Updated Details On WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff’s Passing

Nikolai Volkoff

Nikolai Volkoff has passed away at the age of 70 years old.

The WWE Hall of Famer died this morning just days after being released from a hospital in Maryland where he had been treated for dehydration among other issues, Mike Johnson of PWInsider.com reports.

SLAM! Wrestling reported on July 21 that Volkoff had been admitted to the hospital for a sinus infection, but he was doing well enough to be released.

SLAM! Wrestling cited a friend of Volkoff’s on the news, who wrote in a Facebook status update: “In reference to Nikolai, he is NOT in ICU, he is in the hospital, but is going home either tomorrow or the next day. He had a sinus infection problem but is doing better. He truly thanks EVERYONE for their concern and prayers, keep them coming, we can always use them. But he is the lion, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. God Bless the wrestling family, there is nothing like it!”

The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer reports that Volkoff recently suffered a heart attack. Then after being told he needed to undergo surgery, the wrestling legend refused.

Volkoff — real name Josip Nikolai Peruzović — is best known for his time in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in the 1980s and 1990s. Although his wrestling character was portrayed as a villainous Russian, Peruzović grew up in the People’s Republic of Croatia, which was then part of Yugoslavia. His mother is Croatian of Ukrainian descent and his father was Croatian with a mother of Italian descent.

Volkoff is best known for teaming with The Iron Sheik, with whom he won the WWF Tag Team Championship at the inaugural WrestleMania event in 1985, and also with Boris Zhukov as The Bolsheviks.

He leaves behind a wife and two daughters.

During his days behind the Iron Curtain, Nikolai Volkoff was a world-class amateur wrestler and bodybuilder. While attending a 1968 weightlifting competition in Vienna, Australia, Nikolai risked his life and said goodbye to everything he knew when he defected from the Soviet Union. He traveled to Calgary, Alberta, Canada and was trained for a life in the ring by legend Stu Hart. In 1970, Volkoff came to America with fifty dollars in his pocket and one suit.

By the mid-1970s, Volkoff was a huge draw. He was “Classy” Freddie Blassie’s first protege after the “Hollywood Fashion Plate” ended his in-ring career. A match against Bruno Sammartino broke the live attendance record at Madison Square Garden.

Later, the hated Volkoff was involved in a near riot when fans discovered that he was part of the masked Executioners tag team — along with Killer Kowalski and Big John Studd — the tag team champions at the time. After the deceptive trio was stripped of the titles, Volkoff split time between the WWWF, Japan, and the regional territories of the NWA.

Volkoff first played the Soviet National Anthem while wrestling in the Mid-South territory. The recording would be blasted after his victories, like in the Olympics. One night, he forgot to bring the tape and sang the tune instead. It was a habit that he’d continue after Blassie lured him back to the WWF (formerly called the WWWF).

The Cold War Gets Hot

In 1984, the manager paired Volkoff with another anti-American rule-breaker, Iron Sheik. As the duo spread panic throughout the United States, they became top contenders for the World Tag Team Championship. During the first championship match of the first WrestleMania, they defeated the U.S. Express, Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo, and left New York City as champions. Their success continued to grow and, on May 10, 1985, they appeared on the very first episode of NBC’s Saturday Night’s Main Event.

Following the loss of the titles in June 1985, Nikolai focused on a return to singles action. On the October 3, 1985 episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, two Cold War Superpowers clashed when Nikolai challenged Hulk Hogan to a Flag Match for the WWF Championship. Volkoff then sparked a rivalry against former United States Armed Forces member Corporal Kirchner in a series of Flag Matches. After the retirement of Blassie, the contractual rights for Volkoff and The Iron Sheik were sold to WWF newcomer, Slick.

After the “Doctor of Style” led them to a reunion at WrestleMania III against the Killer Bees, Nikolai and his Iranian ally parted ways.

Volkoff then aligned himself with another Russian monster, Boris Zhukov. With Slick in their corner, the two referred to themselves as The Bolsheviks. They were top tag title contenders and appeared at the first two Survivor Series. The Russians had a violent split at WrestleMania VI after a humiliating 19-second loss to The Hart Foundation. As the former comrades battled, WWF fans witnessed the birth of a patriot.

A Changed Man

During an episode of The Brother Love Show, a WWF interview segment, newfound-friend “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan adopted Nikolai as a brother, and they formed a team with the stars and stripes of the USA as their inspiration. Nikolai was then awarded a Medal of Honor from the National Boy Scouts for his contribution to world peace. It was during this period that Volkoff began asking to be announced from the newly independent Lithuania rather than the old Soviet Union.

Their winning ways continued as they toppled The Orient Express at SummerSlam 1990. Nikolai became a member of Duggan’s victorious Alliance team at Survivor Series 1990. The two then took aim at Sgt. Slaughter when he turned his back on his country and became an Iraqi sympathizer. Shortly afterward, Volkoff left the World Wrestling Federation.

Old Habits

In 1995, Volkoff returned to the WWF and broke the hearts of fans when he joined “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation as a low-level henchman.

Volkoff departed from the WWF again that year and throughout the rest of the 1990s, he made appearances on the independent scene. In 2001, he participated in the Gimmick Battle Royal at WrestleMania X-Seven along with the likes of Iron Shiek, Sgt. Slaughter, Earthquake, The Bushwhackers, One Man Gang, Kamala, Hillbilly Jim, Repo Man, and Tugboat.

In 2005, Nikolai’s remarkable five-decade career was celebrated when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame alongside several of his contemporaries, including Hulk Hogan and Iron Sheik.