Nikita Koloff, the “Russian Nightmare,” was one of the biggest heels in wrestling in the 1980s.
His feud with Magnum TA is one of the most famous in WCW history.
After Magnum TA’s retirement due to injury Koloff made an abrupt but celebrated turn as a babyface before retiring in 1992. Koloff is currently a practicing minister running his own ministry.
Nikita, in his interview with Chris and Stephanie, covers his time growing up in Minnesota (not Russia), getting ribbed by Curt Hennig and Rick Rude in high school, Ivan Koloff teaching him his first moves right before his first match, and auditioning for the role of Ivan Drago while maintaining kayfabe.
Nikita Koloff On Getting His Start With Zero Training
Koloff was recruited into wrestling by his old football teammate Joe Laurinaitis, better known as Road Warrior Animal.
Koloff who had no background in any form of wrestling was quickly ushered into the business after a five-minute call with Jim Crockett where Koloff tried to make it clear he had no experience in the business to Crockett:
“‘Mr. Crockett, you understand I have no amateur wrestling background, I have no professional training, zero, nada, nothing.’
And he said, ‘Yup, that’s what they told me.’
And I go ‘and you’re good with that?’
And I go, ‘What’s next?’
‘Be in my office on such and such a day with your head shaved bald.’
And I go, ‘That’s it?’
He goes, ‘That’s it.’
I go, ‘See you then.’
I hung up the phone, I didn’t have another conversation with him.
I showed up his office the day they said to be there, a town I’d never been before, with everything I owned in my name. He took a look at me, walked out, walked in with two guys, Ivan Koloff, Don Kernodle and said, ‘take a look at your new partner.’
Nikita Koloff was born in the hallways of Charlotte that day.”
Koloff on the job learning didn’t end there. Before he even learned how to wrestle, he had his first televised match with Ivan Koloff teaching him his first moves in the dressing room:
“So, in the dressing room, they showed me how to lock up, just a couple basic things and then Crockett, because of that, I think started having second thoughts, to Ivan’s credit, I think he convinced Crockett to still let me go on.”
Nikita Koloff on Keeping His Face Turn A Secret from Almost Everyone
After Magnum TA’s car accident forced him to retire from wrestling, Koloff became a babyface.
He served as Dusty Rhodes surprise partner in cage match against J.J. Dillon and Ole Anderson.
Koloff’s turn wasn’t just a surprise for the fans, but also for almost everyone in the company including those in the ring. Before the match, Koloff, Dusty Rhodes, and Jim Crockett Jr. kept the turn a secret from everyone else in the company:
“There were three people in that circle [who knew about the turn] Dusty Rhodes, Jim Crockett Jr., and Nikita Koloff we told no one, nada. Not a soul until the night I walked into the babyface dressing room did they kinda [have] an “a-ha” moment for them.
Nor did the heels over in the other end of the arena have any clue either honestly until I walked out to the ring.”
Nikita Koloff on auditioning for ‘Rocky IV’
Koloff auditioned for the role of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. A firm believer in kayfabe, Nikita didn’t speak English anywhere in public.
For three years after his retirement, he still spoke with a Russian accent. This included during a screen test with Sylvester Stallone:
“I didn’t break character anywhere. I’m testing, I’m screen testing for Rocky IV [as] Ivan and I’m not only in character for the screen test because I’m supposed to be this Russian boxer, right? No, off-camera I’m talking to Sylvester in the accent.
Never breaking character, ever. That’s how much I protected the character. I mean, my gosh, I legally changed my name, I learned a few words in Russian, my kids are named Koloff, come on.
While everything was going well during the test and Koloff had nothing to good things to say about his interactions with Stallone, ultimately at 6’2 and 285 pounds was just too big compared to Stallone for it to be believable that Rocky would have any chance:
For those who don’t know, on the silver screen he looks ginormous, right like bigger than life. In real life like for real he’s 5’6, he’s about a buck sixty with rocks in his pocket. He’s not a big guy, he’s pretty ripped but he’s not a big guy.
I do two screen tests by myself. [Stallone] says, “Let’s do one more together, side by side. Halfway through, finish your lines, turn towards me and we do a nose-to-nose stare down.”
We do it. Cut. He asked, “how was it” and I’ll never forget. The director quote-unquote says, ‘It was really good until you turned towards each other but then we lost you in his shadow.’ Meaning I was so big they couldn’t see Stallone on their screen. Like he disappeared basically.
And I thought two things real quick – One, not good for his ego, secondly, not good for my opportunity.”
Later the director called Koloff to confirm this:
“The Director would later call me and say to me […] “even for Hollywood, your size with a 35-year-old Rocky, even for Hollywood it would just be too unbelievable that he could beat a guy who looks like you.'”
For more check out Not About Wrestling’s full interview with Nikita Koloff.