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The Iron Sheik: The Greatest Heel In Wrestling History (His Life Story)

Entertainment | March 15, 2020

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Listen up, Jabroni! The Iron Sheik is one of the great heels in professional wrestling, projecting an arrogant ring persona and riding opponents into submission with his signature hold, the Camel Clutch. The life story of the Iron Sheik really does begin in Iran, and he was an elite Olympic-level wrestler before embarking in the more showbiz-style professional wrestling that made him famous. 

The Iron Sheik, one of the all-time wrestling heels (tmz)

Most people don’t know who Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri is, but if you ask them about The Iron Sheik, chances are that name will ring a bell. A native of Damghan, Iran, the eventual six-foot 250-pound man child knew his calling from an early age. As a boy, he traveled to a mosque an hour and a half away to pray to Allah to help him wrestle in the 90 KG or 200 pounds weight division.

He even tattooed 90 on his body. Eventually, he became a staple of professional wrestling in the WWE but his road to America and TV wrestling was a fascinating one, to say the least. 

Unknown Birthday And A King’s Bodyguard

Wrestler turned bodyguard and then back to wrestler (chinlock)

The Iron Sheik doesn’t actually know his real birthday. That’s because his parents went back and forth between a western calendar and the Solar Hijri calendar used in the Middle East. His passport says March 15, 1942, but he celebrates his birthday on September 9th. Early on, he established himself as a tough guy, even in his native Iran. His tough-guy reputation got him selected as a bodyguard for Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the king of Iran from 1941-1979.

He took his job very seriously, telling Vice magazine, "I make sure no one touch him. If anyone did, I break their neck. I respect the Shah and make sure he protected."

Wrestling Success And Political Unrest

The Sheik timed his move to America perfectly (ftw.usatoday)

The Iron Sheik tried out for the ‘68 Iranian Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team and while he acquitted himself well, he didn’t make the squad. Despite the disappointment, the Sheik had more pressing concerns on his hands. His good friend and gold medal wrestler, Gholamreza Takhti was found dead, his death ruled a suicide.

Takhti was a vocal opponent of King Pahlavi and many, including the Sheik, thought Takhti was murdered. That’s when Sheik decided it was a prudent time to make the move to America.

Success As An Amateur Wrestler in America

Prior to professional wrestling the Iron Sheik was all greco roman (reelnewsdaily)

The Sheik won his weight class at the Amateur Athletic Union wrestling championships in 1971 and went on to become an assistant coach for the following year’s Summer Games in Munich. Eventually, he was persuaded by wrestling teammates to try his hand at American professional wrestling -- which he thought was 100% real. He found fast success playing the character he is known for today, the Anti-American Iron Sheik. Pretty ironic since he helped Dan Gable win a gold medal just a few years before. 

Serious Drug Problems And The Death Of His Daughter

The Sheik turned his life around after the tragic death of one of his daughters (vancouversun)

Prior to entering the WWE, the Sheik had lived a very pure and clean life. Unfortunately, once he was introduced to the wildlife of the road, drugs and alcohol got their hooks into him. He fell into a deep spiral of drug abuse that shadowed him for many years. It wasn’t until the tragic death of his daughter at the hands of Charles Warren Reynolds was the Sheik able to turn his life around.

In fact, during the murder trial, the Sheik hid a razor blade in his mouth and planned to bull his way toward his daughter’s killer and slit his throat. It was only his family who surrounded him, physically barring his path that stopped him from taking bloody revenge in a Georgia courthouse.

One of his other daughters begged him not to attack Reynolds, “You can’t kill him ‘cause they’ll put you in prison. I lost my sister and I don’t want to lose my father.” It was then that the Sheik pledge to kick his addiction habit and live a life his daughter would have been proud of. 

The Suplex King And An Honorable Man

Hulk Hogan getting a taste of the Camel Clutch (nationofblue)

WWE fans will remember the Iron Sheik for his masterful suplex moves and “Crippling Camel Clutch.” But perhaps, his most famous match was a Championship match in Madison Square Garden against Hulk Hogan. What wrestling fans might not know is that the Sheik was offered $100,000 to break Hulk Hogan’s leg during that match.

A rival wrestling promoter, Verne Gagne told the Sheik that if he broke Hogan’s leg, he’d pay him $100,000 for crippling the WWE’s rising star. Even more impressive was the fact that the Sheik hated Hulk Hogan. Despite his hatred for Hollywood Hogan, the Sheik didn’t go through with it and dutifully played his role, letting Hogan win and begin the “Hulkamania” era. Hilariously, the Sheik still hates Hogan to this day. 

Tags: Iron Sheik | Professional Wrestlers | Wrestling In The 1970s | Wrestling In The 1980s

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!