I’ve been sick for the past four days with a nasty inner ear infection which affected my ability to stand, and even to sit for extended periods of time. It kept me home from work on Thursday and Friday. Let me tell you that I was one sick puppy dog and, to be candid; I’m not sure that I’m quite over it yet. Little did I know that the illness would not be the worst the weekend had to offer.
On Saturday, my beloved Deborah and I were at a “God’s Plan for Marriage” class; it’s part of the requirements to get married in a Roman Catholic church in the Diocese of Phoenix. The class was going well and I think we were both learning from it. During a break, I decided to check my phone. Upon logging into Facebook, I was met with the news that my friend, “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff had passed away. I could feel my heart break as I read those words.
Ivan was a legend in the professional wrestling business, but, more importantly, he was a wonderful man and a champion for Christ! I have many fond memories of Ivan, both in the ring and outside of it. One of my favorites was the trick he and I played on my mother 20 some years ago. Momma was a wrestling fan and she couldn’t stand Ivan. She would look at him and say something like, “That mean ol’ Russian fights dirty.”
One day, I was talking with Ivan on the phone and I asked him if I could bring Momma on a three-way call and have him talk to her. He happily agreed. I dialed Momma’s number and Ivan slipped into his Russian growl. When She answered the phone, Ivan started in, “Is this Mrs. Joyce Hicks?” It was all I could do not to laugh and mess it up.
“Yes, it is,” Momma replied, “who’s this?”
“This is the ‘Russian Bear’ Ivan Koloff and I understand that you do not like me very much.”
Momma obviously recognized the voice and started to stammer a little bit. That’s when I came on the phone and Ivan dropped the growl. For the next little while, Momma got to know the genuinely nice man behind the gravel-voiced growl. Her opinion of Ivan was forever changed that day.
I learned a lot about wrestling, about God, and about life from those conversations with Ivan. He was even nice enough to let me build his first official website all those years ago. I’m going to miss him.
Coming just one day after the passing of George “The Animal” Steele, a wrestler that I was a fan of, but didn’t know too well, it’s easy to see why this has been a hard weekend for old school wrestling and the fans who love it.
It’s just another reminder that “life is but a vapor which appears for a time and then vanishes away.”
Rest in peace, “Bear” and “Animal.” You’ll be missed.