WrestlingINC staff member Raj Giri recently spoke to former NWA / WCW Superstar Nikita Koloff about his time in the business, never signing with WWE, his new show Preachers’ Daughters on Lifetime and more. You can watch episodes of Preachers’ Daughters on Lifetime today, the full schedule is at this link. Here is the interview, in its entirety:
WrestlingINC: You were first discovered by Road Warrior Animal, right, when you were trying out for the USFL?
Nikita Koloff: Yeah, I graduated college and was training for a pro football tryout when Road Warrior Animal gave me the phone call. He was actually approached by Don Kernodle, who was Ivan Koloff’s partner at the time. They were the world tag team champions in the NWA. Don had approached Road Warrior Animal and, actually, what he asked was, ‘Do you know any big guys who wouldn’t mind shaving their head and becoming a Russian?’ Animal said, ‘I know just the guy right now.’ That’s how it all happened.
WrestlingINC: Did you watch wrestling as a child?
Koloff: Not really, that’s kind of the irony behind it. My passions as a child was football, and I had my sights on playing football one day. I was familiar with it, but I wasn’t necessarily what you might call a fan of it. I was certainly familiar with it because during my college days, I trained at Jesse Ventura’s gym and I befriended Jesse back in those days. If I followed it at all, it was just because I knew Jesse.
WrestlingINC: You were booked in squash matches and tag team matches early on in your career. Did you get the feeling that pro wrestling was the right career move during that time?
Koloff: I didn’t know what to expect and it was a very unique story. Jim Crockett gave me an opportunity with no amateur background, no professional training, literally just having a conversation with me over the phone, sight unseen. I showed up at his office in Charlotte, North Carolina the day he said to be there. He really took a roll of the dice. He literally put me right on the interview set that day with Ivan and Don and then said, ‘Be in Raleigh tomorrow night, you’re going to wrestling on TV of all things.’ I really had never even been in the ring. So, he really took a chance but — if you go by the career — it was a great roll of the dice for Crockett.
WrestlingINC: You learned really fast. You were involved in those tag matches. I remember one of your matches with the Road Warriors was the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year runner-up in 1985. Who do you credit for learning so quickly on the job?
Koloff: Well, if was literally that: it was on-the-job training. First couple of months after that initial match on TV and having my first professional wrestling in eleven seconds on television. That just launched/catapulted the career. And, of course, Ivan and Don.
I have to give all the credit to Don and Sgt. Slaughter for coming up with the original idea of a nephew for Ivan. Then, Ivan and Don teaching me the ropes — no pun intended — those first couple of months in and out of the ring, on the road and sitting in their corner. Then, just dialogue, discussing the psychology of the business. Certainly it helped that I was a quick study, as far as the student learning. But at the same time, I have to give credit where credit is due and that’s to Don Kernodle and Ivan Koloff.
WrestlingINC: What about your accent? Your promos were so memorable and you said you didn’t have much experience beforehand. Where did you come up with the accent? Was that something you just came up with on your own or studied?
Koloff: Well, you know, part of the storyline was that I didn’t speak any English — which I didn’t do for about the first six months other than in the car I drove in, the dressing room. During that time, I got a hold of some Russian work books and cassettes — some listening won’t even know what a cassette is [laughs]. But I learned to sign my name in Russian and was listening to Russian words.
I just thought to myself, OK, if I really was from there and I was just learning the English language, how would this word sound? What would that word sound like? So it’s just something that really developed over the course of time.
WrestlingINC: Before you had your big feud with Magnum T.A., there were rumors that Vince McMahon wanted you to headline WrestleMania II against Hulk Hogan. Is there any truth to that?
Koloff: That would be rumors to me. Obviously, the magazines really hyped that up and pumped that up. Certainly, the Russian wrestler against Hulk Hogan would have been a pretty good draw, without a doubt.
The only time I really considered the WWF as it was known in those days was when Barry Darsow, who was known as Krusher Kruschev with us, was leaving the NWA to go up there. He originally wanted me to be a part of Demolition with him. I just really didn’t have an interest in doing that. I worked very hard on the Nikita Koloff character as well as I just felt a real sense of loyalty to Jim Crockett for giving me my break.
Could I have went there and probably made ten times the money or more? There’s no doubt in my mind that I could have. But loyalty and integrity were very important to me. Always have been and still are.
WrestlingINC: You then had the huge feud with Magnum T.A., probably the most memorable feud during the early-to-mid-’80’s. What was only being in the business a few years and being involved in such a huge feud like?
