivan, causing the champion to grab Morales’ hair or trunks whenever he can.

Koloff finally escapes the hold and takes Pedro down with a kick to the ribs. The champion hooks on a chinlock and we’re clipped to later in the hold with the referee forcing a break due to thinking it was a choke. We’re clipped again to another chinlock by Koloff, this time with him using the strap from his singlet to choke Pedro. Morales fights up and hits some trademark left hands to the ribs. We’re clipped again to Ivan begging off in the corner and asking for a handshake.

Morales will have none of that but accepts a test of strength. The powerhouse Koloff takes him down but Pedro outsmarts him, hooking a monkey flip to send Koloff into the ropes. Another possible clip occurs and Pedro wants to throw fists. Instead he gets caught in a bearhug which is one of Koloff’s signature moves. After being in the hold well over a minute, Pedro comes out of it with a slam which only seems to make the champion angry.

Ivan pounds away on Morales with punches and forearms but they collide off a double shoulder block and both men are down. It’s the champion up first but he misses a running splash. Pedro still can’t follow up so Koloff slams him down and tries the top rope knee drop that won him the title. His challenger rolls away though and it’s Pedro going up top now, hitting a top rope cross body for two. Koloff whips Pedro into all four corners before trying what we would call a German suplex. All four shoulders are down but as the three count comes down, Pedro raises his right should, giving him the pin and the championship.

Rating: C+. This was a nice back and forth match with a huge ovation for the title change. The fans wanted to see someone take the title from Koloff and the fact that it was another of their heroes made it all the better. Pedro was already the United States Champion so he had a strong resume coming into the match. Again, the match wasn’t great by today’s standards but it did exactly what it was supposed to do.

Due to the time period we’ll have to skip ahead to December 15, 1975 in MSG.

Bruno Sammartino vs. Ivan Koloff

This is inside a steel cage and is called the first ever cage match in Madison Square Garden. You can only win by going out of the cage. Koloff attacks to start the match but Bruno fires off right hands to send Koloff into the cage. Bruno sends him chest first into the buckle and fires off some knees to the face to keep control. Vince calls Koloff the favorite to win the match for some reason. Bruno pounds away even more and sends Ivan face first into the cage wall again.

Bruno stomps away on the back of the head before sending him into the cage again. All Bruno so far. Ivan comes back with a kick to the stomach to take over and now Sammartino tastes the steel. The champion comes back with more right hands and sends Ivan into the cage yet again. Bruno fights back with right hands and pulls Koloff back in as he tries to escape. The ring is especially loud in this match. Ivan goes face first into the cage three times in a row and make it four.

Koloff gets a boot up in the corner to put Sammartino down before dropping the top rope knee onto the champion’s ribs. Ivan is bleeding from the forehead. Bruno pounds away and hits a knee to the chest to keep Ivan in trouble. They seem to mess up a spot before colliding in the ring. A knee to the ribs staggers Ivan and Bruno sends him into the cage once more. Koloff is rammed into the cage again and again before being sent hard into the corner.

Ivan is now between the cage and the ring as Bruno turns up the aggression even more. He sends Koloff head first into whatever metal object he can find before choking with his boot. The champion rakes his boot over Koloff’s eyes and sends him into the cage yet again. There are two more shots into the cage before Bruno climbs out of the cage to retain his title.

Rating: D+. This was a rather short cage match and it was a glorified squash at the same time. Koloff was soundly defeated here which was the entire point of the match. Still though, it wasn’t incredibly exciting as the majority of the match was Bruno ramming Ivan into the cage over and over again. That being said, the fans loved Bruno and that’s the point of the game.

One more shot at the title on August 28, 1978, again in MSG.

Bob Backlund vs. Ivan Koloff

Bob is defending and Ivan has Captain Lou Albano, an old heel manager with him. Backlund has only been champion about six months at this point. The name graphic leaves the A out of Backlund’s name. Backlund backdrops him to start as the crowd goes very silent for some reason. A headscissors puts Ivan down and Backlund holds on with a leg vice around Ivan’s head. They go to the mat and Backlund bridges up in a nice power display.

