Remembering George "The Animal" Steele & Ivan Koloff
February 19, 2017
We lost a couple of good ones this week as George "The Animal" Steele passed away on Friday, and "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff passed away on Saturday. I'll start off with Steele. He was by all accounts a bright and kind man. He was a teacher years ago and actually started to wrestle to supplement his income. As we all know, Steele would go on to wrestle full-time.
I was reminded today when I watched a Steele -vs- Hulk Hogan that he barely had to do anything to get a crowd reaction, whether he was a heel or babyface. The crowds just ate out of the palm of his hand. During the big boom period in the mid-80's, his persona fit right in with the other bigger than life cartoon characters in that era. He was involved in one of biggest feuds in 1986-1987 when feuding with Randy "Macho Man" Savage, and his obession with Miss Elizabeth. Steele ended up playing the role of cornerman for Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat at WrestleMania III, en route to Steamboat winning the Intercontinental title from Savage.
Based on what I've read, the Steele/Savage feud was only to last a couple of months, but it ended up leading well into 1987. The only time I saw Steele wrestle in person was his last match against Savage at a Saturday Night's Main Event taping in South Bend. It was a lumberjack match and that crowd was hot! They popped for everything! I dare say the crowd reaction for that match was only second to Hulk Hogan's entrance for the non-televised main event.
Steele had to retire in 1988 due to battling Crohn's disease. He would go on to be a road agent for the WWF through the late 90's, and breifly returned as part of The Oddities group in 1998 with Luna Vachon, Golga, Giant Silva, and Kurrgan.
Steele would go on to have 1 off appearances in WCW and TNA, and his final public WWE appearance was in 2010. Steele's health had been failing in recent weeks and he passed away on Friday due to kidney failure at the age of 79.
Sadly, we lost another legend the very next day. Ivan Koloff was born in Scotland and raised in Ontario. He became a Russian very early in his career and would eventually make his way to the WWWF (now WWE) in 1969. In 1971, he became the man who silenced Madison Square Garden by ending the 8-year title reign of champion Bruno Sammartino. Koloff would be a transitional champion, dropping the title to Pedro Morales a mere 21 days later.
Koloff wrestled for the WWWF off and for the next several years. He would go on to find more success in the NWA, where he would win the World Tag Team titles 4 times; once with Ray Stevens, once with Don Kernodle and twice with Nikita Koloff. In the mid-80's, The Koloffs were THE most hated team in the NWA by far!
Koloff would end up feuding with some of the biggest names in the Crockett-ran territory of the NWA. The Koloffs feuded with Dusty Rhodes, Magnum T.A., The Road Warriors, and The Rock 'n' Roll Express. Towards the end of his run, he was part of the Paul Jones Army. He left the territory in 1989.
Koloff spent a few more years working the independent scene, including the early days of ECW. Koloff became a born-again Christian in 1995 and would go on to become an ordained minister, where he would go on speaking tours to give his testimony. He passed away at the age of 74 due to liver cancer on 2/20/2017.
I feel like my childhood is slowly whithering away. These two entertaining wrestlers were a part of that for sure. Rest in peace, gentlemen.
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