Nikita was born on March 9, 1959, in Minneapolis, Minn. His father was a veteran of World War II and upon returning home after the war, like many veterans of foreign wars, had a difficult time adjusting. When Nikita was two years old, his father decided to leave the family. For the next 20 years Nikita's father was in and out of his life. With no real support Nikita's mother set about the task of raising four children as a teacher's aid in the Minneapolis school system. Although she worked this job well into her 70's, it didnít pay enough to fully support a family so she was forced to turn to welfare. Nikita found himself and the rest of his family living in the projects of Minneapolis for the next eight years. Finally, escaping the projects at the age of 10, the family moved to Robbinsdale, Minnesota.
When he entered sixth grade he stumbled across a copy of "Iron Man," a muscle magazine. Flicking through the magazine he found himself mesmerized at how men could build their muscles. He bought his first weight lifting set - a 110 pound starter set with money he earned as a newspaper boy, shortly thereafter, and began weightlifting. By junior high school he pumped himself up to where he could squat 500 pounds. He played offense and defensive line for the Robbinsdale Robins.
After high school, Nikita attended Golden Valley Jr. College and later, Moorhead State University, setting his sites on a professional football career. During his college career, Nikitaís was twice slowed by broken legs. He was one of only three players on his team to be scouted by the NFL; however, the scouts lost interest due to the leg injuries. Not losing his childhood vision and hopes, he graduated in 1982 and moved back to the Twin Cities, still planning on making an NFL team. Friends found that Nikita had become an true "gym rat." He spent every free hour of his day pumping iron at a local training club, called "The Gym" (owned and operated by longtime friend Jim Yungner). A light day at the gym for him was six hours. Eight-hour days were more typical and it got to the point where he packed a lunch so he could eat it at the gym. He earned a living by bouncing at a bar at night.
Bouncing one night at the bar Nikita saw two men fighting and tried to stop them. In the melee his legs got entangled and he felt searing pain flow through his left leg. X-rays showed he had a hair-line fracture. Surgeons were called in to insert a steel rod in his leg to give it needed support and strength. He still carries that rod in his leg.
For all of 1983, still determined to play in the NFL, he would spend as many waking hours as possible pumping weights to build his body. His strategy was that by the summer of 1984 he would be ready for an NFL tryout. Looking for a little adventure while he was recovering, Nikita packed up his bags and moved in with his close friend in Atlanta, Georgia; his friend was a wrestler with Georgia Championship Wrestling known as Road Warrior "Animal". Soon, he was attending wrestling matches in the evening and worked out during the day. Workers compensation from his bar injury sustained him.
Three months later he returned to the Twin Cities and got a job as bar disc jockey. By then Nikita's body was a massive 6-foot-2, 285-pounds - 8% body fat. In April of that year he got a call from his friend Joe "Animal" Laurinaitis with news about a wrestling opportunity. At the time, Gordon Solie, who did play-by-play for WTBS Wrestling in Atlanta, had lined up a tryout for Nikita with the Tampa Bay Bandits in the newly-created USFL. But Laurinaitis told Nikita that Jim Crockett, who headed the National Wrestling Alliance in Charlotte, N.C., was searching for new wrestlers. A common practice in wrestling is to search for new talent when ratings are down. The NWA was in a ratings dip. World tag team champions Don Kernodle and Ivan Koloff came up with an idea. Figuring the Russians would boycott the Olympics, they put the word out to find a "nephew" for Ivan. Laurinaitis thought that Nikita would fit the bill.