A bona fide monster, “The Russian Nightmare” Nikita Koloff bashed and bloodied the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, and The Rock’n’Roll Express throughout the NWA, leaving a trail of bloodstained canvases along the way.
That reputation served him well, as Koloff recently found himself on a cross-Canada tour with CWE (Canadian Wrestling’s Elite), meeting fans and mentoring up-and-coming stars on the independent scene.
Making his television debut in 1984, Koloff was brought in to Jim Crockett Promotions’ Mid-Atlantic Wrestling territory by his “Uncle” Ivan Koloff to prove Soviet superiority. He went on to win both singles and tag team championships with his dreaded Russian Sickle clothesline and formidable power.
Born Nelson Scott Simpson, Koloff was an all-conference receiver in high school and played college football at Golden Valley Lutheran College and Moorhead State prior to pro wrestling.
In a wrestling career that lasted nearly a decade, Koloff is remembered for his many classic feuds and Russian Chain matches at The Great American Bash, Starrcade, and other supercards with the likes of Magnum T.A., Sting, and The Four Horsemen throughout the NWA, AWA, and WCW. He retired from the ring in 1993 to pursue ministry work that has taken him all over the world.
SLAM! Wrestling recently caught up with “The Russian Nightmare” for an in-depth chat about his summer tour across Canada, his career, and perspectives on life after wrestling.
In part one of our interview, Koloff discusses old-school ring psychology, his mentors, and the brutal art of a Russian Chain match.
Stay tuned to SLAM! Wrestling for part two, in which Koloff delves into his loyalty to the Crocketts, wrestling fans, and the enduring legacy of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.
SLAM! Wrestling: How was your tour through Canada (in July and August)?
NIKITA KOLOFF: It was a fantastic, memorable trip. I really enjoyed the experience and everything from the Canadian Rockies to the plains of Saskatchewan to the scenery of Ontario and everything in between.
Some of the venues were bigger than others, some unique venues, a college campus for one venue, so it made for more of a variety of opportunities, and the fans are phenomenal. Some of the crowds were bigger than others but all the crowds were, for the most part, very responsive and all the guys worked really, really hard.
And I think we really gave people their money’s worth and every match from top to bottom, I felt, was a really great match.
SLAM! Wrestling: The CWE tour had an impressive roster of independent wrestlers that included Tyler Colton, Kody Lane, Shane Sabre and the veteran, Tony Kozina.
NIKITA KOLOFF: Yes, and Silas Young from Ring of Honor and Kelly Klein. They really had some great talent along with the up-and-coming Chase Owens. He wrestled down in the Mid-Atlantic area and the Carolinas and Georgia, and perfected his craft so it was great to see him rising up in stardom.
SLAM! Wrestling: Is the ring psychology you observed at the indie shows this summer similar to the territories era you wrestled in?
NIKITA KOLOFF: No, there’s no similarity (laughs). I shouldn’t say there’s no similarity, there is some similarity. I had a number of discussions with some of the younger talent, and I was really incredibly honoured as many of them would come to me each night and ask if I could critique their match and ask if I had any insight or things that I would like to share with them to help hone their craft and get better at what they’re doing. And probably the biggest thing is, in our day, the old-school mentality was to get the most out of the least.
And it seems like some of these younger guys, depending on where they were schooled, are schooled more in this rapid paced move after move after move: bing-bing-bing-bing-bing-bing-bing, and there’s so much happening in this short period of time. They’re thinking, “I’ve got to get all my moves in,” and as I look back at it objectively as if I were a fan, it’s hard for me to even wrap my mind around it. In some matches, everything in that ring happened so fast I couldn’t even keep up with it all or understand why some things were even happening, so I essentially told the majority of them to simply slow down.
SLAM! Wrestling: You rarely make appearances at indie shows, conventions, or fan fests…
NIKITA KOLOFF: I’ve tried to be very selective, even in the states where there’s autograph signings everywhere and you got guys doing one appearance a week or several times a week.Like Ivan (Koloff), that was very intentional. He and I were somewhat selective on where we went and what we did, really just to make it more valuable for both the fans and the promoter bringing us in. So, if it was more of a rarity that we were coming in, it would mean more to the fans, and it would be better for the promoter, and we were just thinking of them as well.
The other part of that equation was Ivan and I moving into the ministry and hopefully impacting many other people’s lives in positive ways through the ministry work that we did sometimes together, and sometimes separately. And I feel very fortunate that we were reunited in a sense as a tag team once again, obviously in a different setting, but able to impact people even deeper.
I feel very privileged I was able to share some thoughts at his graveside service and really have some great memories with him. We stayed in contact over the years and we did a number of things together, sometimes wrestling related, but more ministry related in the last 15 years; we kept that bond.
People ask, “Was he really your uncle?” And I say, “Well, he was just like an uncle.” We weren’t blood-related but I had a lot of respect for him and really looked up to him and am really very grateful for his mentoring in the wrestling world and what he taught me in that business.
SLAM! Wrestling: Did Dusty Rhodes play a similar role in mentoring you?
NIKITA KOLOFF: Yes and no. There are similar parallels there. Ivan really taught me the mechanics and the psychology of wrestling, I mean, when I broke into wrestling I had zero experience and zero training before my first TV match. I had literally nothing. You could say I basically walked in off the streets and was thrust and thrown into the ring with no professional training and no amateur background. Nothing. And I made it through that first match in 11 seconds.
And then for the next two or three months, Ivan and Don Kernodle, we’d get to the town two or three hours early and they’d bump all over the ring teaching me the mechanics of wrestling and then on the way to the next town we’d talk about the psychology of wrestling.Now with that said, Dusty on the other hand, I attribute a lot of the success of my career to Dusty as the booker and creative genius behind a number of things that he and I did, with the one being the Super Powers where we teamed up. That was him and Jim Crockett’s creation. Then, turning a Russian babyface for what I think was the first time ever in history.
