Typical in the business, when a wrestler gets to be that good, or bad depending on your point of view, it’s time for a switch to the other side.
Promoters decided it was time for Nikita to wear the white hat. So Nikita changed from the ugly Russian who hated Americans to one who fell in love with the country and became as pure as hot dogs and apple pie.
Shortly later Magnum T.A., who was Nikita’s wrestling nemesis, was paralyzed in a car wreck in Philadelphia while Nikita was wrestling in Japan. A top wrestling magazine ran a cover photo of Nikita’s face with a tear trailing down his cheeks. The caption said he was crying for his friend.
That sealed his new image.
Magnum was partners with Dusty "The American Dream" Rhodes, a wrestling legend. Magnum’s accident now left Dusty without a partner.
Promoters approached Nikita after he returned from Japan and asked him if he wanted to switch to a good guy and team up with Dusty. After thinking it over, Nikita agreed to the change. The switch came in a cage match in Charlotte where Dusty was scheduled to wrestle in a cage match. A cage match is when wrestlers are locked in a steel cage and can’t walk out until a winner has been declared.’ To heighten suspense, the match was billed that Dusty would have a mystery partner. The identity of Dusty’s partner was the best kept secret in wrestling. Other than Nikita, only Dusty and Crockett knew who the mystery partner was. When the night came for the big match, Dusty strolled out of the dressing room.
The overflowing crowd gasped when they saw Nikita slowly trailing behind him. As Dusty entered the ring the other two opponents, who were playing the bad heels, jumped him. Nikita stood outside the ring and looked to the audience. It was then that they realized he was Dusty’s partner.
"The roof came off the building," Nikita said. "The same people who had hated me for so long and wanted to kill me for the next 10 minutes kept shouting Nikita! Nikita! Nikita!" He played his part to the hilt and jumped into the ring and saved Dusty. The crowd exploded. His switch to the gentle Russian was complete.
For the next 18 months Nikita played the good guy role with Dusty and called themselves "The Superpowers." Everywhere they wrestled the house sold out.
Previously, Nikita had always said he didn’t want to play the good guy. He thought having to sign autographs and chatting with fans would be a drag.
But once he became loved by fans he relished being the good guy. Rather than spitting in his face fans would now come up to him and pat him on the back.
"I was just thrilled," Nikita said.
Once again though, tragedy was lurking around the corner. In 1987 his wife Mandy was diagnosed with cancer.
After going through the agony of chemotherapy doctors declared the cancer was in remission. But the next year the cancer returned. At the same time Ted Turner bought out Crockett and renamed the company WCW, which stands for World Championship Wrestling. In a heartbeat the small family-operated company became part of corporate America.
By 1988 Mandy’s conditioned was deteriorating and Nikita told WCW he was taking a sabbatical to care for her. That didn’t sit well with WCW executives but Nikita was firm in his decision.
Nikita left the ring in 1988 to tend to his critically ill 25-year-old wife. It was another turning point in his life.
"It was my first real experience in the value life," Nikita said. "It put my life in perspective. It gave me a greater appreciation for life itself." Mandy’s conditioned steadily worsened and Nikita looked on as her life began to wither. By early 1989 her fight was over. She died in her hospital bed with Nikita by her side.
A heartbroken Nikita needed time to mend his soul. When he returned to the ring six months later he saw th
As their love grew Nikita proposed and Victoria accepted. He and Victoria married on Aug. 17, 1990. Victoria, Nikita, Tawni and Teryn became an instant family.
Nikita and Victoria decided to create a new life for themselves. They opened a trendy health club just outside of Charlotte. Well versed on what it took to grow muscles Nikita’s experience helped the club thrive.
They also began marketing TV network time which added to their income.
With their marriage flourishing, the couple tried to conceive children.
They met with a fertility specialist to see what could be done.
Before starting any treatment the physician asked Victoria to under a standard pregnancy test just to make sure she wasn’t already pregnant.
Shortly after taking the test Victoria happened to be at their health club when she got the results. The doctor said she didn’t need treatment as the test showed she was with child.
"She screamed on the phone," Nikita recalls. Their marriage was blessed with their daughter Kendra was born in June 1992.
Now 33 years-old, Nikita took a hard look at the world around him. He didn’t like how wrestling was taking a toll on his family. In any given month he would be on the road for 25 days. He now found that was time he would rather be spending at home.
He also didn’t like how the WCW was treating wrestlers.
While he didn’t know it, his last match wasn’t far away. On Nov. 7, 1992 Nikita stepped into the ring for the final time.
The match was against Van Vander, an enormous 500-pound wrestler. Towards the end of the match Nikita was hit with a clothes line blow to the neck. Immediately, he knew something was wrong. He felt a throbbing pain in his neck and his left arm went numb.
"I had my share of minor bumps and bruises over my career but I never felt anything like that before," Nikita said.
By 5 a.m. the next day his lower abdomen was hurting even worse. At that point he knew he needed medical attention.
A team of seven doctors checked him out. Tests revealed he had a hernia. An MRI showed his neck was injured so often in wrestling it looked like that of a 55-year-old.
"Doctors didn’t tell me not to wrestle, but said the longer I continued to wrestle the more likely I faced the risk of permanent injury," Nikita said.
Taking three months to recover from his hernia surgery, Nikita decided it was time to hang up his tights. He never regretted the decision. Nikita didn’t make the fatal mistake of so many other athletes - staying on past his prime. "I certainly was never planning to stay in wrestling until my 40s," Nikita said.
"I didn’t want to be in a position where people were asking ’When is Nikita going to retire?’ " Always thrifty when it came to money, and with a health club and marketing business to fall back on, Nikita also was in good financial shape. Big money generated from wrestling wasn’t important anymore.
"I never fully felt I fit into the operation," he said. "I was always a rebel for that industry. I said what was on my mind - I didn’t mince words. If I felt the need to speak up I did." Now free from the heavy burden of travel, Nikita took the most powerful turn of his life. He and his wife had always said they wanted to raise their children with Christian values and began looking for a church where they could worship.
This was a fairly new quest for Nikita. His family was never big on religion and even though he attended mandatory Bible classes in junior college the word of God really didn’t mean much to him then.
Now though he was ready.
When he walked into a service at the First Assembly of God in Concorde, S.C., near his home he committed himself to God. When the pastor asked the congregation if anyone wanted to be saved to walk down the altar, both Nikita an