Nikolai Volkoff (born Josip Peruzović in October 14, 1947 – July 29, 2018) was a wrestler who was best known for his performances for the World Wrestling Federation. Although he portrayed a Russian as a wrestler, he originated from Croatia when in Yugoslavia, and had a mixed background which was not entirely Russian.
Peruzović grew up in the Socialist Republic of Croatia, which was then part of the Yugoslavia, a Communist country. His mother is Russian and his father was Croatian and Italian. He was on the Yugoslavian weightlifting team until 1967, when he defected to Canada while at a weightlifting tournament in Vienna, Austria. He received training in Calgary from the legendary Stu Hart, followed by his arrival in the United States in 1970.
World Wide Wrestling Federation
As soon as he arrived, he began wrestling in the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) (currently known as World Wrestling Entertainment). Wrestling as Bepo Mongol, managed by "Captain" Lou Albano and partnered with Geto Mongol, he captured the WWF International Tag Team Titles from Tony Marino and Victor Rivera on June 15, 1970. After losing the titles to Luke Graham and Tarzan Tyler in a match that unified the WWF International and WWF World Tag Team Titles, Peruzovic went on to singles competition under the name Nikolai Volkoff.
In 1974, Volkoff appeared in a memorable match at a sold out Madison Square Garden and wrestled one of the sport's most famous champions, the great Bruno Sammartino. Volkoff chased the WWF title for the majority of his early career and was always given a considerable number of title shots from whoever was the current WWF Champion.
American Wrestling Association; Mid-South
Late in 1974, Volkoff moved to the AWA where he wrestled under the name of Boris Breznikoff; managed by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, he used the same gimmick with a different ring name. He reverted to the Volkoff name in his WWF return in 1976. During this time in the WWF, Volkoff was announced as being from Mongolia. He enjoyed a very successful feud with Bruno Sammartino. The feud started when Volkoff attacked Sammartino during an interview segment. They sold out arenas all throughout the Northeast. Also during this tenure, Volkoff began a ring gimmick where he would crush a fresh apple with one hand as a sign of what he would do to his opponents.
In the early 1980s, Volkoff wrestled for Cowboy Bill Watts in the Mid South region.
World Wrestling Federation
In 1984, Volkoff returned to the now WWF and teamed with the Iron Sheik. It was at this point that Volkoff really pushed the envelope and began to sing the national anthem of the Soviet Union before every match, in order to gain even more heat for being a foreign heel.
The new team of Volkoff and The Iron Sheik captured the coveted WWF Tag Team Championship from The U.S. Express (Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham) at WrestleMania, on March 31, 1985. After losing the titles back to Rotundo and Windham three months later, Volkoff began to wrestle more in singles competition, picking up a notable feud with Corporal Kirchner. They faced off in a flag match at WrestleMania 2, which Kirschner won.
In the fall of 1986, Volkoff's manager Classy Freddy Blassie sold half interest in his stable of superstars to the “Doctor of Style,” Slick (kayfabe). Giving Slick co-managerial rights to Nikolai Volkoff, Classy Freddy Blassie also shared the contracts of the Iron Sheik and Hercules. Blassie eventually retired in the fall of 1986. Sheik and Volkoff feuded with WWF newcomer Jim Duggan for the majority of 1987.
In late 1987, Volkoff was teamed with Boris Zukhov, another alleged Russian (actually an American), to form The Bolsheviks. However, this tag team combination for Volkoff did not gain the success as did his partnership with The Iron Sheik. As they lost the public eye due to many losses, they eventually lost their manager Slick. The Bolsheviks never held any titles together, and are perhaps best remembered for being defeated in 19 seconds by The Hart Foundation at WrestleMania VI. Eventually, by 1990, The Bolsheviks split up. Volkoff publicly ended the partnership prior to a match where he confronted Zukhov and then started singing "The Star-Spangled Banner", drawing loud cheers from the audience and turning face in the process.
A short time after The Bolsheviks split, Volkoff became a fan favorite for the first time in his career. His gimmick was now that of a recently liberated Lithuanian, following the fall of the Soviet Union; he became very pro-west which led to a feud with Sgt. Slaughter who was involved in an Iraqi sympathizer role and teamed with the Iron Sheik, who had recently began an Iraqi gimmick as opposed to his actual Iranian heritage. After this feud was over, Volkoff's popularity declined and he left WWF in 1992.
