The New Nikita Koloff (Part 2)
An article by Mike Mooneyham
Second of a two-part series
Published March 22, 1998
Nikita Koloff made a major impact on the professional wrestling scene when promoter Jim Crockett brought him into Charlotte in 1984. The powerfully built “Russian Nightmare” made short work of his opponents with his Russian sickle maneuver and formed one of the most hated teams in the business with “uncle” Ivan Koloff.
He had celebrated feuds with stars such as Ric Flair, Magnum T.A. and Lex Luger, and his babyface turn made him one of the most popular stars in the business when he joined Dusty Rhodes as The Superpowers.
But Nikita Koloff, even then, knew something was missing.
Koloff, now 38, experienced a major change in his life when he married Mandy Smithson, whom he had met a couple of years earlier, in 1988 in a ceremony held off the coast of Florida. Mandy, though, had been diagnosed the previous year with Hodgkin’s disease, a potentially fatal form of cancer. Nikita quit wrestling two months after the wedding to be at his wife’s side. Mandy died on June 14, 1989.
Despite the grueling radiation and chemotherapy treatments, the two never gave up hope. Although Mandy’s condition gradually got worse, “not one time did she complain,” says Nikita.“It was difficult at times, but we had many, many good memories as well, and the good memories go far beyond any bad memory. It gave me a greater appreciation for life in the true sense. As I look back, I look at the different things that happened to bring me to the point I’m at, and I guess it all works into that perfect plan.”
That perfect plan started to unfold when Nikita remarried in 1991.
“I just didn’t know her and wasn’t interested in getting to know her,” he says about his early meetings with soon-to-be-wife Victoria. “I would literally leave when she would pop into the house. Victoria was moving back from Florida to North Carolina, and my wife was literally on her deathbed. She just happened to call the hospital. We were in Alabama, and she asked if she should stop by and see her on her way back to North Carolina. I told her it would be a good idea since they were best friends and hadn’t seen one another in a long time.”
The two ended up in an intensive care waiting room and talked until 4 in the morning. The more he talked to her, Nikita says, the more he realized what a remarkable person she was.
“I learned not to judge a book by its cover,” he says. “She ended up moving back and we became friends. She and I and a buddy of mine would do a lot of things together. We were friends for almost a year, and finally Road Warrior Animal said, `Hey, man, you ever going to ask her out?” I had never really thought much about it, but I did, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Nikita and Victoria were married in August 1991. Neither were Christian at the time, but Nikita says they knew they wanted their children to be raised in a church. Nikita and Victoria began searching for a church in 1993 and went through a number of different ones in the process.
“We met a Christian couple in early 1993 and they witnessed to us. We ended up attending their church in October of that year. We had gone over to their house a couple of weeks before. My wife gave her heart to the Lord in the car on their way to their house. That first service I went to, I went down for the altar call and gave my heart to the Lord.”
Koloff loved the wrestling profession, but not the ever-increasing politics of the business.
“I started liking leaving the family less and less. I started liking the politics (of wrestling) less and less. Each time I went back to the ring, it became a little bit harder, and I enjoyed it a little bit less. It’s kind of like the line from the movie `North Dallas 40:’ `Every time we call it a game, you call it a business. Every time we call it a business, you call it a game.’ When Turner stepped in and corporate America stepped in, it changed. Each time I went back, I liked it less and less than when I started. Even toward the end, from belltime to belltime became the most important time for me. The before and after with all the politics and everything else, they can have. I’m glad I’m not a part of it.”
Injuries also played a part in Koloff’s changing attitude.
His last wrestling match was in 1992 against Vader in Winston-Salem, N.C. He suffered a hernia and injured neck in that bout. “It was a combination of things. I looked at my wife and said it’s time to close this chapter and move on to other things.”
Nikita retired from the ring in November 1992 at the age of 33. He doesn’t ever look back and figures he left the business in the prime of his physical life.
“I probably could have wrestled another 10 or 15 years. Physically it was a struggle. But part of my success was through my years of lifting. I spent 25 years in a weight room lifting weights.”
Koloff’s life, however, continued to change. Pro wrestling – although he admits he is very appreciative for the opportunities it afforded him – was no longer the focus of that life. Nor were the championship belts, the adoration of his legion of fans, or the fame and fortune that came with it.
“Out of all the awards and all the titles and all the accomplishments and places I have traveled, there’s only one event that took place in my life that means more to me than anything. That’s October of 1993 when I gave my heart to Jesus Christ.
“That was a tremendous day in my life. But that was just the start. That was just the first step. I’ve come to realize that life is a journey. I came to realize that what was missing was a spiritual life. This body that we house right now is only temporary. Go dig up any gravesite. It’s only temporary. We’re spiritual beings living out a human existence. Inside each one of us is a spirit. That spirit will live for an eternity.”
Today Nikita Koloff is involved in a new alternative television network – The People’s Network – revolving around family values and principles.
“It’s all commercial-free, positive programming. What they broadcast is all life skills. They broadcast everything from parenting to communication in relationships, to health and wellness to finances. A person could really access the network and select any type of programming,” he said.
Nikita and Victoria also commit full-time to world mission work.
“My whole family’s involved. My wife just got back from Muldovia, part of the former Soviet Union. She and our 14-year-old were there on mission work, handing out what they call the `Book of Life’ in schools, and doing crusades in the evening. Last fall she went to Rumania. I’ve been on three missionary trips to Trinidad, the island of Curacao and Africa. I went to Africa for three weeks. My 14-year-old has been to Germany on mission trips, my 11-year-old has been to Canada on mission trips.”
Nikita admits his new lifestyle hasn’t always been easy.
“Perhaps my Christian walk has made a difference. I know even with other friends, when we became Christian, we changed friends. But perhaps it’s a tool of witnessing for the Lord.”
These days Nikita Koloff has little connection to the wrestling business.
“They wrestled in Charlotte in December of 1995, and that was the first time I had ever seen or talked to any of them in three years. Ultimately the question comes up as to what I’m doing now, and it gave me an opportunity to really witness to them. The funniest thing is, when you start talking about the Lord, it has a tendency to do one of two things. It either gets their attention or they disappear.
Many of them disappeared that night.
“But it gave me a chance to plant some seeds or maybe nurture some seeds that had been planted before. Things are happening when guys in this industry like Ted DiBiase and Tully Blanchard turn their lives around. You know that things are really going on.”
Taking a line from a former ring adversary, Nikita encourages everyone to “walk that aisle.” But in a different way.
“I still wrestle every day – only it’s not in the squared circle anymore. I wrestle the enemy every day. And I wrestle him to protect my family. I wrestle him to protect my friends. I hate the enemy with a passion. The Bible says to hate evil and love good. I’m still on my journey, and I’m still going through my trial, but the Lord is developing more and more character within me.”
Despite the many twists and turns Nikita’s life and career has taken,there are no regrets. It was all “part of the plan,” he says.
“When I look back, the Lord really had His hand in my life.”