If you pay attention to the news or pop culture, you probably know that 2016 saw a ridiculous amount of celebrities passing away. There were so many big names that were lost that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them. Unfortunately that trend seems to have shifted over to wrestling in the last few weeks as we’ve lost four wrestlers in a very short time span. Today we’re going to be taking a look at all four in a bit of a memorial for them.
These are listed in the order in which they passed away.
Chavo Guerrero Sr. (68 years old)
Chavo Sr. had a great career of his own, primarily in the Los Angeles territory of NWA Hollywood, which was highlighted by a legendary feud with Roddy Piper. Over the years he wrestled around the world, mainly with his brothers in a variety of teams. One of the most famous of these matches was at the AWA’s “Superclash III” in Chicago where he teamed with Mando and Hector to face the Rock N Roll RPM’s and a very young Cactus Jack. You can hear the fans losing their minds on the high spots because no one was used to seeing high spots like what the Guerreros could do.
It’s really hard to compare wrestlers from various generations like this but Chavo Sr. really was one of the best luchadors to compete in America. There was something interesting about him and he had more than enough in ring abilities to back the charisma up. Sometimes you just need a good, talented high flier and Chavo Sr. was one of the best choices of all time.
Nicole Bass (54 years old)
Bass is the odd one out in this series as she was much more of a character than a wrestler. From what I can find she only had a small handful of matches in her career, one of which was a battle royal and another of which was a twelve second evening gown match. Bass really was there more as a bodyguard and enforcer instead of a wrestler but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a personality.
Moreso than her wrestling career, Bass was known for her appearances on the “Howard Stern Show” starting back in 1993 and eventually resulting in her being part of the show’s Wack Pack. This eventually led to appearances in ECW and then the WWF, where Bass mainly acted as Sable’s enforcer. She only had four televised matches in the company over the span of about a month. Bass probably would have been around a lot longer but she accused Steve Lombardi of sexual assault and left the company in the middle of 1999.
Really, Bass was a weird case as she was basically a bigger version of Chyna but without any of the skill or personality. She kept wrestling for a bit after leaving the WWF with the last match I can find for her taking place in 2002. That’s certainly an improvement over several “wrestlers” who leave the company and then are never heard from in it again because they just wanted to get pushed into the mainstream. Bass might not have been a success but she seemed to want to be a wrestler, which is more than a lot can say.
I don’t know how long of a career she was going to have in the business (she was thirty four years old when she debuted in the WWF) but she was memorable enough, primarily due to her size. She could have been a bodyguard for a good while and almost never would have had to talk, which likely would have been the best for her.
George the Animal Steele (79 years old)
Of all the names on this list, Steele is almost certainly the most well known. What’s not so known about him is how much more there was to his career than just the Animal character. Over the years, Steele was both the wild man as well as a more cerebral character which played into his background as a school teacher.
However, one day he was told to be more of an animal to go with his nickname and the famous character was born. Steele turned into a crazy man who would wave his arms, eat turnbuckle padding and could barely speak more than a few words at a time. Despite being way out there, Steele would occasionally show signs of humor, including a moment at the zoo where Gene Okerlund asked him what kind of a tiger they were looking at. Steele’s answer: a Detroit tiger.
Steele was also a top heel in the company for a long time with a big feud against Bruno Sammartino. Much like someone else on the list, there’s something to be said about having a man who looks just scary enough to upset the champ. He makes for a good dragon to slay and that’s something that’s so valuable. I know a lot of people are going to remember Steele as the over the top character but he’s worth looking up if you want to see someone who was great at playing a role.
Ivan Koloff (74 years old)
If there has ever been a perfect example of one moment overshadowing what was an otherwise excellent career, this is it. As I’m sure you’ve heard of before, Koloff was the one to take the title from Bruno Sammartino in January 1971, ending Sammartino’s title run at a record seven and a half years. As well known as it is, I don’t think it’s really understood how big of a deal this was.
This is being written in February 2017 and we’re closing in on “Wrestlemania XXXIII”. If Sammartino lost the title at “Wrestlemania XXXIII”, he would have held the title since somewhere around “Summerslam 2009”. It was unthinkable that someone could actually beat him and Koloff was the man to do so. That’s one heck of a rub and the kind of thing that could make someone’s career for the rest of their life. Chris Jericho has spent fifteen plus years bragging about beating Steve Austin and the Rock in one night. How long do you think “I took the title from Sammartino in the Garden” could carry someone?
What people forget about is Koloff’s very strong run in the NWA throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Koloff was a four time World Tag Team Champion, a two time US Tag Team Champion and a three time TV Champion. This was in addition to being part of the Russians stable, which included Nikita Koloff (kayfabe nephew) and Krusher Khruschev (later known as Smash and the Repo Man).
The key thing to Koloff was he looked like a killer. Just look at the guy and tell me you’re not at least a little bit intimidated. Couple that look with a classic evil foreign monster gimmick and there was no way he wasn’t going to get over. How this guy isn’t in the Hall of Fame is beyond me as he certainly has the resume in both the WWE and the NWA. Koloff is a forgotten name from an era long gone by but he was excellent for what he was.
This made me a lot sadder than it should have. Hopefully I don’t have to do another one of these for a very long time.