Monday, July 30, 2018

RIP Nikolai Volkoff and Brian Christopher

Two big losses in one day
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The wrestling world lost two different stars from two different eras yesterday. Nikolai Volkoff and Brian Christopher both passed away. Volkoff was 70 years old at the time of his passing, while Christopher was only 48. Both men made their marks in WWE in several different peak eras, and both got extremely over in their own way for different reasons. Losing both in the same day feels huge.

Volkoff was born Josip Nikolai Peruzovińá in what is now known as Croatia. He defected into Canada from then-communist Yugoslavia during a weightlifting competition, where he gained the attention of Stu Hart, who trained him to be a wrestler. He got his break in WWE first as Bepo Mongol, but it would be after leaving the first time when he would adopt the ring name Nikolai Volkoff. Upon returning to WWE, he would feud with both Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund as Champion. While he adopted the Volkoff name in 1971, he would not explicitly embrace the Soviet Union until he came back to WWE in the 80s. It was there, in his team with the Iron Sheik, where he'd sing the Soviet National Anthem before matches. Given that the United States was in full offensive under the Ronald Reagan administration against the Soviet Union in the Cold War (and given that Reagan pretty much was elected on the strength of an Iranian hostage situation), that team got nuclear heat.

After that team dissolved, Volkoff continued to work in WWE's midcard. WWE attempted to recreate tag team magic with Boris Zhukov, but the law of diminishing returns struck. Volkoff even had a babyface run that attempted to kickstart Sgt. Slaughter's Iraqi sympathizer gimmick, but he was back to heeldom sooner rather than later. By this time, he was already 20 years in the business and in his 40s, he'd settled into comedy territory, which suited him fine. WWE inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2005 as part of its Hulk Hogan-themed class. Volkoff was a minor rival of Hogan's during his big run, but was also a major antagonist in the Rock 'n Wrestling cartoon. He would make random indie, reunion, and one-off WWE appearances from then until his passing. His final WWE related appearance was singing the Soviet National Anthem with Rusev and Lana during a RAW Fallout video. He passed of natural causes.

Christopher, born Brian Christopher Lawler, actually was not revealed to be the son of Jerry Lawler at the onset of his career. (Doug Gilbert spilled the beans during a shoot interview.) He broke into the United States Wrestling Association, the natural evolution of Memphis/Mid-South. After a few years there, he went to WWE and formed a team called Too Much with Scott Taylor. Soon after, they rebranded as Too Cool, and it all took off from there. Christopher became Grandmaster Sexay, and Taylor Scotty 2 Hotty. They palled up with Rikishi and became a wildly entertaining midcard trio based on dancing and co-opting of Black culture to extremely ridiculous ends.

However, his hard partying in character bled into his real life. He was arrested for attempting to smuggle drugs from the United States into Canada in 2001, and almost immediately was released from his contract. His battles with addiction were well-documented during the 2000s, becoming as much a part of his narrative as various comeback attempts and appearances. He was recently arrested for DUI, and he took his life in the jail cell stemming from this arrest. The circumstances around the end of his life were unfortunate, but it's important not to judge a person by their demons alone. This anecdote from promoter Dan McDevitt's Facebook page paints Christopher as a kind soul.

While neither wrestler reached the heights of the biggest stars of the business, their impacts were still deep and long-lasting. Christopher's passing especially feels cruel because 48 is far too young for anyone to die. Hopefully, both are able to rest in peace.