Former NWA/WCW star Nikita Koloff has gone from professional wrestler to preacher, and is now entering a new phase of his life as a reality television star with Preachers' Daughters. I was given the chance to talk with Mr. Koloff about his career as a professional wrestler and what he has been doing since he left the business. This is what he had to say:
Rex Ivanovic: Mr. Koloff, how did you get your start in professional wrestling?
Nikita Koloff: Well its a really neat story. We've done a lot of research on this and there is no one that has ever broken into the business like I did. Lot of misconceptions out there. Some say Eddie Sharkey trained me and broke me in up in Minneapolis, but the truth of the matter is that Road Warrior Animal called me up one day and shared with me a storyline idea for a nephew for Ivan Koloff.
He asked me if I would be interested and I told him, "Joe, you know I have no training, no amateur or professional background. I have trained for professional football. What would I have to do?" He told me to just call this promoter in Charlotte named Jim Crockett.
So, I put the phone call in and literally had a five-minute conversation with Jim Crockett, sight unseen, and told him the very same thing I just told you. His response was, "be in my office on June 4th with your head shaved bald" and I said, "Okay, I'll see ya then."
I called Animal back and told him that story and he hooked me up with some tights and some boots and a flight to Atlanta. He picked me up and took me up to Charlotte and I walked into Crockett's office on the day he said to be there. He took a look at me, walked out, and then walked back in with two guys- Ivan Koloff and Don Kernoodle the Tag Team Champions. He sat them down and introduced me as their new partner.
On that day they put me on an interview set for four or five hours just standing there looking mean.
When we got done, he told me to be in Raleigh tomorrow night and that I was going to wrestle on television. Now keep in mind Rex, I've never been in a ring and never hit a ring rope up until this point. We got to Raleigh and a who's who of wrestling was there.
And came my time to wrestle. Eleven seconds later, with no experience or training, I had my first win in professional wrestling... and of course you know the story from there.
Rex Ivanovic: What was your experience in the locker room coming in with zero experience?
Nikita Koloff: Initially nobody knew me and I didn't know anyone. I wasn't a wrestling fan growing up, it wasn't even on my radar. Pro football was always my passion. So I am meeting guys like King Kong Bundy, Stan Hansen, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, and all these guys. I'm just like, "Nice to meet you." and these guys don't really know me from Adam.
I will say though, over the next few months as they got to know who I was, like with anything I suppose, there was levels of animosity.
By that I mean, because I had no background, training, or experience there were guys who had been trying to get a break for 3, 4, 5, 8 years or longer who for whatever reason couldn't get a break. Here comes this newbie who steps right into the mainstream, mainlight, and main event; as you might imagine there was some animosity.
Rex Ivanovic: You mentioned a few names that you worked with, who were some of your favorites guys to get in the ring with?
Nikita Koloff: When I look back, I can honestly say there wasn't anyone I didn't like to work with. There were certain guys though that were a lot of fun to work with: Road Warriors, Ravishing Rick Rude, classic matches with Magnum TA in the Best of Seven series, of course the Super Powers with Dusty going against the Four Horsemen. The singles matches with Ric Flair were favorites of mine, along with the Wargames and Starrcades.
The list just goes on and on.
Rex Ivanovic: The Best of Seven with Magnum TA was a personal favorite feud of mine and after Magnum's accident it was used as a launching point to turn you face. What was is like going from one of the most hated wrestlers in professional wrestling to a fan favorite?
Nikita Koloff: It was a unique experience. I just had a taste of that wrestling over in Kuwait, maybe about six months prior. With the Cold War going on and the Russian persona, I never expected to ever wrestle as a face, and in Kuwait I got a taste of it wrestling with Sergeant Slaughter.
Lo and behold I was the fan favorite wrestling in the Middle East. (laughter) That was weird, really weird.
Like you said, over in America I was the number one most-hated guy in professional wrestling. People were not real friendly to me and to make that switch, I look back at it with fond memories and feel fortunate to have experienced both sides of the fence. Just a great experience overall.
Rex Ivanovic: You are one of the most notable wrestlers to have never worked for Vince McMahon. Did you ever come close to taking the trip up north to work for WWF?
Nikita Koloff: Well, yes and no. I think that I am the only top name that never wrestled for Vince McMahon. Well, I take that back, Sting and I are the only two that have not jumped ship.
To answer your question though, when Barry Barsow was here wrestling with us as Krusher Kruschev he originally wanted me to go up there and wrestle with him as Demolition. I told Barry that I really couldn't do that because I had a loyalty to Jim Crockett for giving me my break. Boy did he take a chance with me or what? A real roll of the dice to put me on television with no experience, so I felt a real sense of loyalty.
When I said no to Barry, he eventually got Bill Eadie. For that reason, (even though I feel without a shadow of a doubt that I could have gone up there and had matches with Hulk Hogan and everyone else and have made ten or even twenty times as much money as I was making at the time) because of my loyalty to Jim Crockett, I chose not to do that.