Ivan puts him on the top rope but gets kicked away. Off to another standoff and it’s test of strength time. Backlund goes down but comes back with a top wristlock, only to get caught in a headscissors. This goes on for a few minutes until Bob does a reverse nipup to escape. He dropkicks Ivan down and hooks a headscissors of his own as this is getting repetitive. Then again this is the way a lot of these matches went back then so this would be considered a big deal back then.

Backlund takes him back down again but gets caught in headscissors #4 of the match so far. Backlund finally gets out of that one as well and works on the knee a bit. Somehow we’re over fifteen minutes into this despite almost nothing happening other than headscissors so far. Bob stays on the leg and hooks a hold on for a few minutes. That’s another sign of the times: holds stay on FOREVER. I mean this one has been on for nearly four minutes at this point.

It finally gets broken up and Ivan suplexes him down for two. The idea of selling an injury must not have been invented yet. Or maybe it just doesn’t translate into Russian. Ivan hooks a short arm scissors but Bob shows off his surprising strength by lifting Ivan up into the air and over his head, slamming him down onto the mat back first to break the hold.

Bob puts him on the top rope to counter and hooks something like a spinning toehold. Thankfully this one lasts less than the usual two hours with Ivan kicking him in the ribs. Ivan sends him into the ropes but they ram heads, sending Bob to the floor. Koloff is smart and breaks up the count so he can still win the title. Backlund gets rammed into the post and a backbreaker gets two.

Ivan goes up top for the biggest pop from the crowd(and possibly the only one so far) of the match but his top rope knee drop misses. Backlund sends him in but gets kicked down again, this time back to the floor again. Koloff breaks up the count again, this time by going up top and jumping down onto the apron, kicking Bob in the head on the way down. That would be considered a big spot back then.

Backlund is busted open and we have to have the doctor look at it. That doesn’t work so the fight continues. Backlund goes off as he is known to do and Ivan is in trouble. A backdrop puts the challenger down…and the match is stopped because of the cut. Trash fills the ring and I can’t quite say I blame them for that.

Rating: C-. The ending was stupid but it had more to do with the athletic commission rather than the booking or anything. That being said, it made no sense to say Backlund can’t continue when he was beating the tar out of Koloff but whatever. Also, this match was fairly boring as I was looking for things to talk about during those rest holds which went on forever. I know it’s a different era, but that doesn’t make it any less dull.

We’ll jump ahead to his run in the NWA, starting at Starrcade 1984.

Keith Larson/Ole Anderson vs. Nikita Koloff/Ivan Koloff

Larson and Anderson have Don Kernoodle with them for no apparent reason. Ok so apparently Kernoodle is Larson’s brother (despite having different names) and the Russians injured him. Makes as much sense as anything else. The Americans jump the Russians to start and the beating is on fast. We finally start with Ivan vs. Keith and the Russian’s arm being worked over.

Off to Ole to crank on the arm like an Anderson can. Both good guys stay on the arm and there’s the hammerlock slam from Ole. Off to an armbar as it’s clear we’re in for a long one tonight. Back to Keith again for a wristlock as this match keeps going. At least it doesn’t have headlocks though. The good guys make probably their eighth switch as Larson comes in to crank on the arm. Ivan finally gets some separation and goes up, only to be slammed off the top for two.

Anderson and Larson stay on the arm before Ivan FINALLY drags Anderson over to the corner for a tag off to the monster Nikita. He pounds Anderson down and puts him in a bearhug as momentum has completely swung the other direction. As is the custom tonight, the hold stays on for several minutes before Ole smacks Nikita in the head to escape. Back to Ivan who gets two off a slam.

Back to Nikita to break up a hot tag and puts on another bearhug. Anderson finally punches out of it and makes the hot tag off to Larson. Keith speeds things up but gets run over by a Russian Sickle (hooking clothesline). Everything breaks down and Kernoodle is knocked down. As Ole and Nikita fight on the floor, Ivan pins Larson off a chain shot to the head.

