HeadLocker — Jay Shannon
OWW Wrestler of the WeekL Vladimir Kozlov
Our resident philosopher, Jay Shannon, profiles the Moscow Mauler, who shocked the wrestling world by defeating Jeff Hardy on Smackdown.
On Smackdown, Vladimir Kozlov put his unbeaten streak on the line against The Rainbow-Haired Warrior, Jeff Hardy. The Las Vegas crowd was stunned with Kozlov defeated Hardy in the main event. Kozlov has been undefeated since his arrival on Smackdown. His unbeaten streak and demolition of Jeff Hardy have earned Vladimir Kozlov this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week award.
An Unlikely Beginning
Unlike most so-called Russian wrestlers, Vladimir Kozlov (Oleg Prudius) was born in the former Soviet Union territory of Ukraine and emigrated to the United States as a young man. Prudius was an amazing sports star in his youth. He played American Football for the Ukrainian National Team. He was also the 2005 USA Open Heavyweight Sambo (martial arts) champion. In addition, he held the title of United States Kickboxing Association International Heavyweight Grappling Champion. He was a standout at Santa Barbara College on their football team. Prudius was interested in playing football professionally, until he was introduced to Jerry Jarrett.
Making Oleg sound more Russian
On January 17, 2006, Prudius signed a developmental deal with the WWE and was sent to the training facility in the Deep South Wrestling organization. The deal was quite unusual because Prudius was actually discovered by TNA’s Jerry Jarrett. Jarrett made a landmark deal to send Prudius to Vince McMahon. The details of that deal were never fully revealed. The trainers in DSW decided that Prudius’ name didn’t sound “Russian enough”. One early plan was to have him use the surname of Koloff, in tribute to former WWWF champion, Ivan Koloff. He would have been touted as a distant relative of The Russian Bear. That idea was abandoned and he was given the similar sounding Kozlov name. The first name, Vladimir, was taken from several sources, including Vlad Dracul or Vlad the Impaler (Dracula). The creative team felt that it had a more menacing sound that his given first name of Oleg.
Vladimir, who speaks Ukrainian, Russian and English, used only Russian during his early promos. Kozlov only spent 5 months in DSW before being “called up”. His quick promotion caused him some grief from more established stars, but Kozlov quickly proved he was worth the push.
Vladimir arrives in Double Double E
When Kozlov first came to the WWE proper, he was put at ringside to simply cut promos and to work the occasional dark match. Kozlov’s character was a proud man who bragged about being able to defeat all competition. He was ridiculed by fans when he began to refer to the company as Double Double E in broken English. Kozlov never worked a televised match during his first run in WWE. Due to the over-whelming negative response from the crowds, Kozlov was demoted to OVW, another training territory. He spent over a year in the smaller organization and worked the occasional WWE dark match. Kozlov was undefeated during this time, including taking the OVW title from Paul Burchill. Kozlov then handed the belt to Michael Kruel, as part of a previous arrangement.
Smackdown gets Moscow Mauled
On April 4, 2008, Kozlov was brought back to the WWE. He was assigned to the Smackdown brand. The good-natured Kozlov from a year earlier was gone. The new version was a darker, brooding brute who started his Smackdown run by trashing local talent in a series of squash matches. From there, Kozlov moved up the ladder to more established mid-card talent, like Funaki, Shannon Moore, Nunzio, Domino and Jimmy Wang Yang. Kozlov was also seen as unusual for his lack of an entrance theme or Titantron video package. He also wore a plain pair of white trunks and old style boots. He came to the ring under a single white spotlight, while the rest of the arena was dark.
Kozlov became more and more aggressive towards his opponents. He also began to demand “more competition”. He shifted his focus from the smaller men to some of the top tier stars. He had a face to face showdown with The Big Show. Their battle was short-circuited by the screeching voice of Smackdown GM, Vickie Guerrero. The crowd was irate that the match was called off. Kozlov then set his sights on Jeff Hardy, who was the number one contender, at the time. Kozlov used his Battering Ram Headbutt to take out Hardy on several occasions. At the same time, Kozlov stalked the WWE champ, Triple H. Kozlov assaulted Triple H, multiple times.
As Cyber Sunday looms, Kozlov is looking to possible face Triple H for the WWE Title. The options are: Triple H v Kozlov, Triple H v Jeff Hardy or Triple H v Jeff Hardy v Kozlov. The fans will make the choice. It seems almost assured that the WWE title will be contended in a Triple Threat match. With Triple H’s Iron Grip on the title, it is unlikely that either man will walk away from the battle with the gold. If anyone can unseat The Game, Kozlov seems to have the best chance. His Headbutt is devastating. His thrust kicks are near-lethal. His variation of the Scorpion Death Drop is second to none. If he doesn’t take the gold at Cyber Sunday, he will in a future event.
Oleg Prudius/Vladimir Kozlov will likely join the names of Ivan Koloff, Nikita Koloff and Nikolai Volkoff as one of the greatest Russian wrestlers of all time. Kozlov will wear gold in the WWE. He is possibly one of the toughest men to step through the ropes since the days of Killer Kowalski. The Moscow Mauler will continue to destroy all in his sights on his quest for Better Competition. He is a combination of Dean Malenko, Lance Storm and Nikita Koloff. He is a refreshing return to old school wrestling of yesteryear. His destruction of Jeff Hardy, along with his consistent dominance in the world of wrestling has earner Vladimir Kozlov this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week award.