Ivan Koloff built part of his wrestling career on the
rivalry between America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.).
In the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, the Soviet Union was the
enemy of America. Cold war tensions kept folks on the edge of their seats,
fearful of a nuclear barrage or an invasion.
Koloff donned outfits with the Soviet insignia and taunted
Americans as soft, weak and spineless.
He was known as “The Russian Bear,” but he grew up farming
in Ontario, Canada.
In the Carolina’s, he is best known as the mentor and uncle
of Nikita Koloff. Ivan used his shaved head to promote himself among the
wrestling industry. He won many titles including the World Wide Wrestling
Federation’s title in 1971 in a match against Bruno Sammartino in Madison
Square Garden. Sammartino held the title more than seven years, which is the
longest continuous title reign in men’s wrestling history, according to
After years of traveling more than 300 days a year, Koloff
found himself empty and discouraged and dependent on drugs, alcohol, and
tobacco to get through every day. He remained close with Nikita, also not a
Russian but a former football player from Minnesota.
“One afternoon Nikita called me and invited me to a service
at his church. He said ‘Uncle
Ivan, I found Jesus!’ I told him I know all about Jesus, having been raised in
a religious home. But Nikita insisted his encounter with Jesus was personal,
real, and life-changing.”
Ivan drove down to Nikita’s church that evening. As the
minister preached, Ivan found himself under great conviction. Before the
invitation was even given, Ivan was walking the aisle, surrendering his heart
and life to Christ.
“I was filled with great warmth and peace,” Ivan said. “My
life would never be the same.”
Ivan, who lives near Greenville, now travels to share his
conversion experience and to encourage Christians to surrender everything to
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Baker is pastor at Green Hill Baptist
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