Francis Edward Zela, a championship wrestler who performed as Boris Volkoff, died on Oct. 15 from congestive heart failure. He was 76.
A member of the wrestling tag team, the Volkoff Brothers, Zela portrayed a Russian in the ring, but he was actually from Calument City, Ill. His partner, Nicoli, was a genuine Russian who would shout at Zela in his native language. They were an intimidating team and won National Wrestling Alliance tag team titles in 1956, 1958 and 1965.
Zela became interested in physical fitness during World War II when he served in the Merchant Marine. He founded the All-American Health Club and Acres Health Club in Calumet City, which were popular hangouts for professional wrestlers.
In the 1950s, Zela entered the ring as the “Masked Destroyer.” He joined the Volkoffs’ team after an earlier “Boris” resigned. In the midst of the Cold War, the wrestling “brothers” were popular villains in the ring. His favorite move? The forearm smash.
Zela retired from professional wrestling in 1968, and worked as a contractor and restaurant owner. He moved to Las Vegas in the early 1990s where he continued to exercise on a steady basis. Six months before he died, Zela was still bench pressing 300 pounds.