This Pro Wrestling Radio classic features an interview with former United States champion and the star of the reality television show, ‘Preachers‘ Daughters Nikita Koloff. This was probably one of my favorite interviews from all of the years of Pro Wrestling Radio. What made it even better was that I had Nikita live on location for a full hour and we covered everything! Nikita discusses his legendary run in the 1980s in Jim Crockett Promotions which include stories about Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, Sting, Magnum TA, going to the WWE, his exile from wrestling, and much more.
Eric Gargiulo: Did you ever think a wrestler such as Jesse “The Body” Ventura would ever wind up being Governor?
Nikita Koloff: Well I think what’s amazing is that most people think that wrestlers can’t even read, let alone write and become Governors. But, he certainly put the wrestlers on the map.
Eric: How did you get started in the wrestling business?
Nikita: Well it’s quite a unique story you know. I hailed from the ghettos of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was spending many hours in the gym working out, like many guys do, and training for a pro football tryout with the old United States Football League, and a very close, good friend of mine by the name of Road Warrior Animal had broke into the wrestling business and he was wrestling for about a year and a half and Jim Crockett Promotions, they kind of put a word out they were looking for some new athletes and some new life to the business and asked if they knew any big guys, and Animal said “I think I might have a guy in mind,” and he called me one morning and said “what do you think about wrestling”? I said “I think you’re doing great.” He said “no, what do YOU think about wrestling”? I said “you, as in me getting in the ring”? He says “yeah.” I said, “I haven’t thought much about it. What do I got to do”? He said, “You just call this promoter Jim Crockett down in the Carolinas.” I said, “Do they know that I have never been in a wrestling ring? Do they know I have never hit a ring rope?” He said” oh yeah, they know all of that.” I called Jim Crockett. It’s kind of interesting, you know the old saying “timing is everything” is what they say. I called Jim Crockett Promotions, and talked to Jim Crockett and told him upfront “I have never been in the ring.” Sight unseen, he said “be in my office on such and such a date, with your head shaved bald.” I thought, “So far this is a piece of cake.” I thought, “I got nothing to lose here, I’ll give it a shot and if Animal can do it, I certainly can, and if it doesn’t work out I still have the tryout with the USFL.” So I showed up in his office, 285 pounds, 8% body fat, 34″ waist, and he took a double and triple take and said “wait right here.” He walked back in with Uncle Ivan and Don Kernodle, who was at the time the NWA World Tag Team Champions, and said “take a look at your new partner,” and I had never even hit a ring rope, and they were cutting interviews that day, put me right on the interviews with them and said “stand behind them and look mean.” I thought, “So far so good, I could do that to you know”? When that was done they said “you’ll wrestle tomorrow night, huge television taping four hours in Raleigh, NC at the Dalton Arena. I said, “Ok.” He said, “Get here early and these guys will work out with you a little bit,” and we got there late and I had about 5 minutes in the ring. The funniest part of the story is, Crockett was really hot that we got there late and he wasn’t going to let me wrestle, but Uncle Ivan talked him into it and came back and said whatever you do “don’t trip on the ropes getting in the ring or your history. You’re out of here.” I said, “I think I can handle that one too.” Well, we had the match, 13 seconds later I had my first victory and the rest as the saying goes is history.
Eric: Did you watch wrestling growing up and how familiar were you with the sport?
Nikita: I watched it some. I wasn’t what you’d call an avid fan. Cause I was so focused on my sights of playing pro football, although I’d flip through the channels sometimes and catching it, and then I got to know Jesse, back in college. He had a gym, an old gym in Minneapolis, called Ventura’s Gym, and there were about 20 of us gym mullets, that started working out at his club, and we got to know him. So every now and then they’d wrestle at the St. Paul Civic Center, we may pop in there, 18,000 fans, and they loved the other guy and we loved Jesse you know? That was probably my biggest exposure to the wrestling business, and if he were on I’d watch it. If he wasn’t on, maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t.
Eric: What were your first impressions of the wrestling business?