Koloff: It was very memorable and probably the absolute most talked about feud in my career. I certainly had a lot of incredible matches over the years. The very first Great American Bash with Ric Flair, the chain matches with the Road Warriors, the War Games with the Superpowers, Dusty and I and the Road Warriors against the Four Horsemen. On and on it goes. But, certainly, the best of 7 with Magnum for the U.S. Heavyweight title — probably the most talked about series of matches that I had in my career.
It was just natural chemistry. he had that all-American look to him and, of course, I was the epitome of evil, the number one most hated guy in wrestling at that time. So, it made for as you might say, a story-book type of series of events. Certainly, without a doubt, very memorable.
WrestlingINC: Your face turn after Magnum T.A.’s accident was another very memorable event. It’s one of those things you don’t see done very well nowadays. It was kind of a simple story done so well and it was such a big success. Did you have any idea that it would be as successful as it was?
Koloff: No, I don’t think anybody — certainly Crockett had many years of experience in the wrestling industry and Dusty as a booker certainly had lots of experiences as well. But, there’s never been a Russian good guy, Russian babyface. So, I don’t think any of us knew what to expect.
I certainly didn’t because I was just two and a half years in the business at the time. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that. Certainly, from what I’m told, it’s one of the absolute best kept secrets in terms of a turn that I doubt could even be done anymore with the internet and the exposure of wrestling. But, at the time, I believe it was the best kept secret in wrestling.
Of course, I think that had a lot to do with the success of it. Teaming with Dusty as the Superpowers and then of course pitting us against the Four Horseman in whatever combination lead to the success. Pro Wrestling Illustrated, I say this, too: Bill Apter was instrumental in helping with that as well. They did that cover shot where I cried a tear for Magnum T.A. I think it was the first time that the fans thought that the heartless Nikita Koloff actually had a heart. That played a big part in the turn as well.
WrestlingINC: What did you like better: being a babyface or being a heel?
Koloff: You know, I get asked that a lot. Honestly, I enjoyed both equally. I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play on both sides of the fence and experience both. I don’t know that I loved one better than the other. They were both a great experience.
WrestlingINC: You eventually left wrestling all together after your wife at the time contracted Hodgkin’s disease.
Koloff: Correct. I took a sabbatical at the top, main event level to take care of her during her illness, and later on her passing at a young age, before I returned to the ring.
WrestlingINC: When you did return on the national stage with WCW, did you have the mindset back in 1991 that it was going to be a long-time thing or were you just going to see how you felt?
Koloff: Well, when I broke into the business — and, of course, many have coined me the Barry Sanders of pro wrestling for those who are avid sports/football fans. I walked away really in my early-30’s, what is the peak, many times, of wrestlers. I walked away on top of the business which was a goal of mine.
I broke in and I had been at it for about two weeks, and I said, ‘I’ll be out of this business by the time I’m 35.’ it was just a childhood thing of mine, whatever success I achieved in life, I wanted to walk away as a champion on top of the business. Not knowing it was wrestling when I was young but, nevertheless, I was determined to walk away.
So, I was 33 on my way to turning 34 when I made that decision to walk away from the career. I certainly look back with fond memories and no regrets from doing that.
WrestlingINC: Did you enjoy your second stint with WCW?
Koloff: Business changed. It was a mom-and-pop operation with Crockett and became a chapter in Ted Turner’s portfolio. He loved wrestling but it stepped into corporate America.
The bell-to-bell time, I loved that and enjoyed that aspect of it. But it became much more political and it was less fun, if you will, outside of the wrestling ring. I did not enjoy that aspect of it. So, when I made the decision to return to WCW, I realized I enjoyed the wrestling part of it… plus, I was newly-married and Victoria had two children, Teryn and Tawni. Now, I was a dad for the first time and I was married. To leave the family each time and to go on the road was harder and harder as well. So, that played a factor in it, too.
WrestlingINC: Having left the business at such a young age, did you feel any of the injuries from your pro wrestling days?
Koloff: Overall, I’m very, very healthy. I’m certainly not suffering from the repercussions of wrestling that a lot of the guys are. No knee replacement, no hip replacements needed with me.
I did get injured in that last match with Van Vader, I injured my neck and got a hernia. I had hernia surgery and was rehabilitating my neck. None of it was career-ending although they kind of played off that. ‘Van Vader ended my career.’ That was something that they were just able to play with.
But, I feel fortunate that, because I was able to walk away at such an early age, that I really have the optimal health that I do now. I’ve trimmed down quite a bit of weight just to maintain my health and mobility and that sort of thing. I feel great, I really do. My neck still gives me trouble from time to time but overall I feel great.
