When Nikolai Volkoff made an entrance during the height of his fame years ago, he was greeted by boos. Now he hopes for applause.
That’s because Volkoff, who as a symbol of the communist Soviet Union in the 1980s was considered one of the most notorious professional wrestlers, is preparing for a run at the House of Delegates in September.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Volkoff, now a Baltimore County code inspector, is a veteran of the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) from the 1980s, when the likes of Hulk Hogan, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, and Rowdy Roddy Piper crossed paths.
Volkoff, a U.S. citizen since 1970 and now a registered Republican, is actually from Yugoslavia, not the Soviet Union, and has spent the last 10 years learning America’s democratic process. He said he supports the GOP because its members helped liberate his country.
“They loved me when I wrestled. I made a good living. I just want to give something back,” Volkoff said. “I was a good wrestler and now I want to be a good politician.”
Volkoff, who plans to make an official announcement in May, fled his native country at 19 and chose his wrestling character to educate Americans about the evils of communism, which he calls “the worst shape of capitalism.”
“You can never say anything against government,” he said. “You say something against the government and next day you’re gone. American people don’t know how good they have it here.”
The legendary wrestling manager Fred Blassie, who died in 2003, suggested the move, telling Volkoff, “If you don’t like those bastards, become one yourself and tell people why.”
Wrestlers will often enter politics or movies as extensions of their wrestling characters, but Volkoff does not indicate any ulterior motives, said Mike Mooneyham, who writes a wrestling column and been covering professional wrestling for 40 years.
“In Nikolai’s case he really seems to be a genuine public servant,” he said. “America’s been good to him. He played a bad guy for such a long time that I think he wants to finally play a good guy.”
But unlike other political outsiders, wrestlers have a natural affinity for the public stage and Volkoff is no different, said Alex Marvez, a wrestling columnist for Scripps-Howard News Service.
“It’s not unprecedented for performers to make this move,” Marvez said. “You have to convince people to believe in your character. You need to have oratory skills and read an audience. It’s a gift that can translate to a political realm.”
Given that, it is little surprise that Volkoff draws inspiration from both former wrestler-turned-governor Jesse Ventura — a “good friend” — and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who he has met a handful of times.
“They speak from the heart and I speak from the heart too,” Volkoff said. “That’s the best you can do. Be honest. Be decent.”
Volkoff, 59, did not disclose specific campaign issues, but said he is particularly upset with high taxes and the increasing cost of living. He remembered when he could spend “$2 for 20 cans o