The man known the world over as The Iron Sheik has given his entire life to professional wrestling.
It has not been without its rewards, for the Sheik, whose real name is Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, is a legend in the business. He’s also a hall of famer and one of the most recognizable wrestling personalities in history. Not bad for a guy who spent his entire career as a bad guy.
Of course it has not been without its sacrifices. The Sheik battled severe drug addiction and suffered serious and debilitating injuries that have left him immobile in the latter part of his life.
But like almost any pro wrestler, the Sheik is a proud man, one who refuses to make excuses for himself or to show weakness.
But after decades of giving to a business that can be both rewarding and cruel, the Sheik is turning to his fans in hopes of telling his story, as he wishes it to be told. The Sheik recently launched an IndieGoGo campaign to help raise $100,000 for his coming tell-all documentary, Iranian Legend: The Iron Sheik Story.
It’s a story, according to the 73-year-old, a lifetime in the making.
Professional wrestling came a little later on for arguably Iran’s most famous son. Unlike North America, Iran wasn’t a big pro wrestling nation.
“In Iran never had the pro wrestling,” said the Sheik in an interview. “Only the amateur wrestling. This was biggest sport in the Iran. The Takhti was my hero,” he said, reffering to Iranian Olympic gold medallist Gholamreza Takhti. “He was my mentor and my idol. He was like the Michael Jordan of the Iran. I love him and forever he reason I become wrestler.”
In fact, before developing one of the greatest villain characters in history, the Sheik would follow in the footsteps of his hero, becoming an amateur wrestler, Olympian and, later, a coach.
It was amateur wrestling, according to the Sheik, that led him down his path of eventual immortality.
“The amateur wrestler allow me to be natural,” the Sheik said. “Because I live in the mat and in love with the business, it make me become best wrestler. Next, my gimmick and character are believable and that help me big time because the Ayatollah in Iran was hottest thing. It helped me become biggest heel in the business.”
Before leaving his homeland, the Sheik even served as a bodyguard for the last king of Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, an experience the Sheik still holds near and dear to his heart.
“This was one of the best days of my life, Bubba,” he said, using his practically trademarked term of endearment. “I work for the Shah … biggest compliment … he trusted me to take care of his family and protect them. I be in a lot of situation that I had to protect the Shah and he know I always be there for his family.”
It was when the Sheik crossed paths with another legend, former wrestler, trainer and promoter Vern Gagne, that his life was forever altered.
“When I knew I become world famous, Mr. Vern Gagne tell me I have something and I believe him.”
The Sheik has a long history within Canada, too. His first title was the Canadian Tag-Team Championship with partner Texas Outlaw.
“I love the Canada,” he said. “I love the Stu Hart. I love the Maple Leaf Garden. I always respect them and they know I love the people of Canada.” Hart, of course, is the legendary trainer who ran the so-called Hart Family Dungeon out of Calgary, where countless wrestlers cut their teeth. He was also the father of Bret The Hitman Hart and the late Owen Hart.
The Sheik and his longtime tag-team partner Nikolai Volkov performed on many a night inside the Gardens.
“Ya, bubba, me and the Nikolai always get a lot of heat for being international heat,” he added.
Heat might as well have been the Sheik’s middle name. You’d be hard pressed to find a career heel who was any better. Being a babyface was never really an option, Sheik said, as being from hostile Iran, being “bad” just made sense.
“I natural heel because the Iran and the Ayatollah worse country in the world at the time and they make me bad guy. My job to put over the Sergeant Slaughter and also to make the Hulkamania. Without Iron Sheik, there never be the Hulk Hogan.”
Hogan won the first of his many world championships by defeating the Sheik, igniting Hulkamania in the process. In those days, good versus evil was serious business.
Besides becoming Hogan’s arch enemy, rewriting the book on heels and generally inciting crowds everywhere, behind the scenes the Sheik was a major contributor, too, helping train some fellow legends, such as Ricky The Dragon Steamboat and Jumping Jim Brunzell.
Asked whether he thinks he gets enough credit for what he did behind the scenes, the Sheik said: “They all know I make the Hulkamania and they all know that I train them and I make them the best. I love them all.”
The Sheik performed in a time when fans were not privy to the matches being predetermined. Much of what went on was a heavily-guarded secret. As such, his Iranian heel persona was able to flourish.
But times have changed. Fans now know that match outcomes are predetermined, and its performers are simply that, performers. So, given that he’s spent so much of his life in America, the Sheik was asked his thoughts on all of the resentment directed toward Middle East countries and their peoples in the wake of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“The news sometime like the wrestling,” he said. “They try to make people look bad, look good, look anyway. The Osama (bin Laden) biggest piece of shit in the world and he make all Middle Eastern look bad,” he added, referring to the man who masterminded the terror attacks.
Asked if he felt wrestling was better when it was still considered “real,” the Sheik said he doesn’t see that as the case.
“Bubba, this is business, whatever they do now they make the money, so it better now.”
His Camel Clutch, one of the most famous finishers in history, came courtesy of his former boss.
“(Vince) McMahon Sr. give me this and I love him and his family forever,” he said, adding that he considers his world title reign and his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame his greatest accomplishments.
Injuries suffered during a long and successful career, however, have left the Iranian legend nearly crippled. Nevertheless, the Sheik says he would do it all over again given the chance.
“I never change a thing,” he said. “I sad because I am in bad shape and I am hurt, my knee bother me, ankle bother me. This way, I feel bad, but I love my job forever.”
The Sheik, one of the most outspoken and unpredictable characters in history, feels there’s more to be told about his career, which is why he’s trying to raise the money to make his documentary.
Rather than have WWE or someone else tell his story, the Sheik wants to tell it from his perspective.
“Now my time because I am big-time on the Twitter and I am big-time for next generation. I speak with my heart, not my head and I try to show people my life story, how hard I work to become the legend. If you don’t know Iron Sheik, then you don’t know Michael Jordan. But do you know the real Iron Sheik? How I become Iron Sheik, how I become the legend? This way, I have to show the people so I say legend forever.”
The Sheik promises that he’ll tell his story like it has never been told before, saying his documentary will cover “Me in the army, me being best wrestler in the world, I escape the Iran, I come to U.S., I train, I become most hated man on the television, how I become hall of fame, my up and down in life and how I become king of the Twitter.”
If you’re on Twitter, by the way, and not following the Sheik, you should probably close your Twitter account. The Sheik (@the_ironsheik) treats his more than 300,000 followers to nonstop running commentary on just about everything in the news. And some wrestling, too.
As well, Comedy Central has chosen to bestow its highest honour, a celebrity roast, on the Sheik, something humbling to the rarely humbled legend.
“Bubba, I love the comedy, I respect the comedy … they know I am the legend,” he said.
Asked if he owned the rights to his own name, the Sheik answered the way only the Sheik could: “Yes, Bubba, only one Frank Sinatra, only one Jay Z and only one Iron Sheik.”
To help the Sheik produce his documentary, as well as to help cover some of the costs for needed surgery on his injured knees and ankles, go to http://www.indiegogo.com/