If there was ever a movie to be made about a wrestler, there are two that come to mind. Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Iron Sheik.
So you cannot imagine my delight when I was on Netflix last night, and discovered that they added the new documentary on the life of Khosrow Vaziri, best known to us as the ultimate foreign heel of the 1980’s: the hated Iron Sheik.
Titled simply “The Sheik”, from the minute I saw it come across my screen, I had to hit play.
As a kid growing up during the WWF’s first boom period of the 1980’s, while most fans hated the Sheik, I actually didn’t. He entertained me with his hilarious interviews in broken English. When the LJN action figures came out, for my fifth birthday my mom bought me the ring, along with a bunch of wrestlers-Hulk Hogan, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Andre the Giant, and The Iron Sheik.
Even though I was a major Hulk Hogan fan in those days, I always played with the Iron Sheik doll, because he looked cool with the bald head, curly moustache, and those shorts that read “IRAN” on the sides.
Those were the days.
What made the Sheik great was that not only was his promos fantastic, but he could back it up in the ring. What I remember most about his matches were that he did some pretty cool suplexes, some I had never seen before at that time. And of course, the dreaded camel clutch looked like torture.
Some people thought that putting the WWE title on the Sheik temporarily was a bad idea, but I think it couldn’t have been more perfect. At that time, Bob Backlund did not have the personality to turn heel against Hulk Hogan (even though I really enjoyed Backlund with his crazy man gimmick in 1994), so it was a nice transition to make Hogan the face of the company, and ultimately, the face of the entire wrestling business.
In this documentary, they cover all that, plus they go into his beginnings as an amateur great in his home country, how he became a bodyguard for the Shah of Iran, how he came to the United States and became an amateur wrestling coach at the University of Minnesota and then the U.S. Olympic Team. Verne Gagne trained the Sheik for the pro ranks, and also made him drive the ring truck, set up the equipment, and had him basically start for the ground up as part of the ring crew.
They show a bit of his AWA days when he still had hair and not yet had developed the villainous persona he would later adopt. He went by his real name, and wrestled as many of the AWA stars like Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson had been doing: an authentic amateur who had grown to the ranks of professional wrestling.
The filmmakers also talk about his infamous car ride with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan in 1987 where both were busted for drugs. Immediately after the incident, both Duggan and Sheik were fired (although Duggan was brought back within a short period of time), and the Sheik went broke from losing his job.
After that, for almost two decades, the Sheik’s life seemed to be going nowhere. He developed an addiction to crack, marijuana and cocaine that pretty much left him unemployable to any major wrestling organization (although he came back for a short period of time as the manager of the Sultan in the WWF in 1996), and threatened to destroy his relationship with his family.
Hobbled by injuries, and unable to kick his drug addiction, the Sheik would pretty much wrestle at any event he could.
“93 people is not as good as 93,000 people”, he says in the documentary, “but you gotta do what you gotta do”.
The film also shows the pain and anguish his wife goes through as she tries to have a “Come to Jesus” intervention with her husband. You can tell the Sheik’s drug issues and inability to either get steady bookings or secure a job in the real world stresses her to no end.
Other personal tragedies plague the family as his daughter Marissa is strangled to death by her boyfriend in 2003. The Sheik and the filmmakers make a trip out to her grave as he weeps for his child. Although the Sheik has made many mistakes in his life, he has many good qualities to him as well, as evidenced with his love for his kids and grandchildren.
The documentary touches on how Sheik got clean, and became a star on The Howard Stern Show, and a Twitter sensation, where he now has over 470,000 followers. He has reinvented himself, from wrestling villain to pop culture icon.
The only complaint I would have about the documentary is that it mainly shows his wrestling footage in Mid-South Wrestling and in Puerto Rico for WWC. They show stills from his WWF days, but ultimately, the filmmakers should have worked out a deal with Vince McMahon to show footage from his salad days working for the World Wrestling Federation, because that’s how he got famous.
Overall, if you want to relax on the couch, and grab a pizza and watch a really cool documentary, then I recommend “The Sheik”. I would hope in the next few years WWE releases a DVD/Blu-Ray on his career. To watch a complete retrospective on his life, plus include some matches and funny interviews would be an absolute pleasure.After all, there’s been no one quite like The Iron Sheik.