WWE Hall of Fame champ Nikolai Volkoff dies aged of 70
The grappling great, real name Josip Nikolai Peruzovi, portrayed a devious Russian on screen, battling Hulk Hogan, but was actually Croatian.
Born in Split, he emigrated to Canada while part of the Yugoslavian weightlifting team and trained with Stu Hart - Bret Hart's father - in Calgary.
He debuted with Stampede Wrestling in Canada before moving to the States to wrestle for the NWA and eventually Vince McMahon Sr’s WWWF.
It was there he had his most famous feud, a rivalry with the legendary hero Bruno Sammartino, which sold out Madison Square Garden in New York.
Volkoff spent part of the 1970s working with the AWA and Mid-South Wrestling, but returned to the then-WWF for another famous run in the 1980s.
During the peak of the Cold War, the 6ft 4in bruiser formed teams with The Iron Sheik and Boris Zukhov for feuds with Sgt. Slaughter and Hulk Hogan.
He and the equally dastardly Sheik won the WWF Tag Team Championship from The U.S. Express at the inaugural WrestleMania in March 1985.
The master of the bear hug, Boston crab and lifting backbreaker retired in the mid-1990s, making sporadic appearances into the 21st century.
His final WWE TV appearance came in 2014, where he sang the Soviet national anthem backstage with Lana and Rusev on Monday Night Raw.
Volkoff is said to have passed away just days after being released from a hospital in his adopted home state of Maryland.
According to PWInsider.com, he had been receiving treatment for dehydration and other issues, but his cause of death is not yet known.
In a statement, WWE said: "WWE is saddened to learn that Josip Nikolai Peruzovi?, known to WWE fans as Nikolai Volkoff, has passed away at age 70.
"Best known for his dastardly, WWE Tag Team Championship–winning union with The Iron Sheik, Volkoff’s in-ring career spanned the better part of 40 years, which featured battles against the likes of Sgt. Slaughter, Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino.
"As one of the greatest villains sports entertainment had ever seen, Volkoff’s infamous rendition of the Soviet National Anthem before his matches made him an instant icon in the eyes of the WWE Universe as a Superstar they truly loved to hate.
"Jim Ross inducted Volkoff into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2005. WWE extends its condolences to Peruzovi?’s family, friends and fans."
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