Wednesday, December 07, 2016

From Friends to Foes: The Bloody War between Ivan Koloff and the Iron Sheik

by David Chappell
Mid-Atlantic Gateway 

When the autumn of 1980 arrived in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling “Hossein the Arab,” the Iron Sheik, was riding high in the territory. The Sheik was the reigning Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Champion, and he also held the Canadian Heavyweight Championship. If holding all that hardware wasn’t enough, the Sheik was set to form a tag team that had the potential to shake up Jim Crockett Promotions in a very big way.

The Iron Sheik came out on the World Wide Wrestling television show that was taped on September 24, 1980 and made a major announcement to the Mid-Atlantic fans. The Sheik told announcer Rich Landrum, “I have new news for Mid-Atlantic area. The newcomer, gonna be my partner, one of the toughest, roughest rugged wrestlers in the world, from up north my country Russia, and they call him Russian Bear…Ivan Koloff. You guys so lucky! You are so lucky American people to see the toughest, roughest man from old country to America. And we’re gonna show to you American people, what is wrestling about…what you people can see about wrestling. And you punks, young students, you should come see Ivan Koloff, the great Sheik, the best wrestler in the world.”

Absent from the Mid-Atlantic area since early 1975, Ivan Koloff made his return to Jim Crockett Promotions in early October of 1980. And while the Russian Bear did team at times with his friend the Iron Sheik in the early days after his return, Koloff initially got embroiled in a feud with the masked Sweet Ebony Diamond. At that same time, the Sheik was in a heated battle with Ricky Steamboat over the Mid-Atlantic Title. In November, when the Sheik lost the Mid-Atlantic belt to Steamboat and Ivan’s feud with Ebony Diamond began to fizzle out, Koloff and the Sheik started to team more frequently. The result of that increased teaming was surprising, to say the least!

Stunningly, issues between Koloff and the Sheik came out in the open as the holiday season of 1980 commenced, specifically during TV programming that was taped on November 26, 1980. On that World Wide Wrestling show when the two “friends” were being interviewed by announcer Rich Landrum after an easy victory over Special Delivery Jones and Jerry Caldwell, both the Sheik and Koloff were espousing the superiority of their respective home nations, Iran and Russia.

During the interview, the Sheik moved in front of Ivan as the Russian Bear was talking, and ended up cutting Ivan off and talking himself, laughing in the process. When Koloff got the microphone back he commented that, “Sheik is a great wrestler, but he is becoming a little hoggish of the [TV] time.”

But by far the biggest blowup between the Sheik and Koloff occurred on the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show taping on that same November 26, 1980 date. Ivan and Hossien the Arab won another tag match, but there was some confusion at the end of the bout. Koloff appeared to be telling the Sheik to work on the opponent’s midsection, but the Sheik instead used a salto leading to the pin, with the Sheik’s foot grazing Koloff’s head in the process and leading to some heated words between the two in the ring. Announcer Bob Caudle commented, “Koloff and the Sheik are having a dispute, and they’re about to have a fight right in the center of the ring. I don’t know what caused that!”

When Caudle interviewed the two after the bout, he said, “Ivan, you and your partner, the Sheik right here, you guys are partners! Why are you all having a disagreement and a fuss in the ring?” The Sheik jumped in and was extolling his virtues and that of his home country, Iran, before Koloff could get a word in. Ivan then blurted out, “I think this interview was for both of us out here.” Koloff then went on to argue the superiority of the Russian athlete and their dominance in the Olympics. When the Sheik interrupted Koloff at this juncture, things started to get heated.

Agitatedly, the Sheik said, “Mr. Koloff, listen, I have a lot of respect for you, and I want to tell you something Mr. Koloff, you are older than me…I don’t want to INSULT you! You don’t know NOTHING about Olympics; everybody knows Iran is the oldest country. Maybe Russia gets a lot of medals, but not for wrestling! Russia gets the medals for swimming, for basketball, for hockey, for boxing Mr. Koloff…not for wrestling!” Ivan was none too pleased with that comment saying, “Don’t be stupid Sheik! Everybody know, and I know, what the record book says, that the Russian athlete excels in every sport…” Caudle then interjects, “This must be over national pride, Koloff? Is this what this is about?”

