There haven’t been as many So Long posts lately as there used to be, and that’s intentional. To be quite honest, I don’t particularly enjoy writing them. Some folks, even when you appreciate whatever it was they did, just don’t inspire a whole lot of words or draw out much in the way of specific memories or good stories. And judging from the statistics many of you seem to enjoy the reading end of them almost as much, so making the decision to cut back on them has been a pretty easy one. But there’s no way I’m not making an exception for Nikolai Volkoff.
I was not a Nikolai Volkoff fan back in the day, because I was a little kid, it was the 1980s and Russians were bad. The more things change, right? But you would never have known I wasn’t a Nikolai Volkoff fan given that one of my 6-year-old self’s favourite pastimes was sitting on the swings in my back yard, belting out the Russian national anthem Nikolai style at the top of my lungs.
Sadly, that video is not of me. As far as I know, unless Joe McCarthy has it, no video or audio exists of me doing this. But to this day my mom still jokes that it’s a wonder we’re still allowed in the country whenever somebody brings it up.
As much fun as I had with it though, that damn anthem almost scared me out of my first live wrestling experience. I can’t remember the date, but it was at the old London Gardens somewhere around late 1986 or early 1987. I was super excited about going, but in the back of my mind, there was a problem. What if Nikolai Volkoff was on the show, and what if he wanted us to please rise and respect his singing of the Russian national anthem? I knew from sports and school that you were always supposed to stand for an anthem as a sign of respect, but I also knew from the news and wrestling and just about everywhere else that Russians were bad. What if I stood up and the people near me got mad? Or even worse, what if I didn’t stand up and Nikolai caught me? Either way I was in trouble, and the last thing I wanted was to get in trouble. As the days went bye and the show got closer, more than once I thought about asking somebody what I should do or even faking an illness because although I’d miss out on something I was hugely looking forward to, it would be better than death by angry Sheik and Volkoff. But somehow I managed to keep my mouth shut and my fear in check, deciding that I’d do whatever everyone else did and if Nikolai didn’t like it, dad and our neighbour would protect me. Thankfully I didn’t have to test that theory, because Nikolai almost certainly would have destroyed both of them had he been on the show, which he wasn’t.
Man did I ever love that Wrestling Album. The way most kids are about watching the same movie over and over again, that was me with the Wrestling Album. Pretty sure I wore out a record and a tape listening to it alone, subjecting my family to it, wrestling with my friends while it was on in the background, using it for theme music while I played with my figures…that reminds me of one more story, actually.
I don’t remember what the occasion was, but somebody gave me Nikolai Volkoff and Iron Sheik thumb wrestlers as a gift one time.
I was pretty happy, but I couldn’t help but wonder out loud who they were supposed to wrestle. Somebody in the room gave what she thought would be the obvious answer, “each other.” So I had no choice but to explain to this obviously uneducated person that this wouldn’t be possible. There’s no way Sheik and Nikolai would wrestle each other, because they’re tag team partners. Luckily I got a Junkyard Dog one either that same day or not long after, so I was able to book handicap matches in living rooms and bedrooms all over the province. So if you’ve ever seen me go off about some stupid, illogical wrestling thing and wondered is this guy ok? The answer is yes. This attention to detail stuff is not new.
I don’t have a favourite Nikolai Volkoff match, but aside from Big John Studd lifting me way up in the air when I met him in a parking lot, he’s in a lot of my favourite earliest wrestling memories and I’m pretty sad that he’s gone.
Rest in peace, Nikolai. I promise I’ll stand for the anthem next time, even if Russians are bad.