Nikita: Well, it was somewhat, or quite overwhelming initially, early on you know cause I didn’t have the experience that the other guys had or gone through a camp or something of that nature. I was fortunate and blessed to have the ability to adjust to it quickly, and what we did for the next couple months is, we’d get to the towns and I’d have on the job training. Uncle Ivan and Don Kernodle would work out with me and then I’d have a single match that would last about 13 seconds again and they’d have a world tag title match and I’d sit in their corner and I’d sit in my corner and that’s just how it evolved. Of course the whole story, that most people know or they don’t know. In 1984 the Russians boycotted the Olympics in La. So that was perfect timing. You know I didn’t speak any English back then, which is why I’ve mastered the English language so well you understand? Actually, I even studied Russian. Which I did it all on my own? Nobody told me to do it, didn’t have to do it. Like anything I’ve ever done, I put 110% into it, and I thought, “if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.” So that was how it began.
Eric: What was it like working for Jim Crockett, Jr.?
Eric: How did you evolve from thirteen-second matches to one-hour matches? How hard was it?
Nikita: Well, I was very fortunate to have Uncle Ivan as a mentor of the business and being an old school wrestler he taught me a lot of great ring psychology for the business, and I worked with a lot of great guys, as you know. Whoo, Nature Boy Ric Flair was one. Of course, he is one of the masters of the business. He brought me around. The Rock and Roll Express, Magnum T.A., of course he was an up and coming star of his own. There was a natural chemistry with him and I. The Golden Boy of America, just as good looking a kid as you can get and the Russian Nightmare, you know which was real natural. I had some great talent to work with which really catapulted me to the level of reaching a world champion in a very, very short time.
Eric: First impressions of wrestling the Road Warriors, and what were the matches like?
Nikita: The matches were pretty awesome. They were pretty powerful guys. A couple guys who didn’t even really know their own strength, if you know what I’m saying? I’ll tell you a funny story about the Road Warriors. They were infamous for one of the innovators of the press slam. They were one of the first to really bring that to the business. There was an ongoing joke within the business. They had never press slammed me throughout the career right? Well, one particular evening I guess I let my guard down and Animal snatched me up before I knew it, and had me up there press slammed right? I said, “Okay. Yo, big man you want to really show what you can do?” I just put the arms out you know, like I was the 747, I said “let’s really show them how strong you are,” you know? He had me out there flying and laid me down, you know pressed me down and when it was all said and done I said “never again, you caught me one time. Never again buddy.” That was it that was the one time. That was one of the memories from the matches. We had some great matches though. Ivan and I had some fantastic matches, you know? Great guys to work with, just a natural you know? The people really loved those guys. You could feel the electricity in the buildings you know, and the thing is you know at that point in the career, course they were very intense in hating me as well you know, at that particular time.
Eric: Memories of headlining the first ever Great American Bash against Ric Flair?
Nikita: In fact, you know we toured the whole country. RFK Stadium in Washington, the stadium here in Philadelphia, PA, the Vet, we toured all over. We were putting thousands of people in those stadiums. Of course, you know a whole different era. That particular match again, I feel pretty privileged to have been in it. I was only 13 months into the business, and here I’m wrestling in front of 30,000 plus people for the World Heavyweight Title, and needless to say I was pumped and ready brother. I was pumped, and I just look back on that match and feel thankful that I had an opportunity to partake in that.
Eric: How was Ric Flair to work with, under that pressure and being that young in the business?
Nikita: Ric was phenomenal. As I alluded to earlier, he’s a master of the wrestling business. I think he could take a broomstick and make it look good you know? I think that’s the truth of the matter you know? But he was phenomenal. I think back to some of the matches. I sometimes joke, I read the USA Today and they say, “In a two hour show, there’s 34 minutes of wrestling.” I think to myself, my average match lasted 34 minutes against Flair, you know? I think of some of them 1 hour draws and I sometimes wonder how I got through it you know? Being 285 pounds, how my tongue wasn’t dragging on the mat, but I guess just through God’s grace I made it through. But we had phenomenal matches, again I feel fortunate the hour matches were fantastic to be in with him. It was a privilege.
Eric: Are you surprised at Ric Flair’s longevity?
Nikita: Just speaks loudly for his ability doesn’t it? I’m not amazed at all. I’m really not. Better him than me. You know I’ve been home about seven years, enjoying life to it’s fullest with my family, traveling all over the world. It’s just been fantastic. That works for him, that’s good. It works for him and that’s good.
Eric: Memories of the angle in which he sickled David Crockett?
