April 4, 2012
Koloff's book more historical than autobiographical
By MATTHEW ASHER - SLAM! Wrestling
The title of Nikita Koloff's autobiography -- NIKITA: A Tale of the Ring and Redemption -- is a bit misleading, mainly because the "redemption" aspect never really shows up, at least in the way of typical wrestling redemptions over drugs or alcohol. It indirectly refers to his personal redemption when he became a devout Christian as was the focus of Koloff's previous book, Breaking the Chains.
While the book does focus on Koloff's wrestling career, it should not be considered an autobiography. Just to be clear, that is not a negative critique. Rather, Koloff's book should be considered "Pro Wrestling History 101." Koloff definitely comes from the George Santanaya philosophy that "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." For anybody with the slightest interest in professional wrestling from the territorial days up to the beginning of the Monday Night Wars, this is a definite read.
Teaming with author William Murdock, who penned Jack Brisco's book as well, Koloff goes into considerable detail discussing the history of professional wrestling, as well as the history of the NWA title belts, with explanations of how and why certain belts were defended. Given that NIKITA is published by Crowbar Press, which has published other wrestling autobiographies such as ASSASSIN: The Man Behind the Mask, and ATLAS: Too Much, Too Soon, the historical aspect no doubt gets a greater emphasis than at a traditional publishing house.
Ever since George Orwell's 1959 book, the year 1984 was considered a landmark year in Western history: the Cold War was fortunately coming to a close and a new professional wrestling era commonly known as "Hulkamania" began. That same year, Nelson Scott Simpson gave up his dream of playing professional football and became Nikita Koloff. He didn't do it partway, either -- he legally changed his name to Nikita Koloff, learned to speak Russian and had his birthplace listed as Lithuania on his child's birth certificate.
Koloff's gimmick was simple: he was the nephew of former WWE (then known as the WWWF) Champion "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff, who had come to America for the purpose of taking Ric Flair's NWA title back to Russia. Thus, "The Russian Nightmare" was born.
For a man who never considered a career in professional wrestling, he ended up with a career most wrestlers would be envious of.
A singles champion in the NWA, WCW and UWF, as well as a member of NWA two and three-man tag team champions, Koloff squared off against and with some of the most legendary names in pro wrestling including "Nature Boy" Ric Flair for the Heavyweight title, Magnum T.A. for the U.S. title and "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes for the tag team titles. (It was Rhodes' idea for the "Russian Nightmare" nickname, a spin on his "American Dream" moniker.)
For me, the most fascinating part about Koloff's life was everything he did before coming Nikita Koloff. Simpson went to high school and played sports with legendary wrestlers including Demolition's Smash (Barry Darsow), "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig and "Ravishing" Rick Rude. In college, Simpson was recruited alongside and played football with Road Warrior Animal, the man who ended up getting him into the wrestling business.
Koloff also does a great job of translating the wrestling vernacular for those who do not live pro wrestling. There is a great balance of explaining wrestling concepts to newcomers without making knowledgeable people feel like this is a dumbed-down book. Even seasoned pros in wrestling history can learn a few things from this book. I had never heard of a match going "Broadway" before reading this and picked up some interesting tidbits of knowledge about the Lou Thesz era of pro wrestling.
Like so many pro wrestlers before him, Koloff's career was cut short due to an in-ring injury. Rather than risk permanent damage, after eight years in the business, Nikita quietly retired from pro wrestling to focus on his religion and fitness training. Koloff joined forces with Lex Luger, a man Koloff personally spoon-fed while Luger was paralyzed, to create the Power Hour and Total Package Fitness, both religious and health seminars. Koloff also runs the Koloff for Christ Ministries.
NIKITA: A Tale of the Ring and Redemption is a fascinating read, just not exactly what I expected when I picked it up.
Matthew Asher hopes one day to have Nikita Koloff also consider him a prominent pro wrestling historian, like SLAM! Wrestling Producer Greg Oliver, who gets a couple of shoutouts in Nikita's book.