The Red Menace

During my working life, one of my coworkers was a big guy named Josef Peruzovic. Nobody ever called him Joe, or Josef; everyone called him Nikolai. Why? Because he was a semi-retired professional wrestler whose wresting persona was Nikolai Volkoff. At the height of the Cold War, Volkoff was the perfect villain; an anti-US communist who actually sang the Soviet National Anthem before each match as the crowds booed and jeered. The nerve of that guy!
So here was a chance to see if a pro wrestling villain is just as contemptible in real life.
Well, he isn’t.
First of all, Nikolai (I just can’t call him Josef.) is a gentleman. His job as a code inspector was dealing with housing and zoning violations and, in spite of his intimidating appearance, made a lot of new fans. In one instance, a widow was unable to cut her grass and Nikolai came back after work and cut it himself. A pretty soft touch for a villain.
Far from being a communist, Nikolai is a refugee from communism, coming here from Croatia. The only time Nikolai spoke ill of anyone was when he was talking about the communists in his home town. The whole Russian wrestling persona was the idea of his manager, and Nikolai objected at first. But it was hard to argue with success as the character became hugely popular, so Nikolai pulled it off despite his personal feelings.
But what about singing the Soviet National Anthem before each match? That was almost an accident. Nikolai’s early contracts specified that his manager play the anthem over the PA system before each match, just to get the crowd worked up, so they took a tape player from arena to arena for that purpose. One night, the tape player broke just before the match and Nikolai, fearing they wouldn’t get paid, sang the song instead. (Nikolai speaks fluent Russian.) The crowd went into a frenzy and from that time on, promoters insisted on Nikolai singing.
So the next time you see a pro wrestling villain sneering or committing some outrage in the ring, think of Nikolai Volkoff. I’m sure that not all villains are in Nikolai’s class, but you never know.


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