Russian Bear becomes a teddy bear

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wrestling with drugs and alcohol might have been the toughest opponents Ivan Koloff — the Russian Bear — faced during his days as a professional wrestler.

These days, Koloff tells of how he defeated that combination of drugs and alcohol. Simply put, Koloff has God in his corner.

Koloff told his story of redemption during an appearance last Wednesday at the Mayflower seafood restaurant in Washington. The appearance provided Koloff an opportunity to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network and share his story about becoming a born-again Christian.

“You know, I’m going to be 70 years old in August. I ended up being raised knowing about the Lord and going to church, but I never received Christ, became a Christian, as a child,” Koloff said. “I ended up going through a career of wrestling.

In 1995, I realized that I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. As a teenager, I got in trouble with the law. My career took me through situations of fighting in bars and on airplanes. … I ended up being so frustrated because I though I could accomplish anything because I was small guy from a family of 10 kids, very humble. I wanted to be a wrestler since (I was) 8 years old. I ended up at 19 years ago going to wrestling school and becoming a wrestler. I built myself up to be a 300-pounder and become a world champion. So, I figured I could accomplish anything if I could set my mind to it.”

Koloff said he found life would throw him some curves.

“I found that this was a vice too hard. That the drugs, the alcohol — I became not only addicted to prescription pills and alcohol but cocaine, marijuana. I was very dangerous, carrying a gun, machete. So, I was a person who should have probably died many, many times, let alone the car accidents I had.”

Koloff recalled when his life began to turn around.

“I ended up going to church because my nephew Nikita (Koloff) in 1995 invited me to a revival in Kannapolis … near Charlotte. He ended up convincing me it was important to go there because he had just become a born-again Christian. I needed help. I was willing to try anything. I trusted him because he had a lot credibility with me. We had been partners for a long time. He knew what I was suffering from, the addiction. So by going there, I was convicted.”

(The Koloffs are not blood relatives.)

Koloff continued: “The preacher was saying I needed God in my life. The reason I needed God was because I was a sinner and that I was unable to get to Heaven unless I ended up accepting what Jesus did on the cross, and if I did that, I’d have a brand-new start. I said, ‘Wow! All of that is erased. I can accept the Lord and start a new life.’ I believed it, and to this day I believe it.”

Over the years, Koloff said, his faith has grown and continues to grow. Part of that growth includes becoming a supporter of the Children’s Miracle Network.

Koloff, who was ordained seven years ago, and his wife, Renae, live in Winterville. He credits his wife with helping keep him “on the right road.” Being ordained allows him to officiate at weddings, Koloff noted.

His ministry has carried him to churches, youth groups and prisons. Koloff combines wrestling matches, sermons and testimonies in his ministry.

“We have church right in the wrestling matches,” he said.

Koloff summed up his remarks by saying, “None of us have the strength to live with the Lord, right? That’s the only tag-team partner we need, right?”

Amen and amen.


For more information about Koloff’s Bear Witness for Christ Ministry, visit

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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