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.
Below is part two of our interview in which Koloff delves into his loyalty to the Crocketts, wrestling fans, and the enduring legacy of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.
SLAM! Wrestling: Whose idea was it for Nikita Koloff to make his NWA television debut as Ivan Koloff’s nephew?
NIKITA KOLOFF: That whole storyline, originally, Sgt. Slaughter and Don Kernodle were the ones who came up with the whole idea of a nephew for Ivan.
And then they wrote out a whole two-year plan where the nephew comes in, Kernodle becomes a turncoat — from Private Kernodle to a turncoat, a sympathizer with the Russians — and then the nephew and the uncle turn on him. And then Kernodle calls Slaughter in and they wrestled for flags and belts and all kinds of things. And so everything transpired up to the point of Slaughter coming in, then Slaughter went to the WWF.
I think Kernodle was still hopeful that Slaughter would come on down once the storyline unfolded, but I think Slaughter was locked in with Vince McMahon at that time.
SLAM! Wrestling: Did you consider wrestling for the WWF in the ’80s?
NIKITA KOLOFF: When Krusher (Kruschev, Barry Darsow) went up to the WWF and became Demolition Smash, he approached me and let me know he was leaving and going up to New York. He told me, “I’m going to do this character in this Demolition tag team thing and would you like to come with me?”
I remember feeling two things. I said, “Barry I really can’t do that. I just feel like I got to respect Animal and Hawk and their characters,” and I felt like Demolition was kind of a take-off on the Road Warriors, in a sense.
So, somewhat out of respect for that, I turned him down. And secondly, the amount of time and effort I put in to getting my own character, Nikita Koloff, over, it would to me really just be taking away from all that hard work and labour.
And that’s when Bill Eadie (Demolition Ax) came into the picture, and so I potentially could have gone up to the WWF and done some big things, but out of loyalty to the Crocketts I made the choice to stay.
SLAM! Wrestling: Wrestling for the Crocketts in the mid-’80s, you sometimes wrestled in Puerto Rico’s NWA territory, the World Wrestling Council. What was that like?
NIKITA KOLOFF: I did three or four trips to Puerto Rico and some of my biggest matches were against Hercules Ayala. But I had no interest to go back there as a heel ever again. Boy, the fans were brutal on the heels down there.
I remember in one of the stadiums we had armed guards with AK-47s, just trying to get us into the stadium and into the dressing room. You hear the stories about the kids outside throwing bags of rocks, well, one of the matches I got hit with a spark plug that cut my arm open, and yeah, it was crazy.
Back in ’85 and ’86, Jim Crockett was working with (Carlos) Colon, it was a working relationship with the Crocketts, Colon would come up sometimes over the years and I went down there for a couple spot shows here and there.
SLAM! Wrestling: In the mid-’80s, you also wrestled on those co-promoted NWA-AWA supercards known as Star Wars for Pro Wrestling USA.
NIKITA KOLOFF: With Pro Wrestling USA, I have a recollection of the Crocketts wanting to work with (Verne) Gagne, to really try to create a brand. Obviously they were in a lot of competition with WWF back then, and with Vince McMahon, especially going into basically his territory like New Jersey and New York, Philly, and these markets that he dominated for so many years.
And just trying to put together a supercard that would be second to none, I commend them all to have worked collectively together on that, even if it was short lived. But Pro Wrestling USA, we had some pretty tremendous cards and we had some amazing match-ups.
SLAM! Wrestling: What were some of your most memorable matches? Is there one particular house show that stands out?
NIKITA KOLOFF: When I think back, honestly, I feel like I had so many memorable matches, whether they were televised or not.
Probably the most popular thing I hear about from fans is the “Best of Seven Series” with Magnum T.A., and although they were big shows, the only one that was televised I believe was match number seven. And they dedicated the entire hour of the weekly Mid-Atlantic show to that one match, which was amazing.
But the other matches we had, the one that comes to mind was in Norfolk, Virginia, and it was Magnum and I in a singles match. I’ve got Ivan in my corner and then Baron von Raschke hits the ring as well, and it was three on one. And of course that’s a military town and Magnum’s from Chesapeake, just down the block and I had about a half a dozen matches where fans literally rolled into the ring and came after me to attack me, mostly against Flair.
But this one time in Norfolk with Magnum, it turned out we had this little tiny guy in the crowd who had a few bottles of courage in him, and I thought he had something in his hand. I didn’t know if he did or if he didn’t, anyways, I let him get through the ropes and I gave him a boot and he went down. And it was a pretty stiff boot. I look and he’s coming back up so I give him another boot and he goes down. He comes up again and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh,” so I give him another boot and he goes down and I call to Ivan, “Hold this guy down!” And Magnum’s overselling with the Baron and the fans are going crazy. So I just took my chain and I just kind of swung it and I hit him in right in the head with the chain.
A few months later the promoter tells me the guy was arrested and was a military guy, and the judge reads the report and asks him if he has anything to say for himself and he says, “Well, your honour, I think justice was served in the ring.”What ended up happening was, he was taken to the hospital and he ended up with a concussion from me whacking him in the head with the chain, and so the judge looks at the report and he says, “I believe you’re right, just don’t ever do it again.” So, although it involved a fan, I have so many wonderful memories of Magnum and me in the ring, but that one jumps out because of the fan involvement.
