When a legend dies, 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 the "Iron Sheikh" of pro wrestling, it fits sentence perfect. After passing away on June 7, 2023 at the age of 81, we mourn the loss of one of pop culture's most charismatic stars. But we also celebrate the life and work of a man who won medals as a top athlete and adeptly managed to attract love and hate in equal measure as a professional wrestler.
M&F takes a loving look at six reasons The Iron Sheik has won a permanent place in our hearts.
1. The Iron Sheik was a really tough guy
Born in Iran in 1942, the Sheikh fell in love with the country's most popular sports, Greco-Roman wrestling and freestyle wrestling. A skilled competitor, he was later hired as a bodyguard to the last king of Iran. When promoting himself as a professional wrestler, the sheikh often falsely claimed that he represented Iran at the Olympics, but even though it was only a joke, he tried to compete for a place. In fact, the Sheikh was a real tough guy, wrestling for Iran internationally and winning two silver medals at Greco-Roman AAUU tournaments after moving to the United States. In 1970, winning the gold medal in the same tournament followed. The Iron Sheik also served as Team USA's assistant coach, but came to realize there was more money to be made in the booming pro wrestling industry.
2. The Iron Sheik wrote a lot of history
Trained by Billy Robinson in the same class as Ric Flair, the Iron Sheik lived up to the stereotypical "heel" status of foreign wrestlers during this period. He made his WWF debut in 1979 when he won the first-ever over-the-top rope battle royale at Madison Square Garden. On December 26, 1983, The Iron Sheik defeated the hugely popular and long-reigning defending champion 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 fight that marked the birth of Hulkamania the following year, but The Iron Sheik remains the only Iranian in history to win the WWF/E World Heavyweight Championship.
3. He was always a must-see on TV
Whether playing the "foreign villain" or challenging his opponents on how many times they could swing a Persian racquet (a variant of the Indian racquet swing exercise), The Iron Sheik was always a must-watch on TV. While his pro wrestling career came to an end in the early 90's after teaming up as "Colonel Mustafa" in a feud with Sgt. The new millennium began with the slaughter of characters like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior and launched the Iron Sheikh's acting career, appearing in several films and television shows. He even made an appearance playing himself in Robot Chicken. By the late '90s, The Sheik had appeared on The Howard Stern Show and cemented his place in pop culture with a surreal but unforgettable performance on The Jerry Springer Show, where he had the studio audience in his hands in 1999.
question. The @the_ironsheik could have a lot on his hands. Even on the Jerry Springer show. pic.twitter.com/Pct5j54dHH
— Scott "Future" Felstead (@scottfuture) June 7, 2023
4. The Iron Sheik slammed his camel hitch on social media
The Iron Sheik not only mastered wrestling, radio, film and television. Incredibly, he's also held back on social media, becoming a controversial "poster" on Twitter. Most of his tweets contained profanity, often aimed at his seemingly real-life enemy Hulk Hogan or whatever else was in the news or taking up space in his brain at any given time, but followers soon began to wonder if the Iron Sheikh was just as hateful as his Twitter account portrayed him. He gained new fans in the Twittersphere by seeming to take a wink at the crazy world around him. It is also understood that his Twitter account was heavily or entirely influenced by his business leaders. The last tweet? "Fuck the forest fires."
5. The Iron Sheik was a survivor
The Iron Sheikh came to the United States from humble beginnings in Iran and blossomed into pro wrestling talent for the world's biggest event, but his personal struggles surpassed anything he may have experienced in the square circle. When his eldest daughter Marissa was tragically murdered by her boyfriend, the Iron Sheik plotted revenge and developed a serious addiction to cocaine. His wife Caryl left him and he later hit rock bottom, but luckily was able to kick the habit and restore his marriage. The couple remained in loving marriage until the death of the Iron Sheikh. He also leaves behind 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 worldwide as WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, passed away on Wednesday, June 7 at the age of 81," the official statement said. "WWE extends its condolences to the family, friends and fans of The Iron Sheik." Thousands of fans and celebrity wrestlers also took to social media to express their sadness and the profound loss of one of the greats. And there was a tweet that perfectly summed up the many gifts from the Iron Sheikhs.
"My dear friend Khosrow Vaziri," his longtime colleague Ric Flair wrote in a Twitter post. “We started wrestling together in 1972. It seems like that was so long ago! Our paths have crossed so many times over the years and you've always been so entertaining. The greatest phrase you ever said to me in 1972: "If I had your hair, I'd be with Elizabeth Taylor!" RIP my friend. Be as entertaining to God as you are to all of us! 🙏🏻”
My dear friend Khosrow Vaziri!!! We started wrestling together in 1972. Seems so long ago! We've crossed paths so many times over the years and you've always been so entertaining. The greatest phrase you ever said to me in 1972: "If I had your hair, I'd be with Elizabeth Taylor!"... pic.twitter.com/MG4PO69wP1
— Ric Flair® (@RicFlairNatrBoy) June 7, 2023