Rating: D+. The frustrations continue here as the heels win AGAIN. Not only does Kernoodle not get his revenge, but we have to sit through fifteen minutes of arm work to get there. It is indeed a story, but it’s a dull story. Somehow this is probably the best worked match of the night though which says a lot.

From the next year’s Starrcade against some better opponents.

World Tag Titles: Rock N Roll Express vs. Ivan Koloff/Nikita Koloff

The Rock N Roll Express are two pretty boys named Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson who could fly around a ring as well as any pair of guys you’re ever going to be lucky enough to see. They’re also challenging here and this is in a cage. I believe you win by pin or submission only. Ricky and Nikita start things off and the fans are already chanting USA. Ricky, a far smaller man, is shoved down by the more powerful Nikita. Morton fires off a quick dropkick and we’re at a standoff.

Nikita pounds Morton down and kicks him in the ribs before bring in Ivan. Ricky starts speeding things up by flying around and hitting a quick cross body. Ivan crotches him on the top rope and it’s time for Morton to play Ricky Morton. For those of you unfamiliar, Morton was so good at being beaten down and making a comeback that the beatdown leading to the hot tag is called Playing Ricky Morton.

Actually scratch that as Robert comes in for a quick rollup and a double chop to the head gets two on Ivan. Robert sends him head first into the cage and Morton does the same. The Express starts doing their double teaming jazz as is their custom. It’s off to Nikita though and there’s the bearhug on Robert. Nikita rams him into the cage back first and does the same with Robert’s head for good measure.

Back to Ivan who is busted open as well. Robert is sent into the cage yet again and an elbow drop gets two for Ivan. Off to Nikita for some biting to the head before Ivan comes in for some slow power offense. Robert rolls away from a legdrop but Nikita comes in for a chinlock. Gibson is busted open as well, which seems to be a requirement tonight.

A kick to the back keeps Gibson down and Ivan gets two. Back to Nikita for some more choking but Ricky makes the save. Don Kernoodle, the Express’ second, starts a USA chant as the referee is knocked down. He can’t make the count on Robert but as he gets back up, Ricky makes a blind tag and rolls up Ivan for the pin and the titles out of nowhere.

Rating: B. Good old fashioned tag match here with the Express getting destroyed until the very end where they won on a pure fluke. The fans were WAY into the Express at this point and Morton would even get a program with Ric Flair. The Russians were a great old school tag team idea with both guys looking like monsters and acting like it as well. Also this was nice to see a change in the usual Express formula with Gibson getting beaten down instead of Morton.

Here’s a match from February 2, 1986 on a special called Superstars on the Superstation.

Road Warriors vs. Ivan Koloff/Nikita Koloff

The third Russian is Krusher Khrushchev, more famous as Smash from Demolition/Repo Man. Animal starts with Nikita and it’s the Russian diving off the middle rope, only to be caught in a bearhug. That’s scary power. Animal misses a legdrop but pops back up for a staredown. Off to Hawk for some tieups that go nowhere. All four guys are major powerhouses here so don’t expect much besides brawling.

Ivan comes in and avoids a charge but jumps into a punch to the ribs. A shoulder breaker and big boot drop Ivan before it’s back to Animal for a gorilla press. Animal drops an elbow for two as Baron Von Raschke is at ringside and apparently is a replacement for an injured Krusher. Back to Hawk who gets caught in the Russian corner for some evil Commie double teaming. Hawk comes back with a running clothesline and everything breaks down, including Baron coming in to lay out Hawk but it only gets two. Nikita trips Hawk up and Baron comes in for the DQ.

Rating: D+. The styles didn’t mix here but the fans were WAY into this feud as it was tugging at the heart strings of America which is a tried and true way to fire up the fans. Baron was far past his prime here but at least he was another foreigner that could play Krusher’s role very easily. Not a good match but the fans liked it which is what matters.

From Starrcade 1986 with Ivan trying to prove Soviet superiority.

