Eastern Iowa fans may not know the name Oleg Prudius. A star in his native Ukraine at both sambo and kickboxing, he had the chops to be a major player in any number of combat sports. In 2005, he met Jerry Jarrett, co-founder of TNA, and a man not necessarily in the good graces of the current TNA regime. Jarrett brought the young green star to WWE offices. Within weeks, WWE signed the 6’4” man with the menacing demeanor to a developmental contract.
After ten months in development, WWE brought him to television as Vladimir Koslov. He appeared in the audience several times, not unlike the debut only a few months before of MVP. Unlike MVP, Koslov was far greener and was quickly sent back to developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling for more seasoning.
He would stay in OVW for a year, adding more punches and throws, and more importantly learning how not to hurt his opponents like he would in sambo or kickboxing. It wouldn’t be until April of 2008 that he would finally debut in a Smackdown ring.
He would squash local jobbers for the first few weeks (actually beating former TNA X-Division champion Matt Bentley in his first match). He would continue on this path for three months, eventually working up from unsigned local talents to the undercard jobbers that rarely appeared on the program otherwise (such as Colin Delaney, Domino and Jamie Noble).
His original entrance was completely without music and while the squashes showed off Kozlov’s power and skill, they did little to make anyone care about him. Fans were supposed to buy him as a dominant fighter, but were never allowed to see him wrestle anyone that they didn’t expect him to dominate against.
It wasn’t until September that he finally became involved in an actual storyline and where any and all push for Kozlov quickly derailed. Kozlov attacked the golden boy of WWE at the time, Jeff Hardy, only minutes after he won the #1 contendership for Triple H’s title.
Hardy would get the next title shot, but a three way dance a few weeks later would bring Kozlov’s pay-per-view debut in a title shot against Triple H. Read that again: Kozlov made his PPV debut in a match against Triple H for the WWE title. The fans crapped on Kozlov every time in the ring, and with good reason. Why believe a man that hadn’t ever beaten anyone important had any reason to go against the champion?
Despite a non-title win against ECW champion Matt Hardy, Koslov’s place on the top of the card ceased to exist. He quickly would move from dominant monster to fallible midcarder.
Kozlov would be shifted off to ECW and disappear for several weeks, only to resurface as the third man in William Regal’s Ruthless Roundtable. It quickly became clear that Kozlov’s push wasn’t nearly as important as Regal’s or that of new WWE golden boy Ezekiel Jackson.
After ECW fell apart, Kozlov would be turned face and finally win a title, the Unified tag title with Santino Marella. But by this point, he was clearly Santino’s sidekick and the writing was on the wall. Kozlov wasn’t long for WWE’s roster.
WWE released Oleg Prudius on August 5th, just hours before his last match, where he was squashed by Mark Henry, aired. It seemed everything had changed direction for him in five short years.
Vladimir Kozlov could have been a true monster on WWE television. He could have reigned great as a future WWE champion. But instead, bad booking cost him any momentum, any star power, and any success he might have.
Here’s hoping Oleg Prudius will continue his wrestling career and that whoever the next promotion he works for might be, they understood just the kind of monster they have working for them.
Eastern Iowa fans looking for Kozlov at his finest should check out the DVD for WWE Armageddon 2008 (where Kozlov looked great beating Matt Hardy) or check out last week’s NXT for his final victory over JTG in a solid contest.