Ivan then takes this issue to a more personal level saying to the Great Hossein, “Another thing, this was no accident in the ring right now! I see on the monitor, on the instant replay, you do this intentionally. Is this not true?” The Sheik responded, “Mr. Koloff, you wrestling for many years, you must know, anything sometimes come by accident; probably was accidently. You know I didn’t do purpose…HA HA!” The Sheik went on to exclaim to Koloff, “I’m better than you; I’m better than lot of people!”

Ivan countered that the Sheik was in the Olympics at some point, but that didn’t mean he was good at the present time. Koloff continued, “I tell you in the ring to work on the stomach, to go after his weak point. The man’s stomach was weak on him, and you’re too STUPID to listen to me! You already say I’m more intelligent than you, that I’m older than you…only by a few months. Why can’t you respect the fact then that I am smarter? If it wasn’t for Russia, Iran wouldn’t even exist! You know this; the world wouldn’t exist without Russia!”

Sheik struck back saying, “Mr. Koloff, this is the last word I’ll tell you. I don’t want to tell you that you’re stupid, but you don’t know that much! Iran is older than Russia, Iran is older than America and Iran was always best for wrestling! You better know, and then talk on the national TV! Always people know, old country is Iran…Iran is the best, and still is the best!”

Koloff, raising a shovel he had been carrying around for some time to “bury” Sweet Ebony Diamond, retorted, “It just goes to show you Sheik that you’re not too smart. If you were smart, you’d listen to me! If you were smart, you wouldn’t lose your head. You wouldn’t go doing stupid things like you did in the ring!” The Sheik fired back, “I don’t have to listen to you; I don’t have to listen to nobody!” The two started to entangle physically and Caudle exclaimed, “I’m gonna get out of the way; I’m really gonna get out of the way of that shovel!” Ivan then excitedly added, “It looks like he needs a few more scars on his head to teach him a lesson. The man is not only an idiot, he is STUPID! And he’s going to find out, one way or another, who the boss is…who the smart man is, who is managing this team. If I have to slap some sense into him, I’ll do it!”

A flabbergasted Caudle blurted out, “All right fans, you heard ‘em and you saw ‘em! And I’ll tell you, I don’t recall ever seeing an argument among partners break out like that, and be as rough on each other as they really were…Ivan Koloff and of course the Iron Sheik!”

The next week at the December 3, 1980 taping of the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling television show there was a match between Koloff and Sweet Ebony Diamond. Ivan was still trying to “bury” the masked man with that same shovel he carried around with him, seeking revenge for Diamond previously running him out of the west coast in a Loser Leaves Town match. The Iron Sheik joined Bob Caudle and David Crockett on television commentary, and he told the fans that he didn’t like either Diamond or Koloff but admitted they both were tough wrestlers.

As for Ivan, the Sheik said, “That Russian Bear, he’s older than me and has a lot of experience, don’t get me wrong, but you know and Mr. Crockett knows Iran is long, long, long time ago and the toughest wrestler in the world is from Iran. That’s because I’m here… Russian man come over here, he thinks he is the best; he think he’s the greatest at everything. Maybe the Russian man is the best compared to American wrestler. But still never ever compares to Iranian wrestler….the Sheik is always the best!”

The Sheik soon after that comment came from the announcer’s area into the ring with his street shoes on, and he began stomping on Diamond! After throwing Diamond out of the ring, Caudle commented, “And now [Sheik] has a chair, and he’s gonna go in the ring and go after Koloff with the chair!” David Crockett yelled, “OH MY WORD!! He nailed him with that chair!” Caudle added, “He put a dent in that chair that just won’t quit!”

After the Sheik smashed Koloff in the head again with the chair and attempted a third time, the Russian Bear got the steel chair away from the crazy Iranian. Caudle excitedly said, “Now Koloff has got it, and he conks the Sheik with the chair, and now across the back!” As the Sheik dove out of the ring, Koloff hit him again with the chair and then the two fought on the floor at ringside, with referee Sonny Fargo unable to restore order for quite some time!

Koloff and the Sheik then began their “Battle of the Bullies” program in earnest in the territory’s arenas around Christmas-time, with a particularly brutal battle between the two bad guys occurring at County Hall in Charleston, South Carolina on December 26th. The two former friends then traveled several hundred miles north to Lynchburg, Virginia on December 28th to close out the wrestling year on an extremely bloody note.

