Ivan Koloff, the former WWE wrestler known as “The Russian Bear,” died on Saturday after battling liver cancer. He was 74.
“WWE is saddened to learn that Ivan Koloff, best known to the WWE Universe as one of Bruno Sammartino’s most bitter rivals, has passed away at age 74,” the company said in a statement. “WWE extends its condolences to Ivan Koloff’s family, friends and fans.”
WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair also shared the news on Twitter, with a tribute to Koloff. He wrote, “I’m Sad To Wake Up And Hear of the passing of my very close friend the Russian Bear Ivan Koloff. You will be missed My Friend. Rest In Peace”
Koloff’s death comes just one day after the death of fellow WWE star George “The Animal” Steele, who died on Friday due to kidney failure.
Koloff was born Oreal Perras in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He began wrestling professionally in the 1960’s as an Irish villain named Red McNulty. After a few years, he began wrestling as Ivan Koloff and was billed as being from Ukraine.
Perhaps most famously, Koloff defeated long-time WWWF champion Bruno Sammartino in 1971 after Sammartino had held the belt for over seven years. He lost it to Pedro Morales shortly thereafter.
Koloff would go on to wrestle successfully in various territories over the next decade. He also found great success when he teamed with his storyline nephew Nikita Koloff as the villainous tag team, The Russians, in the mid-1980s when tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union were high.