Nikita: Of course he’s got a unique attitude anyway. I don’t know. I think he’s always dreamed of being in the business anyway. I think he really got a thrill that he was part of it I think. Interesting angle you know because, Ric and I never had a confrontation or nothing. I did some dungeon scenes leading up to that and up to that point. Actually no confrontation what so ever until I leveled David Crockett. All the boys in the dressing room popped, because nobody knew it was happening. Oh, nobody. This was a different era you understand? Nobody knew anything back then, for the most part. It’s not like the business now where you can actually tell me what I’m going to do before I do it. But back then nobody knew. Oh, the boys actually thought it was a shoot you know? They thought “Geez, Nikita went off the deep end man, and nailed this guy,” and when you see it on video it’s just devastating looking, and you know what? I didn’t hold back. I did not hold back. I said “ok brother you want to be part of this deal, then let’s see how much you want to be part of this deal.” Flair and I did a little ditty right after that, and that was our only contact prior to stepping into the ring, on that night before thirty- something thousand people. Very unique angle, to never have touched each other for the most part, and draw that kind of crowd was a privilege.
Eric: Memories of working for, and against Bill Watts briefly in the UWF?
Nikita: Well, we just came in for a couple shots to boost his territory down there. Ivan and I, you know we had a tremendous amount of heat on us, and Bill was over pretty strong in the Louisiana territory, the old Mid South. So we came in kind of, I think Jim Crockett as a favor to Bill Watts to try and help him out, again, just natural heat. The six man matches. I don’t know that I was ever in my career in too many bad matches. Because one of my goals when I broke into the business was for them (fans) to say, “Well, I don’t know about any of the other matches, but we got a hundred percent, we got our money’s worth from Nikita Koloff and his match.” So we had great matches with Watts, great matches.
Eric: How do you feel about the comparisons between yourself and Bill Goldberg?
Nikita: I’ve had many who have said, “Boy, this guy must have studied your films.” I joke with people and say, “Often imitated, but never duplicated.” You know what I’m saying, although I’ve never met Bill as of yet. I’ve heard much about his career, and he’s done tremendously well, obviously. It’s interesting, everything works in cycles and it’s like people have said, “He’s the Nikita Koloff of this era,” if you will. It’s been interesting to see what he has done.
Eric: What was Dusty Rhodes like as a booker?
Nikita: (Imitating Dusty’s voice) Super Powers baby, Dusty Rhodes the America Dream, tower of power, too sweet to be sour baby, yeah. Nikita’s my man, yeah. I sleep with the bulls baby, I sleep with the bulls, going to get funky like a monkey yeah. (In normal voice again) Dusty was a great guy. Personally, I got to know him very well. We drove up and down the road for a good year and a half together as the Super Powers, and personally I don’t have a cross word to say about Dusty at all. He treated me well, respected me, and I respected Dusty. Part of it was, unlike some of the guys in the business. I didn’t elevate him to an untouchable level. I didn’t feel he was any different than I was, even though he’s the booker. Because of that I think he respected me more for that which is why he allowed me to become close to him, and personal friends with he and his family. To this day, every year I get the Christmas card, with an updated picture of the kids. He’s got great looking kids you know? I had a great time traveling up and down the road with Dusty.
Eric: How different was it headlining Starrcade against Flair a year after the Bash?
Nikita: Well, of course the Bash was in 85. Starrcade 86 was a major change, because both of us were now on opposite ends of the tracks. I made the turn to become the Super Powers. He turned with the Horseman and what not, really two different dimensions now. So, I came into it with a whole different perspective in the wrestling fans eyes, as well as he. You know I think back to that match, although, I don’t remember specifics. I’ve had hundreds of matches against Ric Flair. I do remember Starrcade 86. I just remember it was a very intense match, and the people were really into it, if I’m not mistaken there was also a scaffold match that was part of that. Probably one of the things that I remember most was when he and I pulling the scaffold into the match by ourselves utilizing it as some kind of a battering ram if you will. But it was a great match.
Eric: I talk about the influence that he and the rest of the NWA crew had on Philadelphia and putting it on the map and making it a capital of wrestling.
Nikita: You’re giving me goose bumps here. You’re literally giving me chill bumps. You know why? Because I remember Philadelphia, there were two towns that stand out in my mind as having the greatest wrestling fans in the world. One was Baltimore and the other was Philadelphia. And I remember when we first came to Philly, they were used to the five-minute cartoon, I’m not naming and don’t you name any names either. I’m not speaking of any competition or anything. All I’m saying is we came into the building and we started wrestling for 30-45 minutes and we heard a lot of borings. BORING! But you know about 6 months later we had 10-12,000 people in the seats. But I say in the seats, they were actually on their feet. They were wrestling 45 minutes. No more boring brother, they’re into it. I loved it. I saw the transformation of the Philadelphia fan, and we brought something new to the marketplace and it was phenomenal. I’m flattered to be part of that era. (I point out how WWF and NWA would go head to head on the same night, 20 minutes apart here)
Eric: Dusty Rhodes recently stated that the feud between you and Magnum T.A. was a shoot. Can you elaborate on that?