WrestlingINC: So, you didn’t leave WCW the second time because of injury as is believed? You were planning on leaving wrestling anyway?
Koloff: I had planned to leave wrestling from the day I broke into wrestling by the time I turned 35. I was just on the verge of turning 34 and I had had the surgery. I certainly could have went back and wrestled some more because the neck injury wasn’t career-ending. It was just ‘I’ll put caution on my side.’ More than anything, I left wrestling by my choice as part of the goal from a young age and holding to what I stated when I broke into wrestling that I would be retired by 35.
WrestlingINC: After you retired, did you follow the product at all? Do you follow it at all today?
Koloff: You know, I didn’t. It was a chapter in my life that I have fond memories of. I look back and I have fond memories. I’m still involved in and around it. Last night, I made a local appearance and I signed some autographs and I was a special referee. I’ll still make some appearances with Legends signings and those sort of things on a very limited basis. I do make myself available.
Again, I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a wrestler or an avid fan of it. So, when I walked away from it, I closed that chapter in my life. Although I’d catch bits and pieces of it here and there, I have not really followed it for 20 years.
WrestlingINC: Is the WWE Hall of Fame induction something that would interest you?
Koloff: Well, I’ve been inducted into a few Hall of Fames. Most notable, the Dan Gable & Lou Thesz Hall of Fame, which is quite an honor in itself. When you think of Dan Gable and some of the Olympic wrestlers that are a part of that Hall of Fame, Lou Thesz and his storied career in wrestling.
Certainly, if I was contacted for that, it would certainly be an honor to be a part of it. If they never contact me, I’m not going to lose any sleep over that in any way. What Vince McMahon has done with the business of pro wrestling and the height that he’s taken it to is commendable.
If they contact me, it’s not necessarily something I would turn down but would look to it as just another feather in my cap for what I hopefully gave the fans in terms of entertainment.
WrestlingINC: Yeah, I certainly think a class of yourself, Magnum T.A. and Sting, three guys that were never with WWE, would be fantastic.
Koloff: Sure. Of course, just a select few probably haven’t worked with WWE. Although I’ve done some minor things with WWE recently in terms of helping promote and things like that. But, nothing major. But, it’s been a great career.
WrestlingINC: You’re now involved with Preachers’ Daughter on Lifetime. How did that come about?
Koloff: Of course, I left wrestling in 1993. I tell people all the time I was successful with a great career in wrestling but I was unfulfilled like many of my peers — Lex Luger, Sting and Ted DiBiase and other guys. I came to the realization that all the fame and fortune that comes with pro wrestling and those type of businesses — it has a certain level of appeal but you realize it’s really an empty chase.
So, 1993, the 17th of October, I found myself at an alter surrendering my heart to Christ. That decision that day — if you had said to me 20-25 years ago that I would be traveling the world and preacher the gospel, talking about Jesus changing my life, I would have asked you what kind of drug you were on. it was just the furthest thing from my mind.
I didn’t grow up in a church in Minnesota. If you still haven’t figured it out, I’m not from Russia [laughs]. Burst somebody’s bubble there, I’m sure. But the story was intellectualized but it was never internalized. That day October 17th, totally changed my life and the perspective on everything and how I saw life.
Flash-forward almost 20 years later and a door opened up for a reality TV show centered around my youngest daughter Kolby. The whole family is in there, I’ve got four gorgeous, absolutely beautiful, stunning daughters and a granddaughter. And an opportunity opened up last summer centered around her life as a daughter of a preacher.
The executive producers just absolutely fell in love with Kolby through the interview process. So, we became one of three families; the Perry family out in Oceano, California, the Colemans up in Joliet (Illinois) and the Koloffs.
It was an opportunity to come full-circle back into mainstream television. Lifetime network is where Preachers’ Daughter is airing and it replays on A&E network. We’re just excited. Already, it’s been amazing, the popularity of it. From week one to week two, it jumped by a quarter of a million viewers. Thanks to guys like yourself that are helping me promote it, male viewership, for example, jumped 80% from week one to week two. So, we’re just excited about what the show portrays.
It’s on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on Lifetime. And again, you have to give it a chance and watch the whole series. Because, what I think you’re going to see come to a conclusion is restoration, redemption and reconciliation. Just the life of young ladies and the pressures that they face no different than anybody else. All the topics are covered from divorce to dating to premarital sex. Everything is covered. We’re just going to see how these families are able to address life’s temptations and the challenges of life. As I said, we’re very excited about it.