Rex Ivanovic: Your career lasted for under a decade. Was it always your plan to go out at the top like that, or did circumstances force that upon you?
Nikita Koloff: That's a great question, Rex. It was a 100% absolute plan. When I broke into the business I told Ivan Koloff that I would be retired and out of the ring by the time I was 35, because of my childhood dreams of making it into professional sports and a pet peeve that athletes, some of them anyway, are not willing to walk away.
Growing up, I always said to myself that I will walk away at the top and leave the people wanting more, rather than people saying, "When is this guy going to retire?" I was about a year of so ahead of that plan. I was 33 on the way to turning 34 when I made the decision to leave. I look back at it with absolutely zero regrets.
Rex Ivanovic: Do you still keep up with the business today or get a chance to watch some wrestling?
Nikita Koloff: You know, because of my schedule, I don't watch a lot of TV. However, I do keep up with a number of the guys. A couple of hours ago, Lex Luger and I had a half-hour conversation on the phone. He has become a very dear personal friend. He and I do a lot of ministry tag teaming together.
Sting and I keep in contact, and I usually see him at least once a quarter. I've been a mentor to him over the years in his walk as a Christ follower. I still keep up with Ted DiBiase, Ivan, and Magnum. There are a number of guys I still run into. Tully Blanchard and I usually run into each other at celebrity golf tournaments and fundraisers. Some of us do stay connected and in contact.
Rex Ivanovic: Since you left the business, what have you been up to?
Nikita Koloff: Well, it's been an amazing journey, Rex. Walked away from wrestling on a quest to see what life would hold next in 1993. I came to a realization. I've got this quote "famous wrestling career" and so I'm successful, very recognizable name, and yet I feel unfulfilled.
It was during that year, that I was invited to a church, and it was on the 17th of October that I went from feeling empty to fulfillment through a decision that was made that day when I surrendered my heart and my life to Christ.
The journey since then has been amazing. I have been to over 25 different countries, I've written three books, I've spoken to audiences as large as 70,000 people, and given motivational and inspirational talks at schools.
Now I have come full circle with Preachers' Daughters, our new show that premiered on Lifetime [the cable television channel] last Tuesday night [Mar. 12], with the opportunity to come back into mainstream television and hopefully make an impact or difference in people's lives in a different way than entertaining them in the ring.
Now, our hope is that through Preachers' Daughters families will come together and bridge gaps of communication. We will give people an inside look at the life of a preacher, as well as his family, especially teenage daughters.
Already, a friend stopped me and wanted to say thank you to me. He said, "I watched Preachers' Daughters last week and you inspired me with your daddy-daughter dates. I took my daughter out for a lunch date and we had a great conversation with one another. I just wanted to say thank you."
I am very excited about the new TV show and I've got some movies that will be coming out soon, so I've got a full plate.
Rex Ivanovic: It sounds like you very much love what you are doing.
Nikita Koloff: It's the most rewarding thing that I have ever done. I look back on my wrestling career with very fond memories and I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity.
Still, even to this day, like interviewing with you, I'm still out there among what I feel are the best fans on the planet -- and that is the wrestling fan -- they are the most loyal fans. I met a guy yesterday who had two magazines that he brought to me from the 80's with me on the cover and one of my books. So I still get out there with the wrestling fans, just not with the tights. If you want to see me in tights you'll have to YouTube me. (laughter)
But I will show up at the legends signing events, local promotions here in the Mid-Atlantic region, or other towns where promotions are bringing in people to sign autographs and to hug and kiss babies. It's still a lot of fun to get out there and do that stuff.
Rex Ivanovic: I must say, in an industry that has been filled with tragedy -- it is great to hear a positive success story.
Nikita Koloff: I really appreciate that, and you're absolutely right, its an industry that has been filled with tragedy. And hopefully myself, Lex, Ted DiBiase, Sting, Ivan Koloff, Tully Blanchard, and others who have tasted extreme levels of success and realized that all the money in the world can still leave you feeling... really, with what we call, "an empty chase".
Hopefully, we can reach out to our other wrestling peers, our fans, and even just the general public... going back to Preachers' Daughters. People can see that we are just real people going through real life issues and through the medium of television that we can make a positive difference in someone's life.
Rex Ivanovic: If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming wrestler, what would it be?
Nikita Koloff: You know, it's a very different business now then when I broke in. Back then, there were lots of territories and more promotions then there are now. That door of opportunity that was once there is narrower than it once was. I would simply say to a young man or woman that would try to break into the business of professional wresting, that the key would be persistence. You are going to have to be persistent in pursuing that dream and seeing it through to fruition.
Rex Ivanovic: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me.
Nikita Koloff: Thanks Rex, and I appreciate you helping us to get the word out.
Author's note: Lifetime reached out to me with this interview opportunity and requested that I disclose their involvement in getting it set up.