Professional wrestling has lost another legend.
Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known as The Iron Sheik, died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 81.
The Iron Sheik was a larger-than-life persona that helped spark the pro wrestling boom of the 80s. Many if the Sheiks matches still remain classic contests today.
In December 1983, Sheik defeated reigning WWF champion Bob Backlund, and a month later wrestled Hulk Hogan in front of 20,000 and at Madison Square Garden. Hogan won the match, and with it his first ever WWF title belt, officially beginning the ‘Hulkamania” era.
The Iron Sheik did not fade from the scene, however, quite the opposite. After falling to Hogan, Sheik entered into a storyline with an American military character named Sgt. Slaughter. This was a genius storyline at the time due to the increased tensions between the United States and the Sheik’s native Iran. There was much blood spilled and the animosity appeared to be real The “boot camp” match in June 1984 still stands as one of the greatest matches in wrestling history.
With his shaved head, curled-toe-boos, his handlebar mustache, and his signature hold the “camel clutch,” the Iron Sheik was the perfect villain for the 1980s. Without his character as the natural foil, superstars like Slaughter and Hogan may have never existed.
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) June 7, 2023
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Condolences from former wrestler have been poured out on social media:
“A true icon and someone who left a mark on wrestling that can never be erased,” Jake “The Snake” Roberts wrote. “Another great one gone.”
The legendary Mick Foley wrote:
“Although I never got to know The Sheik well, I was fortunate to have been on hand for two of his most iconic matches – his WWE title victory over Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden on December 26, 1983 and his ‘Boot Camp Match’ with Sgt Slaughter at MSG in August, 1984,” Mick Foley wrote. “I also had the honor of wrestling the iron sheik for the first and only time – on a tour of Dominica in 1987. Khosrow Vaziri was truly one of a kind.”
As was the case with many professional wrestlers of his era, Sheik broke into the sport after his Greco-Roman career ended. He spent time as a bodyguard for the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and also was an assistant coach for the U.S. wrestling team, including its Olympic team in 1972.
After that Sheik hooked up with Minnesota territory and legendary AWA promoter Verne Gagne before joining the WWF in 1979.
Vaziri is survived by his wife, Caryl, to whom he was married for 47 years; his children, Tanya and Nikki; and his son-in-law, Eddie, according to his Twitter account.
His Twitter account summed up a legendary career:
“Throughout his career, The Iron Sheik became a cultural phenomenon, transcending the real of professional wrestling to become a pop culture icon,” the statement said. “His memorable catchphrases and unforgettable moments are etched into the memories of fans worldwide. He left an indelible mark on the industry, and his influence can still be felt in the world of wrestling today.”
RIP Iron Sheik. Give our best to Rowdy Roddy Piper, Macho Man Randy Savage and his brother leaping Lanny Poffo, and all the greats that went before you.
Featured image screen grab from embedded YouTube video