Since first watching professional wrestling on TV at the age of eight, he wanted to become a wrestler, and would often wrestle with his brothers growing up. At age 18, he left high school and joined Jack Wentworth's wrestling school in Hamilton, Ontario, where he would lift weights and learn wrestling holds. He stood 5' 7 1/2" tall, and weighed approximately 270 pounds. Towards the end of his career, he dropped a considerable amount of weight and was tipping the scale at 205 pounds.
Professional wrestling career
Perras debuted as an Irish rogue villain character named Red McNulty, billed from Dublin, Ireland and wrestling with an eyepatch. For the next three years, he wrestled around the Toronto area, eventually quitting his regular job to wrestle in the north-western area of Canada. There, Perras acquired much wrestling experience, and from there he made his first trip to Japan.
The Russian Bear
In 1967, Perras became "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff, a bearded villainous character billed from the Ukraine, and debuted with the International Wrestling Association in Montreal, Québec. He defeated Johnny Rougeau for the IWA International Heavyweight Championship the following year. Koloff debuted in the World Wide Wrestling Federation in late 1969, managed by "Captain" Lou Albano. He soon started a rivalry with then-WWWF World Heavyweight Champion Bruno Sammartino. On January 18, 1971, Koloff defeated Sammartino in Madison Square Garden for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship by pinfall after a knee drop from the top rope, ending Sammartino's seven and two-third years reign. Koloff lost the championship 21 days later to Pedro Morales, essentially being used as a "transitional champion" (as he was used to move the title from Sammartino to Morales without having the two fan favorite work against each other), much like Stan Stasiak and The Iron Sheik would be in later years. After the loss, Koloff remained a contender for the title, but never reclaimed it, and left the WWWF in 1971.
During his time in the WWWF, Koloff wrestled WWWF World Heavyweight Championship title matches against Sammartino, Morales, Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund, holding the distinction, with fellow villain Stan Stasiak, as one of only two men to challenge all four of these fan favorite champions. Koloff would also be the first opponent to ever challenge for the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship in a steel cage match in a rematch loss against Sammartino. He fought in the WWWF from 1975–1976, 1978–1979 and 1983.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Koloff found success in the National Wrestling Alliance, winning many regional tag team and singles titles in the Georgia, Florida, and Mid-Atlantic territories. In February 1981, he teamed with Ray Stevens to defeat Paul Jones and Masked Superstar to capture the NWA World Tag Team Championship. This would be the first of his four reigns as NWA World Tag Team Champion, later winning the belts with Don Kernodle and twice with his "nephew" (kayfabe), Nikita Koloff as "The Russians".
The Russians (which also included Krusher Kruschev) were a top villainous group from 1984 to 1986, and Nikita, under Perras' training and mentoring, and by association, became a hated villain in his own right, and would go on to have a successful singles career of his own. After Nikita turned on Ivan to join their enemy Dusty Rhodes in 1986, the latter teamed with Vladimir Petrov and Dick Murdoch to get revenge. Koloff's biggest NWA feuds were against Rhodes, The Road Warriors, The Rock 'n' Roll Express (Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson) and Magnum T.A..
In 1988, Koloff spent time in Paul Jones' faction, The Paul Jones Army, where he was a "coach" of sorts for The Powers of Pain, The Barbarian and The Warlord. He later split with Jones, reunited with Nikita, and feuded with Jones' team, The Russian Assassins, before leaving Jim Crockett Promotions in January 1989. He also spent time in Eastern Championship Wrestling, appearing on the very first ECW card in 1992. In 1992, Koloff also wrestled in the first television main event of Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestling, beating Bobby Fulton.
Retirement and Death
Perras spent the rest of his years in Winterville, North Carolina with his wife, Renae and had four adult children. He would remain active in various charities. He would write a book, titled Is That Wrestling Fake? The Bear Facts. Perras became a born again Christian in 1995. He would travel to churches to share his testimony, and was an ordained minister. Koloff spoke openly and candidly of his conversion to Christianity and struggles with alcohol and drugs and the crazy days of wrestling in the recent book, Life in the Trenches.
Perras was named as a defendant in a 2015 lawsuit filed by WWE after they received a letter from him indicating that he intended to sue them for concussion-based injuries sustained during his tenure with them. He was represented by attorney Konstantine Kyros, who is involved in several other lawsuits involving former WWE wrestlers. The case would be dismissed in September of 2018
Perras would pass away after a battle with Liver Cancer on February 18, 2017
- "The Russian Bear"
Championships and accomplishments
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Frank Gotch Award (2009)
- Georgia Championship Wrestling
- Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling/Jim Crockett Promotions
- NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship (4 times)
- NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Don Kernodle
- NWA Mid-Atlantic Television Championship (2 times)
- NWA Television Championship (3 times)
- NWA United States Tag Team Championship (2 times) – with Krusher Khruschev (1), Dick Murdoch (1)
- NWA World Six-Man Tag Team Championship (2 times) – with Nikita Koloff and Krusher Khruschev (Baron von Raschke with Krusher injured) (1), The Barbarian and The Warlord (1)
- NWA World Tag Team Championship (5 times) – with Nikita Koloff (1), Nikita Koloff and Krusher Khruschev (1), Ray Stevens (1), Don Kernodle (1), and Manny Fernandez (1) (substituting for Rick Rude who had left for the WWF