US Tag Titles: Krusher Khrushchev/Ivan Koloff vs. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks are Bobby Jaggers and Dutch Mantell, the latter of which would eventually join the WWE under a variety of names, including Zeb Colter. This is a rematch of a tournament final where the Russians won the belts and there are no disqualifications. Dutch and Ivan start things off but it’s quickly off to Jaggers to pound away on the older Russian. Ivan actually busts out a rollup for two but it’s quickly back to Dutch to work on the arm.

Krusher gets a tag in and it’s time for some stalling. Mantell pounds away on the forehead and the Jayhawks choke away in the corner before it’s off to Jaggers again. That goes nowhere so here’s Dutch again, but those sneaky Russians trick him into some double teaming. The power of AMERICA saves him from the Russians though and Dutch fights both guys off with relative ease. Ivan sends Dutch to the floor though and into the barricade to shift control.

Off to Krusher for some double teaming, but Dutch fights back with a double clothesline and there’s the hot tag to Jaggers. Some AMERICAN right hands have the Russians in trouble and a clothesline gets two on Ivan. Everything breaks down but there’s nothing the referee can do because it’s no disqualification. Ivan goes up top but gets hit by Dutch’s whip to bring him down. Krusher is sent to the floor but sneaks back up onto the apron to hit Jaggers in the back of the head with the chain, allowing Ivan to get the easy pin to retain the titles.

Rating: C. Another basic tag match here but it was at a slightly faster pace, making it a more entertaining match for the most part. The Russians continue to be a perfectly fine midcard heel act as the Cold War was still going on at this point. The Jayhawks never did much of anything as a team and would fade into obscurity pretty soon after the start of the new year.

In a violent match at the first Clash of the Champions.

Road Warriors/Dusty Rhodes vs. Powers of Pain/Ivan Koloff

Koloff and the Powers of Pain are the Six Man Tag Team Champions but the titles aren’t on the line here. This is a barbed wire street fight. Animal (teaming with his regular partner Hawk and Dusty) had his face injured by the Powers (Warlord and Barbarian) and Koloff while doing a weightlifting demonstration so tonight is about revenge. The barbed wire is around the ropes and while it’s not the at the level you might expect today, this was a BIG deal back in 1988.

The heels finally crawl under the ropes but Animal chases Warlord out to the floor to send him into the post. Most of the guys stay clear of the barbed wire and fight in the middle of the ring. Ivan and Dusty send each other into the wire and draw blood but Dusty comes back with right hands to Warlord and a big DDT to Barbarian. Hawk comes off the top with a right hand that mostly misses Warlord before Dusty kicks Barbarian to the floor. Animal powerslams Warlord and Barbarian’s top rope headbutt hits his partner by mistake, giving Animal the pin and revenge.

Rating: D+. The match wasn’t much to see but the barbed wire was a nice touch, even though it wasn’t used all that much. It probably is better that they kept this match short and energetic as none of the six guys were known for their stamina. The Powers of Pain would jump to the WWF less than two months later so this was the blowoff to the feud.

Time for a “specialty” match at Clash III.

Ricky Morton vs. Ivan Koloff

This is a Russian chain match, meaning they’re attached at the wrist and you win by touching all four corners in a row. If your momentum is stopped, you lose any buckles you’ve touched. Koloff pounds away to start and chokes with the chain but can only get to two corners before Morton makes the save. Ivan throws him outside but gets pulled into the ropes to put him down. A punch with chain around the hand has Ivan in more trouble and Ricky goes after the Russian’s knee.

Morton whips Ivan with the chain instead of going for the buckles but Ivan easily stops him anyway. A middle rope ax handle puts Ricky down again, though he’s able to pull Ivan from the top rope. Ricky can’t pull the big Russian and Ivan whips him with the chain to take over. Koloff gets three straight but Morton makes another save to break the momentum. Ivan goes up so Morton pulls him down again, only to have them collide and put both guys down. It’s Ricky up first and getting three buckles but Ivan’s manager Paul Jones helps him make the save. Morton keeps pulling though and gets the fourth buckle for the surprise win.

Rating: D+. This was all about the angle but the fans were WAY into Morton to help carry things. Ivan was old and banged up at this point and it made for a boring match. The gimmick didn’t help either as it made the match even slower. Morton doing his usual great selling before making a comeback and winning with a sunset flip would have worked just fine here.

