The Canada 150, Part 5: Ivan Koloff to Santino Marella

The fifth part in our 10-part series looking at 150 Canadian names in pro wrestling, in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. Part 5 of the Canada 150, an alphabetical listing of Canadians’ impact on pro wrestling from the 1920’s to today.

IVAN KOLOFF

One of the most influential Russian/Communist heel gimmicks of all time, was actually raised on a dairy farm near Ottawa, Ontario. At the age of 18, he moved to Hamilton, Ontario to learn to be a wrestler, and a year later in 1961, he debuted as an Irish rogue named Red McNulty in the Ontario wrestling circuit. When he shifted to the Montreal scene in the late 60’s, he became the Communist villain Ivan Koloff that made him famous. By late 1969, the WWWF came calling and he began to go national. He immediately became a top threat to fan favourite WWWF Champion Bruno Sammartino, and was Bruno’s handpicked successor to defeat him when Bruno needed time off in 1971, ending Sammartino’s 7-year reign. He spent the rest of the 70’s working between the WWWF and NWA territories. By the 1980’s, with his singles career winding down, he formed a successful villain stable called The Russians with his “nephew” Nikita Koloff and an ally, Krusher Kruschev (portrayed by future Demolition Smash, Barry Darsow). He finally retired in 1994. Sadly, The “Russian Bear” passed away earlier this year, at the age of 74.

JIMMY KORDERAS

Photo: WWE

Toronto’s Jimmy Korderas was a 22-year tenured referee with the WWF/E, from 1987 until 2009, after getting his start in 1985 at Maple Leaf Gardens. A model of consistency and quick thinking, Korderas was part of many huge matches over a career that spanned from the 80’s Rock N’ Wrestling Era through the Attitude Era and into the beginnings of the PG Era. It was his quick thinking that saved Kurt Angle‘s arm when he shoot fought Daniel Puder on Smackdown in 2004. While Puder had Angle in a Kimura, Korderas counted a 3-count on Puder whose back was (mostly) on the mat as a way to break the hold. Since his departure from the WWE, Korderas has become a popular wrestling talk show host with Aftermath on Rogers Sportsnet360 in Canada. Between his other commitments, Korderas still finds time to don the zebra stripes – he reffed a Ring of Honor match in Toronto back in 2012, and currently refs for Toronto’s Smash Wrestling events.

KILLER KOWALSKI

Windsor, Ontario’s Walter “Killer” Kowalski was one of the territories greatest heels, in a career that spanned from 1947 to 1977. Originally trained by Lou Thesz, he was a dominant heel in the NWA territories and the AWA for his first two decades. He immediately hit the main event, facing the NWA World Heavyweight Champion Orville Brown in 1948. During a match with Yukon Eric in 1952 (an American wrestler despite his Canadian name), Kowalski tore off his ear (it was badly suffering from cauliflower ear) and Kowalski’s legend grew exponentially as the most ruthless villain in the sport. In 1972, Kowalski became the first wrestler to ever pin Andre The Giant. In the 1960’s he joined the WWWF, were he became the archrival to top face champion Bruno Sammartino. At the end of his wrestling career, he opened one of wrestling’s most influential wrestling schools in the Massachusetts area, that spawned such future stars as Triple H, Perry Saturn, Chyna, Big John Studd, Matt Bloom (aka Albert and current WWE Performance Center Head Trainer) and Frankie Kazarian. In 1996, he became the first Canadian inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

VANESSA KRAVEN

Montreal, Quebec’s Vanessa Kraven is another product of Ron Hutchison‘s wrestling school, who began her wrestling career in 2004. She debuted with Northern Championship Wrestling (nCw), a Quebec indie, as the half-sister and bodyguard of French wrestler James Kraven. After years in the Canadian indies, she travelled to Japan in 2006 with NEO Japan Ladies and JWP. She also began working in the US indie circuit, and in 2006 took part in the inaugural IWA Mid South Queen of the Deathmatch. In 2014 she debuted for both SHIMMER and SHINE, two promotions she continues to work for (she’s currently one half of the SHIMMER Tag Team Champions with Tessa Blanchard) and continues to work Canadian indies like Smash Wrestling.

DAN KROFFAT

Vancouver’s Dan Kroffat is perhaps one of the most unknown innovators in the history of pro wrestling. While historians and fans of Stampede Wrestling are well aware of his history, he’s largely forgotten to many of the casual fans. He debuted in 1963 after being trained by Stu Hart, starting off in the tag team ranks. By 1971, he was a singles sensation and Stampede’s North American Heavyweight Champion. But in 1972, during a title match against his adversary Tor Kamata, Dan Kroffat introduced a concept that today’s wrestling fans are very much aware of – the Ladder Match. It was a unique gimmick match never before seen by wrestling fans and was never used again – until Bret Hart, who remembered the idea from his father’s promotion, introduced it to Vince McMahon and the WWF for a house show Intercontinental Championship defence against Shawn Michaels in 1992 – 20 years after the Ladder Match was first (and last) used. Shawn Michaels would then go on to perfect it (along with Razor Ramon) at WrestleMania X and since then, the Ladder Match has been a staple gimmick used in nearly every promotion. Kroffat retired in 1985, but his name lived on. Canadian wrestler Phil Lafon often used the ring name “Dan Kroffat” in the 1990’s in tribute to this innovative superstar of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