And on the last Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling TV show that aired in most markets just before New Year’s, on December 27, 1980, Koloff told announcer Bob Caudle, “You see the Sheik in there wrestling just a little while ago? He kept looking around, looking over his shoulder. He knows I’m after him! I’m going to pay him back, one way or the other Sheik. I don’t have to come out here and attack you from your back and hit you over the head with a chair or the shovel or anything like this. I got your name on a contract to wrestle you in different areas, so don’t worry about it Sheik. I’m going to have my time with you, and a good time I’m going to have. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it, and believe me it’s not going to take me too many minutes to maybe break your arm, break your leg. Believe me; I’m going to put you through as much pain as I can to pay you back for what you tried to do to me.”

Koloff was true to his word, as the first half of the month of January in the new year of 1981 saw he and the Sheik go at it in matches of unparalleled violence. Fans in the Palmetto state of South Carolina saw these bruising battles up close and personal, particularly in the cities of Greenville and Sumter. In both of these towns, Koloff and the Sheik battled to wild double disqualification finishes in the first bouts, which led to Russian Chain match return bouts in both towns. The Russian Chain match was Koloff’s specialty match, and the Russian Bear prevailed in both of these bloody return matches, the second of which occurred in Sumter on January 15th.

The former friends then headed north the next night to again do battle, this time in Richmond, Virginia at the Richmond Coliseum. Both had lots to say in the promos leading up to the January 16th Richmond match. Ivan was first, and he told promo announcer Rich Landrum, “In Richmond on the 16th Sheik, you won’t have time to go out and get a chair, because I’ll have you tied up and you won’t have no one to go back and cry to whenever you have something to do and you can’t get it done…get advice, or anything like that. Because I’m gonna run you out of this country; I’m gonna finish you in wrestling for what you tried to do to me!”

The Sheik in a later promo segment told Landrum, “Ivan Koloff in the Richmond, I’m not done with you. You’re gonna get it more. Your gonna get it more than chair; you’re gonna get it more than anything. You bring that goofy shovel, and you bring that goofy chain. I’m not Sweet Ebony Diamond…you’re gonna get it more.”

The Richmond match was another vicious encounter, with Koloff getting the dukes after a chaotic finish. The two protagonists continued to go at it hot and heavy for the rest of the month of January in spirited contests in the Charlotte Coliseum on January 18th, in Lynchburg, Virginia on January 23rd, at the Greensboro Coliseum on January 24th and at the Township Auditorium in Columbia, South Carolina on January 27th. Koloff dominated the results in these later January bouts, but they were all highly competitive, blistering hot affairs.

February of 1981 marked the end of this brief Battle of the Bullies program between Ivan Koloff and the Iron Sheik. The last bout pitting the Sheik and Koloff took place on February 14, 1981, Valentine’s Day, but there was no love shared in the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium that day! Koloff triumphed again in this final encounter, before both men went their separate ways. Ivan began teaming up with Ray Stevens, and the two set their sights on the NWA World Tag Team Titles held by Paul Jones and the Masked Superstar, winning the belts on March 1st and having a brief three week championship run. The Sheik segued to a feud with Blackjack Mulligan, that he came out on the short end of, and the Great Hossein Arab exited the Mid-Atlantic area in early May of 1981.

While the rift between Koloff and the Sheik was brief and a mere footnote in the history of Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, it was noteworthy in that it was one of booker George Scott’s last programs, and a very rare instance of Scott pitting a bad guy against a bad guy. Prior to Scott taking over the Jim Crockett Promotions “book” in 1973, Battle of the Bullies programs between wrestling heels was something that Jim Crockett Promotions fans expected periodically, with some very interesting short term pairings occurring as a result. In that sense, it was a throwback in time to see the hated Sheik and the hated Koloff go from friends to foes before our eyes!

The Battle of the Bullies, version 1980-81, between the Iron Sheik and Ivan Koloff gave the Mid-Atlantic faithful a rare chance to cheer both wrestlers into beating the heck out of the other during and around the festive holiday season! It was “Season’s Beatings,” with out a doubt!