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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Kola (Nicholas) Kwariani (1903-1980): Famous Georgian wrestler and chess player

Kola (Nicholas) Kwariani, also known as "Nick the Wrestler", famous Georgian professional wrestler and avid chess player. Kola Kwariani lived in New York City, Paris, and many other places during his career.

Kola Kwariani, son of Nestor and Caserines (Kesaria) Kwariani, although according to documents, his mother’s name may be misspelled. He was born on Jan 16, (Jan 3) 1903 (Kutaisi, Republic of Georgia), died Feb 1980 (New York, USA).
Kola Kwariani's wife, Sidonia Kwariani, was born on July 3, 1910 in Illinois. She dies in 1973.

"Kola (Kwariani), 280, was a brutal Georgian who learned wrestling from his mother, a 6-foot 3-inch, 205-pounder. Kola's mother learned wrestling from her mother." - Gay Talese, NY Times, Sept 16, 1958

Kola Kwariani played chess daily and nightly at the Chess and Checker Club in New York City, also known as "The Flea House". Nick was known regularly to play chess there for five or six days straight without sleep.

In the 1956 Stanley Kubrick film "The Killing", Kola Kwariani played a hired killer named Maurice Oboukhoff. In the movie, he started a fight in a bar as a diversionary tactic. The movie shows Sterling Hayden going to the Chess and Checker Club of New York to hire Nick the Wrestler for this purpose. 

Kola Kwariani is said to have been the World Champion at Greco-Roman style wrestling. He had cauliflower ears, caused by being squeezed in the head too much. His face was covered with warts and bumps.

"Kola Kwariani, a 250 pound New York wrestler who speaks eight languages and rates as the only chess playing professional in the country, has been signed by Harris-Kubrick Pictures to play a feature role in Bed of Fear with Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray and Vince Edwards in the leads. Bed of Fear is a suspense yarn revolving around a race-track robbery.

Kwariani takes the part of a chess-playing wrestler who is used by Hayden to create diversionary tactics while a hold-up of the track is being stages. He starts a fight at the race-track bar, and it takes twenty men to subdue him.
James B. Harris produces Bed of Fear. With Stanley Kubrick directing.
There is a chess scene in the picture. Here on cover. We have (left to right) Kola Kwariani, Stanley Kubrick directing the chess game scene from the film, and Sterling Hayden. Both Kubrick and Kwariani are known in New York chess circles. The film was in production in November (1955)."
Chess Review, March 1956

In 1949, in St. Louis, veteran wrestler Kola Kwariani met Antonio Rocca, an Italian-born Argentine professional wrestler. Kola convinced Rocca that New York was where the real money was, and stole him away from Elitch and the entire Houston contingent.

In 1959 and into 1960, Kwariani became Rocca's manager and brought him to the Big Apple to work for Joseph "Toots" Mondt, a longtime promoter who was struggling to resurrect the wrestling business in the New York area. Kola Kwariani had just broken away from his partnership with Vince McMahon Sr. and started working together with a promoter, impresario and genuine manager of wrestlers, Jack Pfefer.

Under Kwariani's management, Antonio Rocca set the post-World War II record for wrestling-attendance at Madison Square Garden's 49th-50th Street location, drawing 21,950 fans in a singles-match against an obscure wrestler named "the Amazing Zuma," a/k/a "Argentina Zuma," on January 2, 1960, as was reported by the New York Times.

Kola Kwariani died in 1980. He met his end in a sad way. At age 77 he was beaten by five youths at the Chess and Checker Club entrance and died in a hospital.

Here is how this tragic accident is described by Samuel Sloan, an American chess player and publisher:

“Nick came in the downstairs entrance one evening when about five black youths were leaving. They bumped into each other. Words were exchanged. Nick never took any gruff from anybody and soon he was engaged in a fight with all five black kids at once.

Nick probably could still have handled any one or two of them, but five were too many. Nick was beaten. The ambulance was called. Nick was taken to the hospital, and died shortly thereafter at age 77.”

Kola Kwariani's and his wife Sedonia's record from SSN death index database: