Croatian Wrestler Played Hated Russian
"It might be little known that Peruzovic, once a menacing giant, does fund-raisers for children's hospitals and volunteers for charities that help sick children."
Ex-wrestler finds code of conduct
Bryan P. Sears
Former professional wrestler and now Baltimore County employee Josip Peruzovic (aka Nikolai Volkoff) is flanked by his manager, Nikita Breznikov, right. Photo by Hans Ericsson. Don't let Josip Nikolai Peruzovic's bad guy past fool you.
This big bear of a man, once one of the most hated men in professional wrestling, is a softy at heart.
Peruzovic's alter ego, Nikolai Volkoff, was one of the most disliked professional wrestlers ever to step into the ring. He was so hated, in fact, that a main event bout at Madison Square Garden had to be moved from the end of the card to the fourth match because of safety concerns.
"We had such a hard time getting out of the Garden," said Peruzovic, 55, now a Baltimore County code enforcement officer. "People wanted to kill you."
Known for teaming up with the Iron Sheik, Volkoff angered fans by insulting America and singing a mock "Russian National Anthem" before each match.
But few things in wrestling resemble real life.
While Peruzovic's mother is Russian, he is Croatian by birth and grew up in the former Yugoslavia.
He was on the Yugoslavian weightlifting team until age 18, when he defected after a tournament in Austria.
Peruzovic moved to the United States from Canada a year later.
He knew he wanted to be a professional wrestler. His grandfather had been a champion in Europe before becoming a bodyguard for Austrian Emperor Franz Josef.
But Peruzovic wanted to be a "good guy." It was his manager, "Classy" Freddie Blassy - later known as "The Ayatollah Blassy" - who encouraged Peruzovic to cultivate his bad side.
"I didn't want to be a mean Russian; I wanted to be a clean guy," Peruzovic, who speaks fluent Russian, said. "But Freddie said, 'People will start to hate you, and you'll make money.'"
As the Cold War ended, Peruzovic's character softened his image and he began wrestling with fan favorites like Hacksaw Jim Dugan and Sgt. Slaughter.
"I told them, communism is over. I did my job. No more bad guy,'" he said.
Peruzovic, who retired from the World Wrestling Federation - now World Wrestling Entertainment - in 1995, will add one more line to his pro wrestling career Saturday, when he is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in Hollywood.
He was also honored March 29 by County Executive James Smith and the County Council for his career achievements.
"Josip is an outstanding Baltimore County employee," Smith said in a news release. "It is a true honor to recognize him upon his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame."
But any similarity between professional wrestling and real life is purely coincidental.
Peruzovic, with his close-cropped hair and bifocals, looks more like a genial grandfather than a pro wrestling antagonist. He has been married for 35 years and is the father of two grown daughters - a teacher and a nurse.
He ended up in Baltimore County after meeting his wife in a Baltimore restaurant following a match in Washington.
"I was hungry and I was waiting for the food and I think she felt sorry for me," Peruzovic said.
When he stands and presents his 6-foot-5-inch barrel-chested frame for inspection, it becomes clear that being in a headlock or bear hold is the last place one would want to be.
To those who know him, Peruzovic in real life is the guy he wanted to be in wrestling.
Since retiring from wrestling, Peruzovic has been a county code enforcement officer, citing residents for not cutting their lawns or keeping their yards and homes up as required by county law.
Not exactly a job that wins friends.
But Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a longtime friend, said Peruzovic has made his mark by "treating people the right way."
Once, according to Bartenfelder, Peruzovic was sent to a home in Overlea to write a citation for a homeowner who was not cutting the grass.
The homeowner turned out to be an 87-year-old woman with no family and no way to care for her lawn. Rather than write her a citation, Peruzovic came back after work and cut the lawn himself.
Bartenfelder met Peruzovic nearly 30 years ago, when Bartenfelder was a boy and saw Peruzovic wrestle.
"When I first met him (on the Glen Arm farm of Peruzovic's wife's family), I only knew him as a villain, not as a nice guy," said Bartenfelder, mustering up his best pro wrestler bravado. "I didn't know whether to shake his hand or kick his ass."
Asked if he could have taken Peruzovic, Bartenfelder said, "I made the right choice."
