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'Bad guy,' good fight Wrestler: Baltimore County has added some muscle to its cadre of code inspectors. Meet Nikolai Volkoff, also called "The Mad Russian."

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This is one bureaucrat you don't want to ignore.

Nikolai Volkoff, a 300-pound professional wrestler who once terrorized the ring as "The Mad Russian" is one of Baltimore County's newest all-purpose inspectors.

He's part of a group being trained to handle thousands of complaints expected to result from a housing law that takes effect today. The law, designed to combat neighborhood eyesores, covers the exterior of owner-occupied homes, which had been exempt from the county housing code.

Volkoff -- who also will handle other housing, zoning or building code complaints -- says he may have been cast as a wrestling "bad guy," but he is as gentle as a lamb outside the ring.

"You have to learn to control yourself," the devotee of yoga and meditation says. "Ninety-six percent of all sickness comes from [bad feelings in] your head."

At 46, his huge chest 24 inches larger than his waist, the 6-foot-4 1/2 -inch native of Croatia is an imposing figure. He wrestles several times a month but says the televised version of wrestling entertainment has declined in quality over the years.

"Wrestling is not wrestling anymore, it's just comedy cartoons," he says disdainfully of the gaudy, seemingly choreographed World Wrestling Federation bouts on television.

Of course, Volkoff is not above a deception or two himself.

When he started 26 years ago, he says, he didn't want to be portrayed as a Russian, because he had just defected to escape Communism. "I hated them," he says, despite his Russian, Croatian and Italian heritage.

But wrestling promoters sold him on the idea of getting revenge by being a fearsome symbol of the big, bad Soviet Union. "I really enjoyed it," he says.

According to Jay Andronaco, a spokesman for the World Wrestling Federation, Volkoff last performed for the WWF in April 1995 in "Wrestlemania 11," and retired on good terms.

In his best year during the late 1980s, Volkoff says, he earned $400,000. "I paid $50,000 just in taxes," he boasts. But a few bad investments have shrunk his savings.

Now, like the other inspectors hired to cut blight in county neighborhoods, he will make $25,335 a year -- before taxes.

Volkoff says he was trained as an electrician as a youth in the former Yugoslavia, and feels qualified for the inspector job. He began wrestling as a teen-ager under the tutelage of his grandfather Ante Tomasevic.

He defected to the West in 1968, while attending a weightlifting tournament in Vienna, Austria.

Unable to come immediately to the United States, he moved to Canada, where his professional career began, and to New Jersey two years later.

He met his wife, Lynn, in a Baltimore restaurant, and they married within a year and settled among her extended family on 50 acres of farmland in Glen Arm. With their two daughters grown and his wrestling career winding down, Volkoff wanted something new.

He applied for county jobs several times over the past five years. This time, he got a referral from County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a farmer from nearby Fullerton whom he befriended years ago.

Bartenfelder says he forwarded resumes for several people interested in the inspector jobs but doesn't feel responsible for Volkoff's hiring.

"We forwarded three of four [applicants]," Bartenfelder says, adding that the others weren't hired.

What's it like going from the celebrity spotlight to the anonymity of being a county inspector?

"It's all work. It's a job," Volkoff says, noting that although he still travels to Boston a couple times a month to wrestle as an independent, "I like staying home."

He has given most of his fellow inspectors autographed promotional photos of himself in his 345-pound wrestling prime, but that's no big deal, he says.

"I give everybody pictures," he says. "People ask me for it. I'm used to that.

"I don't believe in celebrity."

Last week -- the day before Christmas -- Volkoff gave a doll made in his image to a co-worker's son who had spent a morning playing in the office. The dolls might be valuable to collectors, but then business has never been the big man's strong suit.

"The value [of the doll] is in the heart. I had one in my car," Volkoff says, shrugging.

Says Joe Schrack Sr., a veteran county inspector helping to teach Volkoff the ropes, "All the bad guys in wrestling are the nicest guys in real life."

Pub Date: 1/01/97

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