People are fast to credit Hulk Hogan entirely with the turnaround in the WWE pro wrestling business in the 1980s. While he was the face of the WWE revolution, not enough credit is given to Sgt. Slaughter. Sgt. Slaughter complimented Hogan with a fantastic package of WWE heroes. Every great pro wrestling rivalry needs a hero and a villain. Sgt. Slaughter found his perfect rival in the Iron Sheik.
Sgt. Slaughter vs. Iron Sheik
WWE Writers spend hours if not months trying to come up with spectacular angles to catapult feuds in today’s pro wrestling. The feud between Sgt. Slaughter and the Iron Sheik started in 1984 as simple as a feud could start. The two crossed paths in the aisle way while walking back and forth between matches. The two had words and that was it. One of the greatest feuds of all-time was born on a few words and a cold stare.
America’s Sgt. Slaughter immediately declared war on the Iron Sheik who hailed from Iran. It was no coincidence that you had the American hero against the Iranian villain just a couple of years removed from the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Sgt. Slaughter up until this point was also a WWE villain. Slaughter had just finished up his second series with WWE champion, Bob Backlund. Slaughter was vilified for a sneak attack he pulled on the champion. Bob Backlund wound up winning the war thus making Slaughter irrelevant as a top heel.
The collision between the two was instant magic. Sgt. Slaughter was an instant hit as a patriotic babyface. In one of the most chilling memories I had as a kid watching wrestling, Slaughter recited the Pledge of Allegiance in the middle of the ring. That moment solidified Slaughter ahead of Snuka as the number-two in the company.
The series between Sgt. Slaughter and the Ir0n Sheik is most remembered for their Madison Square Garden matches. There were no Monday Night Raws, pay-per-views, Saturday Night’s Main Events, or Wrestlemania events at this time. The USA Network would air complete cards from both New York and Landover, Maryland from time to time. This is where you would catch Slaughter and the Sheik.
I saw Slaughter and Sheik go at it live at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, NY. Just like all of their other matches, the two went out there and had a brawl. Years later, it still remains one of the most exciting matches that I ever saw live. The two would wrestle non-stop every night replacing long chin locks with punches, kicks, and lots of blood. Most of their matches didn’t last long but the action started before the bell and usually never stopped until the two went back to the dressing room.
Their first match in Madison Square Garden ended with Sgt. Slaughter being disqualified. The two had a bloody brawl that had the fans on their feet from start to finish. The atmosphere was incredible for a match with no WWE titles on the line. The match was everything wrestling was supposed to be, good vs. evil. This match was absolutely crazy, but the real brutality was yet to come. Sgt. Slaughter was disqualified in this encounter, which gave the Iron Sheik the first win in the feud. The crowd was about to riot following the referee’s decision of a Sheik win yet again in Madison Square Garden.
The two returned to Madison Square Garden for their second match in their New York series. The two brawled once again with the match looking like something out of an ECW DVD. This time both men were disqualified after pushing down the referee. Sgt. Slaughter went crazy on the Iron Sheik following the match. Slaughter had to be restrained by multiple wrestlers following the match. Following the match, Slaughter led the crowd in another chilling Pledge of Allegiance.
The two would close out their New York trilogy on June 16, 1984 with a Boot Camp Match. The match had no rules, no disqualifications, and would only end when one wrestler was pinned. The referee would only enter the ring to count a pin and watch from the outside. The stage was set for one of the all-time greatest matches in wrestling’s most historic building. The concept of a Boot Camp match today would sound corny but in 1984 it was just what the crowd wanted to see.
If you want to get a grasp on how big their final showdown was in Madison Square Garden, check this out. Not only was the arena sold out but the closed-circuit broadcast at the Felt Forum adjoined to the arena was also sold out. A reported crowd of over 26,000 people showed up to watch the last match of this classic trilogy live and in the theater.
Sgt. Slaughter hit the ring like a house of fire and was all over the Iron Sheik with the crowd going bonkers. The action continued to go back and forth with Slaughter finally making his long-awaited comeback. Drenched in buckets of blood, Slaughter fought back and continued his onslaught. The announcers remarked during Slaughter’s comeback that they couldn’t even hear themselves with the crowd. Sheik hemorrhaged like he busted an artery.
Sgt. Slaughter and the Iron Sheik took different paths following the feud. Slaughter left the WWE shortly thereafter. In a strange twist of wrestling fate, Slaughter returned years later as an Iraqi sympathizer, managed by the Iron Sheik. Together, Slaughter defeated the Ultimate Warrior at the Royal Rumble in 1991 for a short-lived WWE title reign.
The Iron Sheik primarily became a tag team wrestler following the feud with Sgt. Slaughter. The Sheik remained in the WWE and wound up winning the WWF Tag Team Championship with Nikolai Volkoff. The Sheik had success as a tag team wrestler but never sold out the houses or captivated a crowd like he did with Slaughter.
It is fair to say that Slaughter and Sheik never came close with anyone else to the success that they had together. Both became their greatest enemies, and brought each other their greatest successes. Not many rivalries have come close to drawing as much intensity and money as Slaughter and Sheik. No belts were on the line, no hair, no loser-leaves-town, nothing but the patriotism of America against the villain from Iran. Slaughter and Sheik captured magic in a bottle and had one of wrestling’s greatest feuds.
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