It has been a tradition in wrestling that some characters aren't really foreigners or Native Americans. For example, the late Chief Jay Strongbow was, for many years, played by a man of Italian background. The late Yokozuna (Rodney Anoai), billed as being from Japan early in his run with the then-World Wrestling Federation in the 90's, was actually Samoan, and came over from the AWA, where he had been billed as Kokina Maximus, and, yes, as a Samoan. Mr. Fuji, who passed away late last year, wasn't from Japan, either, but really from Hawaii, and perhaps as a nod to his true heritage, adopted the look of the state's most famous fictional detective, Charlie Chan, in the mid-80's.
That brings us to Ivan Koloff, who passed away yesterday at 74. Koloff was no more legitimately a Russian than his storyline nephew, Nikita, was. Nikita was actually as American as apple pie. Ivan, born Oreal Parris, was orignally from the Quebec province in Canada, but after an early stint as an Irish heel named Red McNulty, adopted the persona that would define his career. Koloff, managed by Captain Lou Albano, defeated Bruno Sammartino in 1971 at Madison Square Garden to win his only World title as a singles wrestler. It was, unfortunately, a short reign, as Koloff dropped the strap less than a month later to Pedro Morales.
Strangely, Koloff is not in the WWE Hall of Fame. That might be because he spent a larger chunk of his career in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), where many fans rediscovered him in the 80's when the Atlanta based superstation, (W)TBS, began beaming in the Northeast. Koloff won several tag team titles in the NWA with various partners, including Nikita and, before that, Don Kernodle.
In 1988, promoter Jim Crockett, Jr. experimented with the idea of Ivan Koloff as a babyface (good guy). Nikita had turned babyface two years earlier in an emergency when Magnum TA (Terry Allen) was sidelined by an auto accident that prematurely ended his career. Now, with manager Paul Jones having turned his back on Ivan Koloff, a "civil war" of a different kind is brewing. Footage from World Wide Wrestling, the NWA's long running syndicated program.
In 1995, Ivan Koloff renounced the partying lifestyle of the 70's & 80's, and became a born again Christian, just like Nikita. Oreal Parris became an ordained minister, a path that fellow heels Tully Blanchard & Ted DiBiase, Sr. would also walk at the end of their careers. However, Parris was also dealing with liver cancer, the result of all that partying and substance abuse. On Friday, God called him home. Maybe now WWE will consider adding Koloff to the Hall of Fame. Virtually all of the company's World champions from its early years, from Buddy Rogers to Edge, with the exception of current stars John Cena, Randy Orton, and Triple H, to name a few, are already in the Hall, and Triple H had done yeoman's work behind the scenes to get Sammartino enshrined a few years ago. The "Cerebral Assassin" is also a historian, so figure he'll get the ball rolling soon enough.
Rest in peace, Ivan.