KILLER KARL KRUPP

Originally born in Netherlands, George Momberg emigrated to Canada shortly after the end of the Second World War while he was barely a teenager. He grew up in New Brunswick and in 1957 became a professional wrestling. He went through several forgettable gimmicks for over a decade, until he finally fell into one in 1972 that changed his luck – the German villain Killer Karl Krupp. Throughout the 1970’s, he became a huge villain in Japan – he was a multi-tag team champion in All-Japan – plus runs throughout the NWA. In 1980, he was part of Jimmy Hart‘s First Family in Memphis. With his career running down in the 1980’s, he returned home to the Maritimes and spent his last years with his hometown Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling (AGPX).

KURRGAN

Photo: WWE

Although originally born in Georgetown, Ontario, Robert Maillet – better known as the monster Kurrgan in professional wrestling – grew up in New Brunswick, in the Canadian Maritimes. Trained by Leo Burke and Stephen Petitpas at the AGPW School in 1989, he was initially brought to the WWF as The Cajun Giant in 1991. He only wrestled a few dark matches before they realized he was still too green, so he moved on to Japan to work on his craft, working for W*ING as Goliath El Gigante. He was re-signed by the WWF in 1997 and was part of The Jackyl‘s military squad The Truth Commission, now billed as The Interrogator. After a modest run, he was renamed Kurrgan and repackaged as part of the Oddities. He was released at the end of the Oddities run less than a year later. He returned to the Canadian indies, wrestling once again for the revamped AGPW. Maillet found greater success in Hollywood than he ever did in the squared circle. He’s since appeared in such Hollywood films as 300, Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Mortal Instruments and Pacific Rim.

PHIL LAFON

Spotted by The British BulldogsDavey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid – in a local gym, Lafon got his start in 1983 with Stampede Wrestling. In 1985, he moved to Montreal to work with Lutte International, wrestling as Rene Rougeau. In the 1990’s, he travelled to Japan to work for All Japan, where he was paired by Giant Baba with an American, Doug Furnas, where the two became the Can-Am Express, one of the companies most exciting and prolific tag teams – the were 5x All Asia Tag Team Champions and 2x World Junior Tag Team Champions. In 1996, the pair were brought to the WWF, where they debuted at Survivor Series. Initially faces, they slowly turned heel and very anti-American. Their initial push was halted early when Lafon got into a serious car crash. Upon his return, they were once again back in the title scene for the tag belts, but they were ultimately released by the WWE in 1997. They quickly jumped to ECW, where they became stars once again, even capturing the ECW World Tag Team titles, beating the FBI shortly after their arrival. They left in 1998 and Lafon continued to work the indies until his retirement in 2005. He now runs a wrestling school, Monster Pro Wrestling, in Edmonton, Alberta.

THE LEDUCS

These two friends from Montreal (only brothers in kayfabe) started training with Jack Britton. Paul Leduc began in 1957, followed by further training in Mexico, while his “brother” Jos Leduc started in 1968. Like many Canadian wrestlers of the time, they got their start together in Stampede Wrestling. In honour of Yukon Eric – an American who became a big star in Canada that passed away in 1965 – the two adopted his Lumberjack gimmick as part of their character. In many territories, they were billed as The Canadian Lumberjacks. Together, they won tag team gold in Stampede, AGPW and Championship Wrestling in Florida. With the older Paul Leduc winding down in the 1970’s (he retired in 1977), Jos carried on in singles competition, working in the AWA and more diverse NWA territories, including a very brief stint in the WWF in the late 80’s (although it got him a small part in No Holds Barred), as well as WWC in Puerto Rico and Frontier Martial-arts Wrestling (FMW) in Japan. Jos retired in 1995.

CANDICE LeRAE

Another product of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Candice LeRae is no stranger to indie wrestling fans. Upon deciding to become a pro wrestler, Candice moved to California and debuted in 2002 with Empire Wrestling Federation (EWF) in San Bernardino. Since then she has become one of the most popular indie stars – male or female – of the past decade, competing for such promotions as PWG, CZW, Japan’s DDT, Smash and such women’s promotions as SHIMMER, SHINE and WSU. She made her WWE debut a few months back on NXT, fuelling speculation she may be added to this summer’s Mae Young Classic. She’s the real life wife of NXT Superstar Johnny Gargano.

ANGELINA LOVE

Photo: Global Force Wrestling

Toronto’s Angelina Love debuted in 2000 as Angel Williams and by 2004, was signed by the WWE and spent three years in their developmental system in both Deep South Wrestling (DSW) and Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). Shortly after her release in 2007, she went to TNA where she was paired with Velvet Sky in The Beautiful People, becoming the top heels of the emerging Knockouts division – arguably the strongest women’s wrestling division of the mid-2000’s. Since then, she’s remained primarily an Impact Wrestling performer where she’s the co-record holder with six Knockouts Championships – a record she shares with fellow Canadian Gail Kim. She’s married to another Impact star, Davey Richards.