Nikita: Well, like I said there was a natural chemistry, a natural competitiveness to that whole angle if you will? You know, I didn’t know Magnum that well; he didn’t know me that well. I think most of the fans walked out of there, pretty much every night saying, “Man that was quite a match.” In fact, I’ve actually heard comments that said, “Well they might say wrestling is fake, but I know that match wasn’t.” As far as elaborating on it, I would just say there was a natural competitiveness there from two athletes, which is what really made it the intensity that it was. As I travel, probably what I hear more than anything from the wrestling fan is the best of seven series. Never before was that ever done, you know there were two out of three falls and that sort of thing, but never a best of seven series. The world series of wrestling if you will, it just didn’t happen. I think back in the way we had to strategize, how to plot it out; the fact that it went up one-nothing, two-nothing, and three-nothing. The fans were, I think they were wondering, “Can Magnum even win a match against this powerhouse.” All the sudden, he won that first one, by the skin of his teeth if you will. They were like “there’s hope, there’s hope.” Then he came back and won number two and now its 3-2, and of course their hope built, and the momentum built, and all the sudden he slipped by in the third one, it is 3-3, which really just peaked for that final match, that seventh match, which again was in Charlotte, NC. Some phenomenal matches in Charlotte, I want to tell you, it was a real Mecca for wrestling there. As we pulled that seventh match together, which was televised, we pulled Krusher Kruschev into the thing. I don’t think it could have worked out any better, when you watch the old footage of it; you know how we use the Russian Chain, and when the chain was kind of thrown down. Even the camera angle, all of it was so unplanned. There the camera was perfectly placed, where the chain, just like a snake, slithered out of the ring. So the referee never saw what was used. It couldn’t have worked out any better, and the fans. Oh my gosh, it was just incredible.
Eric: Who was your favorite Horseman to work with and why?
Nikita: I don’t know necessarily that I had a favorite overall from the standpoint that I had great matches with Arn Anderson, with Tully Blanchard, with Lex Luger, with Ric Flair, and so when I think about that era. Whether it was a single, a tag, a six man, or an eight man, they were all great matches. If I had to try and isolate one match, I would say the first time we went into Landover, Maryland. You know the Cap Center? It was right around the July 4, era. Nobody thought we’d do any business, because it was the holidays, we’d never been in the Cap Center before. We’d finally been able to negotiate and get in. Vince said, “Yeah sure, they can get in.” Because he didn’t figure we’d do any business around the holidays. Yet, we put 23,000 people in there that night. We had an eight-man tag against the Horseman. The Super Powers and The Road Warriors against the Horseman, and I’m going to tell you something. The entire time we really milked it to where I never even got in the ring for the first 15 minutes, and the people were chanting for the entire 15 minutes “Nikita, Nikita, Nikita.” When I came in, just a tremendous roar, a pop from the crowd and 23 minutes they were on their feet watching that match, and that was probably one of the most memorable with the Horseman.
Eric: Memories of the original War Games?
Nikita: Depending on whom you would talk to. Some would say I had one of the easiest jobs in the world next to Road Warrior Hawk. I tell you one of the guys I compliment the most is Arn Anderson. He was always the first one in the ring. You’re going to pull the first load, which meant he was in there for thirty-plus minutes you know? It was a brutal match, believe it or not. Innovative, unique, wire on the top, and it was just non-stop action, just on and on and on, and but the level of excitement for the fans. Every two minutes the bell was ringing, here comes another guy, what’s going to happen? So, you know it was great. It was great to be part of that. To lay the foundation for what is now a tremendous marketing for them. People weren’t really sure what’s going to happen, especially, early on because you had Paul Ellering in there and J.J. Dillon. They were hopeful that J.J. would be the weak link. But they weren’t too sure about Paul anymore. He had trimmed down to good shape. They were just uncertain, the wrestling fan. To what the end result would be.
Eric: What are your memories of your feud with Lex Luger?