SLAM! Wrestling: What do you enjoy most about the meet-and-greets with fans, like the ones you did this summer for CWE?
NIKITA KOLOFF: One of the things I really appreciate is I get to hear the stories from the fans, like “Hey, I remember this one match…” or “When I was a kid my brother and sister or my grandmother loved you,” and just the different stories and perspectives I get to hear, that otherwise I would never hear. So, the stories are what I enjoy most.
I’m certainly humbled by that. I’ve heard a number of comparisons fans make between me and current stars in WWE and certainly, the character of Nikita Koloff was a force to be reckoned with. That’s what Jim Crockett intended, building up this character who was unstoppable and who could potentially beat the champion.
And teaming up with Uncle Ivan and then the dynamic of the two of us with Don Kernodle and Krusher Khruschev, and eventually Dusty Rhodes and Sting and a couple others that I partnered with. It has made for very fond memories looking back on my career, and I hear over and over and over again, fans will tell me that was a golden era that just will never be repeated again. And if I’ve heard that once I’ve heard it a thousand times.
I just feel really fortunate to have been a part of it and able to experience that, and of course by choice, when I walked away in ’93, it was under my own terms and by choice. And you could say my career was more short term than others’ but it was by my choosing, and yet I was a part of those formative years that I believe really helped launch the pay-per-views and that whole scenario.
SLAM! Wrestling: You also wrestled periodically for the AWA and Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory.
NIKITA KOLOFF: Yes, I did some things with Verne for the AWA, and how that came about was again, the Crocketts’ willingness to work with Verne and other promoters, along with Bill Watts and others.
So the Crocketts would sort of loan me out, you might say, to some of these other promotions, but just for TV tapings or a couple matches or something of that nature. So, I really wasn’t necessarily on their payroll, as much as coming in as an attraction or you might say as a favour to that territory, to try maybe help give them a boost.
And many, many, many have asked me how come I never went to the WWF, “Did Vince ever ask you?” and there have been lots of rumours and stories about that.
So here’s the facts, like I said earlier, I never really entertained the idea of going to WWF because (Jim) Crockett gave me a break. With no training and no background, he gave me the kind of break that probably no one in the history of wrestling ever had. He took a chance. And yes, I was able to take my talent and utilize that, but he still gave me the break, so I felt.
And I’m a loyalist to a fault sometimes, but I felt a loyalty to Jim Crockett, even when the contracts were starting to come into play. Could I have leveraged the WWF and negotiated probably two or three times a contract? Probably, but I just never felt led to do that.I wasn’t going to try to negotiate or say to somebody, “Hey I could go to New York and make twice as much. What are you going to give me, Jim?” I just never did that because I just had a loyalty to Jim Crockett. So in my mind, the NWA, the WCW, that’s my home although I did make a few appearances in other territories.
SLAM! Wrestling: How connected are you with today’s wrestling scene and WWE?
NIKITA KOLOFF: When I walked away I walked away. And aside from doing some “legends” signings, I’m still connected with some of the guys like Ted DiBiase, Lex Luger, and Sting, and we kind of keep our finger on the pulse of today’s wrestling.
But I guess my greatest awareness is, you know I did an autograph signing in Orlando this past year during that whole WrestleMania weekend, and I had guys coming up to me from Japan. They couldn’t even speak English but they wanted to get an autograph from me.
So I’ve noticed that, whether its Canada, or fans from Europe, South America or Australia, people from all over the world were coming to WrestleMania, and that really heightened my own awareness of just how global wrestling is today.
And that’s why I believe the wrestling fan is the absolute greatest on the planet. I don’t say that just tongue and cheek, I very sincerely believe that because they’re willing to fly from Japan to Orlando, and Germany to Orlando. And they recognize me and walk right up and ask for my autograph. How humbling is that? Incredibly humbling.
SLAM! Wrestling: All those fans you recently met on your cross-Canada tour with CWE, had many of them watched you on television in the ’80s and early ’90s?
NIKITA KOLOFF: There were three or four towns I was in that never got NWA or WCW on television, with fans who didn’t know Nikita Koloff. But in just about every town, from Banff to Moose Jaw to Thunder Bay, there was kind of a core group of fans from that era that watched me growing up and knew the storylines. And they’d share some of their stories, many about Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, and it was very honouring and humbling as well. Looking back on my tour through Canada this summer, we had 21 days of sunshine and blue sky. There might have been an occasional cloud and a sprinkle of rain, but really for the most part it was terrific. I was like, “Oh my gosh,” I couldn’t have asked for better weather or a better trip. I couldn’t have asked.
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
NIKITA KOLOFF STORIES
- Dec. 24, 2017: Nikita Koloff Q & A Part 2: Mid-Atlantic days, loyalty, fan memories
- Dec. 23, 2017: Nikita Koloff Q & A Part 1: Mentors, ring psychology, chains
- July 30, 2017: Nikita Koloff heads out on a Western Canada odyssey
- Feb. 7, 2016: Magnum/Nikita still compelling all these years later
- May 25, 2009: Epic Koloff-Magnum feud revisited in great DVD