LUFISTO

Photo: WWN

An absolute icon in women’s professional wrestling, Montreal’s LuFisto is celebrating 20 years in the industry this year. Debuting in 1997 on the Quebec and Maritimes indie circuits, it didn’t take long for her to breakout into national and US markets. In 2006, she competed for CZW and beat Kevin Owens for the CZW Ironman Championship. She was also an early competitor for SHIMMER (and still is) and has gone on to work in nearly every major women’s promotion, including WSU and SHINE (where she’s currently their Champion). Whether it’s inside a Cage of Death or just a regular ring, LuFisto is tougher than most men and one of the greatest women wrestlers to come out of the Great White North.

BILLY RED LYONS

Hamilton, Ontario’s Billy Red Lyons made his wrestling debut in 1956 and quickly became an accomplished journeyman for the NWA territories, AWA and in Japan with Rikidozan‘s Japan Wrestling Association throughout his near 30 year career. A frequent tag partner of his real life brother-in-law Dick Beyer (aka The Destroyer), Lyons was a famed tag team specialist, and a favourite hand of Fritz Von Erich, who used him frequently in his Texas Big Time Wrestling (the precursor for WCCW) and in Canada with Maple Leaf Wrestling. He retired in 1984, around the time that the WWF purchased Maple Leaf Wrestling, and transitioned into a Mean Gene Okerlund type interviewer role for WWF’s Canadian broadcasts, with his trademark “Don’tcha dare miss this one” becoming an iconic catchphrase in Canada at the time.

JINDER MAHAL

Photo: WWE

Calgary’s Jinder Mahal is a second generation wrestler – his uncle was Stampede Wrestling star Gama Singh (who also worked for the WWF in the early 1980’s). In 2002, Jinder Mahal began training with the revived Stampede Wrestling, trained by Bad News Allen (aka Bad News Brown in the WWF) in the same class as Natalya, Tyson Kidd and The Ascension‘s Viktor. He spent a lot of his formative indie years working with local promotion Prairie Wrestling Alliance (PWA) before signing with the WWE in 2010. He debuted in 2011, but never found his footing and was sent down to WWE’s developmental again in 2012, now rebranded as NXT. He met Seth Rollins in the finals to crown the first ever NXT Champion, but ultimately lost to the Architect. Mahal was brought back up to the main roster and became part of 3MB with Heath Slater and Drew McIntyre and became enhancement comedic relief, before departing in 2014. Mahal went on to wrestle for Booker T‘s Reality of Wrestling (ROW), Antonio Inoki‘s Inoki Genome Federation (IGF) in Japan and The Great Khali‘s Continental Wrestling Entertainment (CWE) in India, before returning to the WWE last year after the Draft. Since then he’s been pushed to the top in one of the most polarizing and controversial World Championship reigns ever, a title he still currently holds on Smackdown Live.

SANTINO MARELLA

Photo: WWE

Mississauga, Ontario’s Santino Marella began his wrestling career in 2003, working Ontario indie circuits and in Japan with Battlearts, a shoot fighting-MMA style promotion. He was signed to the WWE in 2005 and began working with their developmental system at OVW. In 2007 he was planted in the audience at a taping for Monday Night Raw filmed in Milan, Italy, and came in to the ring to challenge Umaga for the WWE Intercontinental title, which he won. Now dubbed “The Milan Miracle”, Marella became a fan favourite. He slowly turned heel as his character started getting jealous of other Superstars, particularly his “girlfriend” Maria Kanellis. Following his breakup with Maria, he became fixed with Beth Phoenix, which ultimately led Santino Marella into the comedic role he would maintain for the remainder of his WWE career. A fan favourite for his comedic timing and vignettes, Marella opened his own school, Battle Arts Academy, in his home town in 2013 and works alongside local promotion Destiny. He retired a year later.

Join us for our next instalment, Part 6 of the Canada 150: Rick Martel to Kyle O’Reilly

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE SERIES:

The Canada 150, Prologue: The Promotions 

The Canada 150, Part 1: Abdullah The Butcher to Gino Brito

The Canada 150, Part 2: “Bulldog” Bob Brown to Johnny Devine

The Canada 150, Part 3: Paul Diamond to Rene Goulet

The Canada 150, Part 4: The Great Antonio to Gene Kiniski

The Canada 150, Part 5: Ivan Koloff to Santino Marella

The Canada 150, Part 6: Rick Martel to Kyle O’Reilly

The Canada 150, Part 7: Carl Ouellet to Bobby Roode

The Canada 150, Part 8: Rosemary to Space Monkey

The Canada 150, Part 9: KC Spinelli to The Tolos Brothers

The Canada 150, Part 10: Tarzan Tyler to Sami Zayn

 


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