Ivan had to deal with Paul Jones’ Army, including this match at Clash IV.

Ivan Koloff vs. Paul Jones

Jones is a manager but also a former United States Champion. Koloff has his arm tied behind his back to make this a little bit more fair. Ivan grabs Jones by the throat and Paul bails to the floor. Back in and Jones sticks and moves which just angers Koloff even more. They circle each other for a few minutes as there has been almost no contact here. Koloff finally gets him into the corner and rams him into all four turnbuckles, sending Jones to his knees to beg for mercy.

More choking ensues with Ivan using his hands and Jones using the rope around Koloff’s shoulder. They head outside with Koloff being sent into the post a few times to give Paul his first real advantage. Ivan comes back with a few right hands and Jones bails to the floor to pull out a foreign object. He knocks Koloff down with a few shots but drops the object, allowing Ivan to take it away and knock Jones out (from his knees) for the pin.

Rating: D-. While the second match was too long, this one was too boring. It’s definitely there for the storytelling more than the wrestling, but that doesn’t make it interesting. The match runs a little over eight minutes and is all choking, punching, and then the good guy cheating to win the match. The whole feud never worked as Jones wasn’t the most interesting of a manager. This would have been better had it been Koloff against one of the Russian Assassins in a regular match.

Ivan turned face with Nikita Koloff as his partner but when Nikita left, this is what they came up with. From Starrcade 1988.

Russian Assassins vs. Junkyard Dog/Ivan Koloff

This is a thrown together tag match and if the Russians lose, they have to unmask. The Dog is recently here from the WWF where he wasn’t a huge deal but he was a big deal in the UWF. Dog starts with we’ll say Assassin #1 and the masked man is sent into the corner for a quick two count. Off to #2 who is almost immediately knocked to the floor with a big right hand. Paul Jones, now a Russian sympathizer, pulls #2’s leg onto the ropes for the break.

Off to Ivan with a hard clothesline and he chokes #2 down to the mat with ease. #2 charges into a boot in the corner and there’s a middle rope clothesline from Ivan for two. JYD and Ivan hit a double clothesline on #2 but #2 comes back with a headbutt of his own to put Dog down. Everything breaks down for a bit until Dog gets a near fall on #1 off a clothesline. The Assassins double team JYD but #2 misses a splash in the corner. Ivan comes in to clean house as everything breaks down again. In the confusion, the Russians load up a foreign object in their masks and a headbutt ends Ivan.

Rating: D. This wasn’t any good. I have no idea why Ivan and the Dog teamed up for this match and I didn’t even know the Assassins were a team anymore at this point. This came off like a long filler match which isn’t something you should have to use on a card with just seven matches.

One more match from right before Ivan retired. From Slamboree 1993.

Thunderbolt Patterson/Brad Armstrong vs. Baron Von Rashcke/Ivan Koloff

It was supposed to be Bob Armstrong but he’s hurt so it’s his son instead. He’s in street clothes but whatever. Total brawl to start as Armstrong is about 25 years younger than everyone else in the match. Raschke gets sent to the floor and the young guy’s team rule the ring. Let the stalling begin! The Baron runs from Patterson a lot and we get a very basic match which doesn’t look to last that long.

Koloff vs. Armstrong now as we talk about Sammartino losing the WWF Title to Koloff. Naturally that name isn’t used but you get the idea. There’s the Claw to Armstrong but Patterson breaks it up. Patterson gets a hot tag and beats up the bald bad guys a bit. What I think was supposed to be a double chop to the Barron ends this.

Rating: D+. Yeah this was pretty worthless. Patterson looked like he was about 95 years old and was probably the second best looking guy in the match. Bob helped a bit but with only four and a half minutes to work with, how much can you really complain here? Not much of a match but it wasn’t supposed to be anything that good.

Koloff is a guy famous for one thing but talented enough to do far more. He had another solid run as part of the Russian trio in the 80s which fit perfectly with the times. There’s something about a big strong foreigner that is always going to work and that’s exactly what Ivan did over the years.

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