Sometimes in wrestling, there are great days, good days, and sad days. Today is one of those sad ones.
Deaths come in threes. Sunday, June 29, 2018 had three within a few hours. Brickhouse Brown, a wrestler that made his name predominantly in the USWA, passed away from Stage 4 Prostate Cancer. Brian Christopher, best remembered as being Grandmaster Sexay from Too Cool in the Attitude Era, took his own life at the age of 46.
The third death was Nikolai Volkoff, passing away in Maryland at the age of 70. Best remembered as the Soviet National Anthem singing, Bolshevik bruiser that won the WWF Tag Team Championships with the Iron Sheik at WrestleMania 1 in Madison Square Garden, Volkoff was one of the more tenured performers during the Rock ‘N Wrestling Era.
A simple but effective in-ring performer, I always admired Volkoff’s range, mixing his good guy persona by becoming an American citizen and teaming with Hacksaw Jim Duggan, as well as his lackey role as the Million Cent Man in the Million Dollar Corporation during the New Generation. He was a good hand to have around. Plus, I loved his little spin kick he would throw from time-to-time.
However, with his passing, I immediately thought of a cool moment that I had that involved my friends and I at WrestleCon 2013, and it immediately made me smile fondly.
During the heyday of the Hardway Podcast, I purchased a table as a vendor at the first WrestleCon during WrestleMania 29 weekend. The Meadowlands Expo Center was the base for a fun-filled wrestling festival, mixing live wrestling shows with autograph signing and live podcasts. It was an absolute blast to be a part of, years out from it, but at the time, it was immensely stressful.
Alongside me was Tim Hughes, not quite Tough at the time. Tim and I went in and purchased t-shirts, wristbands, and demo CDs, as well as working in an idea for a table top air hockey game to give away said material. We sacrificed a few nights putting everything together and were only on a few hours sleep as we prepped for Day 1 - Saturday.
Ultimately, the team of Tim, my girlfriend Haley and I entered the Meadowlands Expo Center to head towards our purchased table.
Did I also mention Leon St. Giovanni was along for the ride as well?
LSG, who was a frequent guest on the podcast, my client in the Professional Revolution, and a close personal friend, came with us to not just help out at the table, but to make connections and talk to fans and performers alike.
All hands were on deck for this event.
For me, the first few hours were a blur. I was so nervous and uptight about where our table was placed, compared to the “competition” in my mind. Absolutely silly to think of, especially now. Regardless, we made some serious moments at this table. Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart played Tim in air hockey. A contingent from France made challenges to us in multiple air hockey games. And we encountered several intrigued fans wondering our strategy for our table, which was free content and merchandise.
Still nervous around noon, I took a second away from Tim’s domination at air hockey and glanced over. Back against our wall, I saw LSG talking to, what seemed like, a father and son for a couple minutes. Suddenly, the pair came back behind our table. My interest piqued, I went over to Leon and pulled him aside for a second.
“Gio, who are they?”
“That’s the son and grandson of Nikolai Volkoff.”
Talking a little more to LSG, it came out that Nikolai’s grandson felt crowded inside the packed convention and needed a little space to eat. Noticing a couple chairs empty, Nikolai’s son came up to Gio (still rocking the fur vest at the time) and asked if they could chill for a beat.
Totally understanding the situation (and feeling a bit claustrophobic myself), I finally let a little of the nerves go and shook the hand of Nikolai’s son. Getting to talk him for a few, I immediately got the sense of how kind he was and us three struck up a bit of a conversation. Sadly, at least on my end, I had to get back to the table, just so I could see Arlene, Preacher’s wife, beat Tim in air hockey. However, both LSG and Nikolai’s son continued talking.
About 20 minutes later, Leon came up to me, as we had a bit of down time and muttered something that I would never forget.
“Dude, Nikolai’s son was really gracious we let him and his son relax for a few by our table. He’s going to get us an interview with his dad.”
“Only one catch...could we give Nikolai one of our t-shirts? It was a request on his son’s behalf.”
Ten minutes later, with Tim and Haley manning the Hardway table, LSG and I headed over to meet the legendary Bolshevik himself.
Even at 65, Nikolai was still a big man. Rocking a red suit with gold trim that only Nikolai, in my opinion, could pull off, I was immediately shaking in my Adidas kicks, but his son put us immediately at ease with him. With my microphone in hand, attached to my girlfriend’s iPhone, I proceeded to do a Hardway Podcast Xtra from WrestleCon. Here is the very rare clip released, exclusively on an old SoundCloud page.
It was brief, but after the interview, I felt calmer and less stressed. I thanked Nikolai for the opportunity. His response was simple:
“Young man, it was my pleasure.”
Before we left, LSG asked for one picture. Nikolai’s son took the photo of myself, Nikolai, and LSG, with the Hardway t-shirt in full view. It was a classic picture that I truly do dig. It was a highlight of the entire weekend.
Afterwards, I remember asking Leon what he and Nikolai’s son talked about. He recalled the conversation being about how cool the convention was and how cool it was for Nikolai to be fondly remembered by all fans that stopped by to talk to him, especially with his grandson in attendance.
If there was nothing else I could take away from that day, it was how proud Nikolai Volkoff’s family was of him. A proud man with a proud family. There’s nothing more to say other than that.
Thank you Nikolai Volkoff for the moment and the memory. May you rest in power and condolences to your family, especially your son and grandson.