And then I developed a real love for Dusty outside of wrestling in terms of our friendship and for his family. And though we didn’t speak nearly as often after my wrestling career as Ivan and I did, anytime I saw Dusty we had that immediate connection and that bond we had traveling together for a couple years. And that friendship that we created always just picked right up where we left off.
SLAM! Wrestling: Who else played an influential role in the first few years of your career wrestling in Mid-Atlantic?
NIKITA KOLOFF: On this tour with CWE, a fan was sharing their memories of the title unification match I did with Wahoo McDaniel, where he was the National Heavyweight champion. It awakened some of my own memories and I was reminded how he was willing to take a pinfall in the middle of the ring so I could walk away with both those titles.
So, matches like that, I sometimes forget about but thanks to that fan, it brought back some great memories. Wahoo’s another one who had a positive influence on my career.
And Ric Flair was a great influence. One of the posters on my table to sign this summer at the CWE shows was of me pummeling Ric Flair in the first ever Great American Bash.Without a doubt, there’s no question part of my success I attribute to the “Nature Boy,” and as I told some of the younger guys on this Canadian tour that Ric Flair as a champion had the ability to work with a broomstick and make his opponent look good. Hey, he made me look good, right?
My hat’s off to everything Ric Flair taught me inside the squared circle and the art of wrestling and everything I learned from him. And I don’t know how many countless matches I had against him, hour-long matches, I mean, I learned a lot wrestling him everywhere from the Great American Bash to Starrcade to MoscaMania in Hamilton.
Then there were guys like Baron von Raschke, where Ivan and I would team up in a six-man tag team sometimes. I’m very fortunate I had many guys like Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and the list could go on and on of guys who helped educate me in the art of professional wrestling, and certainly Baron was one of them. And a real legend of the Mid-Atlantic, Johnny Weaver, there were so many good guys that really helped me learn the ropes. No pun intended.
Add to that list Krusher Khruschev (Barry Darsow), an old high school buddy of mine.
I don’t know if you’re aware of this but we’re all from the same high school in Minnesota. So, we had Krusher, myself, Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Ton Zenk who wrestled as the Z-Man, John Nord who wrestled as Nord the Barbarian and The Berzerker, and then the least known probably was Brady Boone. Boone was a Mid-Atlantic guy, he was a referee and there was one year where all seven of us were all in the same high school at the same time, because we all graduated in ’76, ‘77′ and ’78. Five of the seven were on the same football team one year and then the other three guys who graduated from the high school were Verne Gagne, Greg Gagne, and Mean Gene Okerlund. And that was at Robbinsdale High School. Very unique.
I think the only thing that comes close to that would be West Texas State University where all the guys, [Ted] DiBiase, [Bruiser] Brody, [Stan] Hansen, and the list goes on, but they came from all over town, that one town.
SLAM! Wrestling: You and Ivan Koloff had some brutal and bloody Russian Chain matches against The Road Warriors. What was your strategy going into a Russian Chain match?
NIKITA KOLOFF: Don’t get hurt (laughs). That was the number one thing on our mind. If I had one chipped tooth I had many, and that’s something people don’t understand, they think it’s a work. But hey, that chain is real. So that was part of the challenge of that match and those were fun matches. I always enjoyed a good ol’ Russian Chain match. I really did.
Somebody recently posted something on social media and said they were just watching my chain match against Sting and I enjoyed that type of match because it was so unique and different. But we did have to really be aware of loose links flying around or catching an eye, or chipping a tooth. But here again, you couldn’t completely protect yourself from that and things happen and it’s a part of the business. But I really, really enjoyed those matches.
A Russian chain has its own physics. I’ll give you one example. I mentioned Sting and he recently reminded me of this, I always did a deal where I’d wrap the chain around my opponent’s neck and throw him over the top rope like I was hanging you. And it reminded me how the chain somehow got cinched around Sting’s neck and it was so tight he couldn’t even get his fingers in between his neck and the chain to give him some breathing room. And the referee’s out there and he’s like trying to let everybody know he’s choking to death and everyone thinks Sting’s just selling.
I remember thinking, “Wow, he’s really selling this thing!” but the truth is, he was choking. He couldn’t breath, and I had no idea. I was just into the match and of course the referee thought he was just selling, so yeah, precarious things happen in a Russian Chain match.
- Nikita Koloff Q & A Part 2: Mid-Atlantic days, loyalty, fan memories
- Nikita Koloff’s official website
- Twitter: @nikitakoloff1
- Canadian Wrestling’s Elite website
CWE PICK YOUR POISON TOUR As it did with Nikita Koloff, Canadian Wrestling’s Elite is about to start a new, lengthy tour. This one through western and central Canada features Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Watch for Tony Kozina’s diary from the tour again on SLAM! Wrestling. Here are the dates and locations: Dec 26- Stonewall, MB
Dec 27- Gladstone, MB
Dec 28- Yorkton, SK
Dec 29- Melfort, SK
Dec 30- Prince Albert, SK
Dec 31- Saskatoon, SK
Jan 1- St. Albert, AB
Jan 2- Golden, BC
Jan 3- Calgary, AB
Jan 4- Medicine Hat, AB
Jan 5- Assiniboia, SK
Jan 6- Regina, SK
Jan 7- Moosomin, SK
Jan 8- Virden, MB
Jan 9- Souris, MB
Jan 10- Brandon, MB
Jan 11- Morden, MB
Jan 12- Winnipeg, MB
Jan 13- Thunder Bay, ON
Jan 14- Sault Ste. Marie, ON
Jan 15- Blind River, ON