Nikita: You know what? Like I said, I can’t remember having too many bad matches. I really can’t no matter who I was in the ring with, because of my commitment to the business and giving it the best that I could give. Again, I think about my matches with Lex Luger and we had some great matches together. He was great to work with. No complaints about Lex. I’m probably one of the few perhaps, from the feedback I get, that could actually tolerate Lex. But I enjoyed those matches.
Eric: Why did you grow your hair in?
Nikita: I flipped out. I flipped out. I’ve always been a radical from youth and I said, “I’m going to do something different this time around.” If I had to do all over again would I have? Well, no, I wouldn’t have. In fact Dusty would always say (in Dusty’s voice) “baby you’re rebel baby, you’re tearing me up, you’re a rebel baby, you’re a rebel man, you’re making my job hard man, you’re making it hard.” So, it was just something I tried.
Eric: What happened to the Vladimir Petrov angle?
Nikita: You know I truthfully don’t know the whole entire story on that. I really don’t. It’s hard to comment on that. As with the wrestling promotion, they try different things. Some work and some don’t. I guess that’s the best way I can summarize that.
Eric: What lead to your comeback with WCW in the early nineties?
Nikita: They called me and I said “well, ok let’s give it a shot.” So I presented him with the U.S. belt and left an impression upon his face with it you know, and half the crowd popped, and I thought, “Wait a minute.” Lex was one of the top babies in the business. I said “ok.” We ran with that for a few months, and half the crowd was for him, and half was for me. So they said “well ok, we’ll here’s what we’ll do, we’ll put you with Sting.” So we did the deal. They were against the Steiners in a tag match in St. Pete, and I made a lunge for Luger, and he ducked and I hit Sting. Of Course we had a brawl, Sting and I had a brawl in the parking lot, and that lead to the thing with Sting. That was a little bit better. It was maybe about 75/25. Then it finally dawned on them “maybe he does know what he’s talking about.” So I took again, a minor hiatus and came back on the other side, kissed and made up with Sting. Brought the little Stinger out, which by the way on that show in Atlanta was one of my daughters. Then you know, finish out the career on the good side of the tracks.
Eric: Where are you at as far as a comeback?
Nikita: Well you know the old expression, “Never say never” So I wouldn’t rule out anything of course. If it was the right situation, you never know what could happen. We do have a couple things coming up in the Pennsylvania area, that I am going to participate in with my good friend Afa the Wild Samoan. The Wild Samoan, in fact in July we’re doing a couple of big shows. I’m actually going to be involved.
Eric: What is your current physical state?
Nikita: I’m pretty fortunate. You know, I was only 33 when I retired, so really at that point I could have wrestled another 17 more years according to some of the statistics that I have seen. I try to keep myself in shape, working out not everyday, but enough to maintain, home with my beautiful family. I have four beautiful children and a beautiful wife, so I’m around the family quite a bit. I’m involved in some business ventures. Afa has teamed up with us, as well as some of the other guys. The fans may see down the road The Rock and Rikishi team up with us on some business ventures, and we may give people the opportunity to get in business with their favorite wrestler, with a company called Pre Paid Legal Services, and we’ll talk more about that down the road. So we got some things going on there. Very involved too Eric, many know, many don’t in ministry now, in fact a good friend of mine, The Million Dollar Man, Ted DiBiase. You know we had a parallel career in wrestling, him with the WWF, and me with the WCW. Now we are having similar parallel careers if you will, in the evangelism field. He is out speaking, as well as I. Motivational talks in schools, and then we’re traveling around all over the globe now, sharing the gospel quite frankly which is a whole other story for another time. Life is good brother. Life is good. Let me say if I could, how we even came together. It was through my father in law of course. I’m negotiating right now for a Legends Of Wrestling doll. Which will be a classic, you know why? We could never come to an agreement during my career. They always wanted 99% and wanted to give me 1%. I just don’t understand that math. So this will be a true collectable. We are in negotiations, and nearing completion of that as well, for the wrestling doll.
Eric: Would you cut your hair again for a comeback?
Nikita: Right now you’ve got people going “hair, he’s got hair.” Rogaine, in fact when I walk into different churches, or wherever I’m at. They go “who’s this guy, the bodyguard.” You know I give them the accent. As soon as I start talking, then they go, “Oh my gosh that is Nikita.” But you know I’m under camouflage, I can actually go out with my family and eat in peace. I can actually do that. You know what? It just ties into the story of Nikita Koloff. Yes, I got hair, and lots of it. That’s another story for another time.
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