In 1994, Volkoff again returned to the WWF and became a sympathetic heel by playing the whipping-boy of Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Corporation. Volkoff had kayfabe fallen on hard times and was forced to take a job working for DiBiase and his new Corporation. In order to prepare for the gimmick, he was seen ringside as a mysterious man wearing a suit, whom wrestlers would be seen talking with after one-fall matches. As low man in the group he was forced to wrestle matches no one else wanted to or sent out to "soften up" opponents for other members of the stable as the sacrificial lamb of the group. The disrespect even extended to renaming him "Nickel & Dime" Volkoff and DiBiase forcing him to place a ¢ on his trunks where the Russian sickle once was along with a sign on his ring attire that read "Property Of The Million Dollar Man". Following this last run in the WWF, Volkoff entered a semi-retirement.
Volkoff made a brief cameo on an episode of Shotgun Saturday Night where Todd Pettengill discovered him homeless sleeping in a box on the streets of New York. He also appeared at WrestleMania X-Seven in the Gimmick Battle Royal.
On February 3, 2005, Volkoff was announced as one of the WWE Hall of Fame inductees for the Class of 2005. He was inducted on April 2, 2005 by Jim Ross in the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, California.
In 2006, Volkoff took part in the World Wrestling Legends pay-per-view 6:05 The Reunion. Managed by the Iron Sheik, he wrestled a match against "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan. Before the match, he once again sang the national anthem of the Soviet Union and riled up the crowd.
Volkoff made his first appearance on WWE television in over 2 years on the August 13, 2007 edition of Raw as a contestant on WWE Idol, a parody of American Idol. Volkoff appeared alongside the Iron Sheik and Howard Finkel, although Volkoff was the only one who sang. Volkoff sang the Soviet Union national anthem, receiving boos from the crowd (despite being a face) and was insulted by judge William Regal, although judges Mick Foley and Maria both praised the performance. In response, Sheik, who was also insulted, went on a tirade until both he and Volkoff were escorted out of the building by security.
The March 10, 2008 edition of WWE Raw, featured rematches from previous WrestleManias. The Iron Sheik appeared along with Nikolai Volkoff to face off against the U.S. Express in a rematch from the first WrestleMania. The match was cut short however by Jillian Hall, who came out to sing "Born in the U.S.A."
On the November 15, 2010, edition of Raw, as part of the Old School theme, Volkoff appeared with the Iron Sheik, singing the Soviet national anthem before being interrupted by Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov, the latter of whom then sung a duet with Volkoff of the Russian National anthem.
Peruzovic was married with two daughters. In his autobiography "Listen, You Pencil Neck Geeks", Freddie Blassie describes Peruzovic as a good family man who helped Blassie reconnect with a daughter with whom he had been estranged for many years.
In a 2009 shoot interview released by Pro Wrestling Diary on DVD, Peruzovic tearfully discusses in-depth his history with the late Fred Blassie as well as helping Blassie re-connect with his daughter. In 2010 the aging former WWF wrestler appeared along with wrestler Jimmy Cicero on Karlos Borloff's pop internet TV show Monster Madhouse.
Peruzovic worked as a code enforcement officer in Baltimore, Maryland.
Volkoff died on July 29, 2018, at the age of 70 years old after being released from a hospital in Maryland where he was treated for dehydration among other issues.
He ran unsuccessfully in the 2006 Maryland Republican Primary for State Delegate in District 7 (representing parts of Baltimore & Harford County) in Maryland.
Championships and accomplishments
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- Georgia Championship Wrestling
- Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling
- Mid-South Wrestling
- North American Wrestling
- NAW Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
- Northeast Championship Wrestling (Tom Janette)
- NCW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- NWA Detroit
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him # 136 of the 500 best singles wrestlers during the "PWI Years" in 2003.
- PWI ranked him # 96 of the 100 best tag teams of the "PWI Years" with the Iron Sheik in 2003.
- Universal Wrestling Association
- UWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- World Wide Wrestling Alliance
- WWWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment
- World Wrestling Association
- World Wrestling Association (Larry Sharpe)
- WWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)