Nikolai Volkoff has had a career that spanned over 30 years, and he was a prime opponent for the good guys of each era as the Russians were considered to be the “Red Menace,” out to convert people to Communism. In person, though, he’s something else completely.
SLAM! Wrestling had a chance to catch up with Volkoff at the Niagara Falls Comic Con where the mad Russian was anything but. Volkoff entertained, enjoyed interacting with the fans, and listened intently to their stories about him. The 69-year-old veteran was laid back and had a smile for everyone, especially the children.
It’s a far cry from the nasty villain who demanded that fans stand at attention while he sang the Russian National Anthem.
In the early 1970s Volkoff came on the scene not as a Russian, but, as a Mongolian. Taking the name Bepo Mongol, he teamed up with Geto Mongol (Newt Tattrie) to win the WWWF International tag team championship on two occasions. The bruising duo had unique hairstyles. Each Mongol sported a tuft of hair on their foreheads, a clump on the back of his head and their eyebrows shaved off. When he left the team it was not because of a dispute with his partner, but rather fashion.
“I decided not to be a Mongol. It was a hard gimmick,” said Volkoff. “With the hair cut I couldn’t go places.”
The 313-pound, barrel-chested wrestler entered the single ranks and took on the moniker that we all know him as, Nikolai Volkoff. Taking on the image of a vicious Russian who was out to show the Americans they were below him certainly enraged fans.
Having the ire of the fans was what Volkoff wanted. The more the public paid to see him lose, the more money he would make and a better place he would have on the card. During the 1970s Volkoff found himself main eventing Madison Square Garden against the babyface champions of the WWWF such as Bruno Samartino and Pedro Morales.
“Pedro was a good wrestler and a good athlete,” said Volkoff when discussing the former champion. “He was a WWWF champion. I wrestled him a couple of times. One time I wrestled him a long match, 45 minutes. He was from Puerto Rico and moved to New York. Pedro is a good friend.”
Perhaps the greatest champion in WWWF/WWE history is Bruno Samartino. Volkoff was a frequent opponent for the Italian strongman. “Bruno Samartino is a very beautiful person,” said Volkoff. “Strong, good wrestler. Drew more people in our business. The most you draw is what counts.”
According to Samartino’s website, he headlined the Garden 211 times and sold it out 187 times. To be at the top of the card facing the champion is a wonderful accomplishment. To headline and sell out the Mecca of professional wrestling, Madison Square Garden, is astounding. “I had six matches with him at Madison Square Garden and they were sold out,” said Volkoff. “I was so proud.”
With the advent of the Hulkamania era, Volkoff found himself fighting the blond behemoth Hulk Hogan around the country. He was also an important part of the very first WrestleMania on March 31, 1985. When asked if he was worried that the event would flop Volkoff had nothing but praise for his former employer and WWE owner Vince McMahon.
“Vince McMahon is very, very smart. Very intelligent man,” stated Volkoff. “I remember I met him in 1970 when he worked for his father, Vince Sr., and he would look up and down the card one time and would go in the ring and repeat the whole card. His memory was unbelievable. He was a very nice, decent man. He brought wrestling today to the biggest level it has ever been. Actually I was at WrestleMania 31 and they had 76,000 people and I was at the WrestleMania at the Superdome in Michigan where they had 94,000 people. It is the biggest show on Earth.”
At the first WrestleMania, Volkoff teamed with the Iron Sheik to defeat world tag team champions Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. “WrestleMania 1, my partner was the Iron Sheik,” said Volkoff. “We had the best manager at that time, Freddy Blassie. I should say Classy Freddy Blassie. And that time America and Russia had the Cold War and then you put together Russia and Iran you could do nothing better. We had more heat just coming into the ring then most other wrestlers.”
WrestleMania 2 saw the event emanate from three locations, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Chicago card saw Volkoff take on American patriot Corporal Kirchner. “It was me and Corporal Kirchner,” said Volkoff with a chuckle. “I call him Colonel Klink. He was a good guy. After he cried for real.”
At the end of his WWE career Volkoff was placed in a stable of wrestlers lead by “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation. He was ringside for the WrestleMania 11 main event match between the corporation’s Bam Bam Bigelow and NFL great Lawrence Taylor.
When asked if he was worried that a celebrity was in the main event of the biggest wrestling event of the year Volkoff shrugged his shoulders. “Vince McMahon said that wrestling should be entertainment and he made it,” said Volkoff. “I thought he (Taylor) was very good. He was very good because most of the people who want to go in the ring love wrestling. When you love something it is much easier to do it.”
Volkoff can still be seen from time to time on WWE programming as one of their legends. In 2005 he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He also makes appearances at events like the Niagara Falls Comic Con and on the occasional wrestling show.
On January 27th Volkoff is scheduled to appear at the “Time for Action” show in Toronto alongside WWE alumni Brutus Beefcake, Virgil and Brodus Clay. The event is a fundraiser for Action 4 Autism.
Perhaps Volkoff will do some singing and wrestling? “I am 69 today and I still wrestle,” confirmed Volkoff.