Since their meeting, Peruzovic has volunteered to help on several charitable ventures organized by Bartenfelder - signing autographs and sometimes even more - to raise money from Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
"He'd take a chair across the head if we needed him to," Bartenfelder said.
Peruzovic said that people sometimes recognize him from his wrestling days. Judging form the smile on his face as he recounts stories or Bruno Sammartino and other wrestlers, he doesn't mind reminiscing.
Peruzovic isn't done yet. The Glen Arm resident said he plans on running for a seat in the House of Delegates as a Republican in 2006.
While he is inspired by other professional wrestlers and weightlifters who have made the jump to politics - Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger in particular - the desire to be in politics has always been there, Peruzovic said.
"I want to help people," Peruzovic said. "I believe if you do something good it will make you feel good."
E-mail Bryan P. Sears at email@example.com .
Former Wrestler Honored in Baltimore County
Mar 29, 2005 10:00 am US/Eastern
Towson, MD (WJZ) A Baltimore County code enforcement officer is being honored this week for what he did in his former career.
Josip Peruzovic was known for years as professional wrestler Nikolai Volkoff, one of the "bad guys" hated by millions of World Wrestling Federation fans.
He's being inducted Saturday into the World Wrestling Hall of Fame in California.
And the county will present Peruzovic with a proclamation today designating Saturday as Nikolai Volkoff Day in Baltimore County.
Peruzovic defected from Yugoslavia in 1968 while at a weightlifting tournament in Vienna, Austria.
He wrestled until the mid-1990s, and began working for the county in 1996.
County Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder says Peruzovic is the opposite of his wrestling persona.
He does fund-raisers for children's hospitals and volunteers for charities that help sick children.
(Â© 2005 CBS Worldwide Inc
Hero's welcome for a wrestling villain
Recognition: The man who played bad guy 'Nikolai Volkoff' will be honored this weekend by a hall of fame and Baltimore County.
By Anica Butler
Originally published March 29, 2005
For nearly 20 years, he played a "bad guy" - a communist sympathizer who'd sing the Soviet national anthem before each of his televised wrestling matches.
As "Nikolai Volkoff," Josip Nikolai Peruzovic was the partner of the "Iron Sheik" in the former World Wrestling Federation, becoming possibly the most hated wrestling duo during TV wrestling's rise in the 1980s.
But this week, Peruzovic is being inducted into the World Wrestling Hall of Fame and also is being honored by Baltimore County.
"People used to hate me. Now they love me," he said yesterday.
These days, when the 6-foot-4 1/2 -inch immigrant is out on the job as a Baltimore County code enforcement officer and people recognize him, he said, they're always friendly.
Still, Peruzovic said he was surprised to learn that this weekend in California, he'll be inducted into World Wrestling Entertainment's Hall of Fame, along with his old partner, the Iron Sheik, and other '80s wrestling favorites such as Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Even more surprising to Peruzovic, though, is the recognition he's receiving from the county. Today, in a ceremony at the county executive's office, Peruzovic will receive a proclamation and a council resolution, naming Saturday - the day of the Hall of Fame induction - as Nikolai Volkoff Day in Baltimore County, according to a county spokeswoman.
"It's nice," Peruzovic said, to be recognized for "something that makes people happy."
County Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, who will present the resolution, said Peruzovic deserves the recognition.
"He's a super human being," Bartenfelder said.
Peruzovic defected in 1968 while at a weightlifting tournament in Vienna, Austria. He came to the United States in 1970, wrestled with WWE until the mid-1990s, and began working for the county in 1996. He said he never wanted to be a "bad guy" in wrestling. Although he portrayed a Russian as a wrestler, he defected from the former Yugoslavia.
"In real life, I escaped from communism," he said. But he took the advice of promoters who told him he could make fun of communism by becoming a sort of evil caricature.
"You have to really believe what you're doing," he said.
But if others believe that image of Peruzovic as "Nikolai Volkoff," they'd be misled, said Bartenfelder, who has known Peruzovic for 30 years, since the wrestler moved to Glen Arm.
It might be little known that Peruzovic, once a menacing giant, does fund-raisers for children's hospitals and volunteers for charities that help sick children.
"He's always there to step in and do what he could," Bartenfelder said. "And that's the different persona that you don't see if you knew him when he was in the ring. He's a guy who believes in charity. ... He deserves a little pat on the back."