International wrestling fans were stunned last week at the death of World Wrestling Entertainment icon "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Not many wrestling fans know that one of the 61-year-old Piper's best friends, in and out of the ring, lives and works in Baltimore County.
"I'm still in shock," said Josip Nikolai Peruzovic, better known to an entire generation of wrestling fans as Nikolai Volkoff, the "Soviet patriot." "He was a very good friend, beautiful to everyone."
Like Piper, Peruzovic, and his frequent tag-team partner The Iron Shiek, was a "bad guy" in the ring who squared off against "good guys" such as "Macho Man" Randy Savage and Jimmy "Superfly" Snukka.
A native of Croatia, Peruzovic retired from wrestling in 1997 and from the Baltimore County government as a zoning inspector in 2006. He now volunteers at the Oregon Ridge Park.
In a telephone interview, Peruzovic recalled Piper as an "amazing athlete."
"He was great in the ring," Peruzovic said during a phone interview. "We tagged team a few times. He was a great wrestler who was very professional out of the ring. It was a big loss. Bigger than life, he was a movie star."
Peruzovic, who, at 68, isn't that much older than Piper, believes that the key to living long is to not stop wrestling.
"I still wrestle and stay in shape," Peruzovic said in his still-thick Croatian accent. "A lot of these old wrestlers, they don't take care of their health. Once you work out and stop, you fall into bad health. I wasn't a party man. No drinking or drugs when I was wrestling. Piper and [the] Sheik liked to party."
His fondest memory of Piper involved Roddy's bagpipes, which he used to play while entering the ring. "We were traveling together in Japan," Peruzovic said, "when our manager ["Classy"] Freddie Blassie stuffed paper into [Piper's] pipes. When he came into the ring, he couldn't blow them as they were filled with toilet paper. He was so angry. I'm really going to miss him."