Whenever a legend passes away, we often hear the phrase: “There will never be another,” and in the case of Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, known to millions around the world as pro wrestling’s “The Iron Sheik,” that phrase fits perfectly. Having passed away at the age of 81 on June 7, 2023, we collectively mourn the loss of one of popular cultures most charismatic stars. But we also celebrate the life and work of a man that won medals as an elite athlete, and as a pro wrestler was skillfully able to draw love and hate in equal measure.
M&F takes a loving look at six of the ways “The Iron Sheik” earned a permanent place in all of our hearts.
1. The Iron Sheik was a Legit Tough Guy
Born in Iran, in 1942, The Sheik fell in love with the country’s most popular sports of Greco-Roman and Freestyle Wrestling. A skilled competitor, he was later hired as a bodyguard to last King of Iran. When hyping himself up as a pro wrestler, The Sheik often made the inaccurate claim that he represented Iran in the Olympic Games, but despite that just being hoopla, he did tryout for a spot. In fact, The Sheik was a legitimate tough guy, wrestling for Iran internationally and having moved to the United States, he won two silver medals in AAUU Greco-Roman tournaments. In 1970, he followed up by winning the gold medal in the same tournament. The Iron Sheik also served as an assistant coach to Team USA, but came to the realization that there was more money to be made in the booming pro wrestling industry.
2. The Iron Sheik Made Plenty of History
Trained by Billy Robinson, in the same class as Ric Flair, The Iron Sheik played up to the stereotypical “heel” status of foreign wrestlers during that time. He made his debut with the WWF in 1979, winning the first ever over-the-top-rope Battle Royale at Madison Square Garden. On Dec. 26, 1983, The Iron Sheik defeated the hugely popular and long reigning title holder, Bob Backlund, when Backlund’s manager was forced to throw in the towel to save him from The Sheik’s “Camel Clutch” submission hold. Sheik later lost the title to Hulk Hogan in a match considered to be the birth of “Hulkamania” the following year, but The Iron Sheik remains the only Iranian in history to lift the WWF/E world heavyweight championship to this day.
3. He Was Always Must-See TV
Whether he was playing the “foreign villain” or challenging his opponents to see how many times they could swing a Persian club (a take on the Indian club swinging exercise), The Iron Sheik was always must-see-television. While his pro wrestling career began to wind up in the early ’90s following a stint as “Colonel Mustafa” in a feud where he teamed with Sgt. Slaughter to target the likes of Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, the new millennium gave rise to The Iron Sheik’s acting career, and he made appearances in several films and television shows. He even made an appearance, playing himself, in Robot Chicken. In the late 90s, The Sheik had appeared on “The Howard Stern Show,” and truly cemented his place in popular culture with a surreal but unforgettable spot on “The Jerry Springer Show,” where he had the studio audience in the palm of his hands in 1999.
— Scott “Future” Felstead (@scottfuture) June 7, 2023
4. The Iron Sheik Slapped His Camel Clutch on Social Media
It wasn’t just wrestling, radio, film, and television that The Iron Sheik mastered. Incredibly, he also put a submission hold on social media, becoming a controversial “poster” on Twitter. The majority of his tweets would contain expletives, often leveled at his seemingly real-life foe, Hulk Hogan, or whatever was in the news or taking up space in his brain at any given time, but followers soon began to question whether The Iron Sheik was as hateful as his Twitter account made him out to be. He earned new fans in the Twittersphere, based on the fact that he seemed to be taking a tongue-in-cheek look at the crazy world around him. It is also understood that his Twitter account was heavily or completely influenced by his business managers. The final tweet? “F*** the wildfires.”
5. The Iron Sheik Was a Survivor
Coming to the United States from humble beginnings in Iran, The Iron Sheik became a global main event pro wrestling talent, but his personal battles were greater than anything that he may have experienced in the squared circle. When his eldest daughter, Marissa was tragically murdered by her boyfriend, The Iron Sheik plotted revenge and developed a serious cocaine habit. His wife, Caryl, left him and he later hit rock bottom, but thankfully was able to kick the habit and restore his marriage. The couple remained in loving matrimony until The Iron Sheik’s passing. He is also survived by two other daughters and five grandchildren.
6. He Was Respected by His Peers
The Iron Sheik was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, and will live on in the fond memories of fans and peers alike. “WWE is saddened to learn that Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, known the world over as WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, passed away on Wednesday, June 7, at age 81,” read an official statement. “WWE extends its condolences to The Iron Sheik’s family, friends and fans.” Thousands of fans and prominent wrestlers also took to social media to express their sadness and deep loss of one of the greats. And, there was one tweet that summed The Iron Sheiks many gifts up perfectly.
“My dear friend Khosrow Vaziri,” wrote his longtime colleague Ric Flair in a Twitter post. “We started wrestling together In 1972. Seems like so long ago! We crossed paths so many times over the years and you were always so entertaining. The greatest line you ever said to me In 1972: ‘If I had your hair, I would be with Elizabeth Taylor!’ Rest In Peace My Friend. Be as entertaining to God as you were to all of us! 🙏🏻”
My Dear Friend Khosrow Vaziri!!! We Started Wrestling Together In 1972. Seems Like So Long Ago! We Crossed Paths So Many Times Over The Years & You Were Always So Entertaining. The Greatest Line You Ever Said To Me In 1972: “If I Had Your Hair, I Would Be With Elizabeth Taylor!”… pic.twitter.com/MG4PO69wP1
— Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) June 7, 2023