Josip Nikolai Peruzović, better known by his ring name of Nikolai Volkoff, is a professional wrestler who is best known for his performances for the World Wrestling Federation. Although the Volkoff character is portrayed as Russian, Peruzović actually originated from Croatia and had a mixed background that was not entirely Russian.
Peruzović grew up in the Socialist Republic of Croatia, which was then part of the Yugoslavia, a Communist country. His mother is Russian and his father was Croatian and Italian. He was on the Yugoslavian weightlifting team until 1967, when he defected to Canada while at a weightlifting tournament in Vienna, Austria. He received training in Calgary from the legendary Stu Hart, followed by his arrival in the United States in 1970.
As soon as he arrived, he began wrestling in the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) (currently known as World Wrestling Entertainment). Wrestling as Bepo Mongol, managed by Captain Lou Albano and partnered with Geto Mongol, he captured the WWF International Tag Team Titles from Tony Marino and Victor Rivera on June 15, 1970. After losing the titles to Luke Graham and Tarzan Tyler in a match that unified the WWF International and WWF World Tag Team Titles, Peruzovic went on to singles competition under the name Nikolai Volkoff.
In 1974, Volkoff appeared in perhaps the most memorable match of his life when he appeared at a sold out Madison Square Garden and wrestled one of the sport's most famous champions, the great Bruno Sammartino. Volkoff chased the WWF title for the majority of his early career and was always given a considerable amount of title shots from whoever was the current WWF Champion.
Late in 1974, Volkoff moved to the AWA where he wrestled under the name of Boris Breznikoff; managed by Bobby The Brain Heenan, he used the same gimmick with a different ring name. He reverted back to the Volkoff name in his WWF return in 1976. During this time in the WWF, Volkoff was announced as being from Mongolia. He enjoyed a very successful feud with Bruno Sammartino. The feud started when Volkoff attacked Sammartino during an interview segment. They sold out arenas all throughout the Northeast. Also during this tenure, Volkoff began a ring gimmick where he would crush a fresh apple with one hand as a sign of what he would do to his opponents.
In the early 1980s, Volkoff wrestled for Cowboy Bill Watts in the Mid South region.
In 1984, Volkoff returned to the now WWF and teamed with the Iron Sheik. It was at this point that Volkoff really pushed the envelope and began to sing the national anthem of the Soviet Union before every match, in order to gain even more heat for being a foreign heel.
The new team of Volkoff and The Iron Sheik captured the coveted WWF Tag Team Championship from The U.S. Express (Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham) at WrestleMania, on March 31, 1985. After losing the titles back to Rotundo and Windham three months later, Volkoff began to wrestle more in singles competition, picking up a notable feud with Corporal Kirschner.
According to the Sheik around this time, their friendship behind the scenes ended over $2. Allegedly, Sheik wanted to tip a wheelchair man who helped transport the Sheik and their luggage, but only had $100 bills. He asked Nikolai for $2, and Nikolai refused, saying the wheelchair man didnt need the money. Sheik ended this tirade by calling Nikolai a Cheap jew son of a bitch
In the fall of 1986, Volkoff's manager Classy Freddy Blassie sold half interest in his stable of superstars to the Doctor of Style, Slick (kayfabe). Giving Slick co-managerial rights to Nikolai Volkoff, Classy Freddy Blassie also shared the contracts of the Iron Sheik and Hercules. Blassie eventually retired in the fall of 1986. Sheik and Volkoff feuded with WWF newcomer Jim Duggan for the majority of 1987.
In late 1987, Volkoff was teamed with Boris Zukhov, another alleged Russian (actually an American), to form The Bolsheviks. However, this tag team combination for Volkoff did not gain the success as did his partnership with The Iron Sheik. As they lost the public eye due to many losses, they eventually lost their manager Slick. The Bolsheviks never held any titles together, and are perhaps best remembered for being defeated in 19 seconds by The Hart Foundation at WrestleMania VI. Eventually, by 1990, The Bolsheviks split up. Volkoff publicly ended the partnership prior to a match where he confronted Zukhov and then started singing The Star-Spangled Banner, drawing loud cheers from the audience and turning face in the process.
During the Cold War period, Volkoff played a communist villain who was one of the most hated men in professional wrestling. His act included angering fans by insulting America and singing the Russian National Anthem before each match, joined in tag team matches by the Iron Sheik (whose home nation of Iran was also seen as an American enemy). Although Peruzovic had originally sought to be a good guy, he had a stellar career as one of the top bad guys in the business. With the Cold War ending, Peruzovic finally got his wish and was allowed to turn himself into the good guy he always wanted to be. Stated Peruzovic to his managers, I told them, communism is over. I did my job. No more bad guy.
A short time after The Bolsheviks split, Volkoff became a fan favorite for the first time in his career. His gimmick was now that of a recently liberated Lithuanian, following the fall of the Soviet Union; he became very pro-west which led to a feud with Sgt. Slaughter who was involved in an Iraqi sympathizer role and teamed with the Iron Sheik, who had recently began an Iraqi gimmick as opposed to his actual Iranian heritage. After this feud was over, Volkoff's popularity declined and he left WWF in 1992.
In 1994, Volkoff again returned to the WWF and became a sympathetic heel by playing the whipping-boy of Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Corporation. Volkoff had kayfabe fallen on hard times and was forced to take a job working for DiBiase and his new Corporation. As low man in the group he was forced to wrestle matches no one else wanted to or sent out to 'soften up opponents for other members of the stable as the sacrificial lamb of the group. The disrespect even extended to renaming him Nickel & Dime Volkoff and DiBiase forcing him to place a on his trunks where the Russian sickle once was along with a sign on his ring attire that read Property Of The Million Dollar Man. Following this last run in the WWF, Volkoff entered a semi-retirement. Volkoff made a brief cameo on an episode of Shotgun Saturday Night where Todd Pettengill discovered him homeless sleeping in a box on the streets of New York. He also appeared at WrestleMania X-Seven in the Gimmick Battle Royal.
On February 3, 2005, Volkoff was announced as one of the WWE Hall of Fame inductees for the Class of 2005. He was inducted on April 2, 2005 by Jim Ross in the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, California.
In 2006, Volkoff took part in the World Wrestling Legends pay-per-view 6:05 The Reunion. Managed by the Iron Sheik, he wrestled a match against Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Before the match, he once again sang the national anthem of the Soviet Union and riled up the crowd.
Volkoff made his first appearance on WWE television in over 2 years on the August 13, 2007 edition of Raw as a contestant on WWE Idol, a parody of American Idol. Volkoff appeared alongside the Iron Sheik and Howard Finkel, although Volkoff was the only one who sang. Volkoff sang the Soviet Union national anthem, receiving boos from the crowd (despite being a face) and was insulted by judge William Regal, although judges Mick Foley and Maria both praised the performance. In response, Sheik, who was also insulted, went on a tirade until both he and Volkoff were escorted out of the building by security.
The March 10, 2008 edition of WWE Raw, featured rematches from previous WrestleManias. The Iron Sheik appeared along with Nikolai Volkoff to face off against the U.S. Express in a rematch from the first WrestleMania. The match was cut short however by Jillian Hall, who came out to sing Born in the U.S.A.
On the November 15, 2010, edition of Raw, as part of the Old School theme, Volkoff appeared with the Iron Sheik, singing the Soviet national anthem before being interrupted by Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov, the latter of whom then sung a duet with Volkoff of the Russian National anthem.
Currently, Volkoff works for various independent promotions throughout North America.