Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri (Persian: حسین خسرو علي وزیری; born March 15, 1942) is an Iranian American former professional wrestler, amateur wrestler and actor better known by his ring name The Iron Sheik. Vaziri is a one-time world champion, having won the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in 1983. He was what is referred to as a transitional champion, which saw him end the nearly six-year reign of Bob Backlund as champion only to lose the belt four weeks later to Hulk Hogan, who began a four-plus year reign himself. Coming off the Iranian hostage crisis, The Iron Sheik, an Iranian citizen who praised his home country and bashed the USA, is considered to be one of the greatest heels of all time. His villainous character peaked during the 1980s WWF wrestling boom and his rivalry with Hulk Hogan turned Hogan into one of the greatest television heroes of the decade. He would later form a tag team with Nikolai Volkoff, with whom he won the WWF Tag Team Championship at the inaugural WrestleMania event. In 2005, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
A heel throughout the 1980s, he later gained popularity on Kidd Chris, The Howard Stern Show, and on the internet due to his shoot interviews, vulgar language, and his lack of respect for other professional wrestlers.
Early life and amateur wrestling
Khosrow competed to become part of the Iranian Olympic Greco Roman team for the 1968 Summer Olympics held in Mexico.
After this, he moved to the United States and became the assistant coach of two U.S. Olympic squads in the 1970s. In 1971, he was the Amateur Athletic Union Greco-Roman wrestling champion at 180.5 pounds. He was assistant coach to the USA team for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
Pro wrestling career
Early years (1972–1983)
In 1972, Khosrow was invited to become a professional wrestler by promoter Verne Gagne. Khosrow trained at Gagne's wrestling camp under trainer Billy Robinson (in the same class as Ric Flair) and then wrestled for Gagne's American Wrestling Association. He also worked as a trainer, teaching Ricky Steamboat, Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell.
Khosrow obliged and adopted what came to be his signature look: he shaved his head bald, grew a traditional "buffo" style mustache, added wrestling boots with the toe curled up (a nod to his ethnic background which, according to Khosrow, was an idea from Jimmy Snuka). He also introduced the Persian clubs, a sport in his native Iran, and challenged wrestlers to do as many swings as him. His Iranian gimmick received attention due the events of the Iranian revolution.
Taking the name The Great Hossein Arab, he won his first title, the Canadian Tag Team Championship, with partner the Texas Outlaw.
He caught the eye of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) where he made his debut in 1979 and won the first-ever Battle Royal in Madison Square Garden, New York City. This earned him a title shot at then-champion Bob Backlund, who pinned him later that night in a 30-minute battle. He later feuded with Chief Jay Strongbow and Bruno Sammartino before leaving in 1980.
Khosrow resurfaced as The Iron Sheik in the NWA territories. Playing on real-life political matters (notably the Iran hostage crisis) and the animosity Americans had for the country of Iran, he moved on to the Mid-South and Mid-Atlantic territories, capturing the Mid-Atlantic title from Jim Brunzell before moving to Georgia Championship Wrestling. There, he had notable matches with Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch, and Tommy Rich, and traded the National TV title with Ron Garvin.
World Wrestling Federation (1983–1987, 1988)
The Iron Sheik returned to the WWF in 1983 and challenged Bob Backlund for WWF World Heavyweight Championship again. Backlund accepted, and on the December 24 episode of All- American Wrestling, also accepted Sheik's weekly Persian club challenge. He was successful in his third attempt to swing the clubs, and the Sheik immediately attacked him from behind, injuring his neck. In the December 26 title bout at Madison Square Garden, Backlund attempted to roll Sheik into a bridge pin, but this aggravated his weakened neck. Sheik capitalized by applying his Camel Clutch chinlock finisher. Backlund didn't submit, but his concerned manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel and forfeited the championship.
The Iron Sheik rematched Backlund indecisively at house shows and primarily defended the title against Chief Jay Strongbow, as well as Pat Patterson, Salvatore Bellomo and Bobby Bradley. On national TV, he defeated only jobbers, but wrestled Tito Santana on a live PRISM broadcast from The Spectrum in Philadelphia on January 21, 1984. This match was later included on WWE's Legends of Wrestling 3 compilation.
Two days later, at Madison Square Garden, The Iron Sheik was scheduled to rematch Backlund, who was replaced by Hulk Hogan. Five minutes in, Sheik had Hogan locked in the Camel Clutch. Hogan powered to his feet with Sheik still on his back, rammed him backwards into the turnbuckles and hit his Atomic Legdrop for the pin and the championship. This moment is generally considered the beginning of "Hulkamania".
He then bitterly feuded with Sgt. Slaughter, eventually losing a "Boot Camp Rules" match. As a tag team partner with Nikolai Volkoff, and under the management of "Classy" Freddie Blassie, the newly dubbed "Foreign Legion" won the WWF (World) Tag Team Championship from The U.S. Express (Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda) at the first WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden when he knocked out Windham from behind with Blassie's cane. Part of the pair's regular entrance consisted of waving the flags of Iran and the Soviet Union, then demanding that the crowd be quiet and "show respect" while Volkoff sang a throaty version of the Soviet national anthem, a demand that usually only attracted boos from the crowd. Sheik then usually grabbed the mic and said "Iran number 1, Russia number 1, USA (followed by a simulated spitting act)." It was all designed (very successfully) to get major heat from the crowd. During his stint in the WWF, he appeared in the music video for Cyndi Lauper's "Goonies 'R' Good Enough" as a part of the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection. The Iron Sheik character was also seen regularly on the CBS animated series Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, where he was voiced by American actor Aron Kincaid.
In May 1987, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan (an on-screen rival) and Khosrow were pulled over by New Jersey police on their way to a WWF event, suspecting Duggan of DUI. After a search of the vehicle and the persons, police discovered that Duggan was under the influence of marijuana while the Sheik was high on cocaine. Small amounts of cocaine were also found in the vehicle. Duggan received a conditional release while the Sheik was placed on probation for a year. The mini-scandal that erupted after two in-ring enemies were found drinking and doing drugs together led to the end of the angle, the Sheik's release, and Duggan's temporary departure from the WWF.
On February 18, 1988, The Iron Sheik returned to the WWF and defeated SD Jones on a house show at East Rutherford, NJ. Sheik continued to wrestle on house shows in February and March, facing Lanny Poffo, Ken Patera, and Bam Bam Bigelow. He would not appear on television until July 30, when he defeated Scott Casey in a match that aired on Prime Time Wrestling. Sheik continued to wrestle that summer, facing Casey in rematches as well as Richard Charland and Terry Taylor. Ultimately the return was short-lived.
Other national promotions (1987–1990)
In 1987, The Iron Sheik competed in Dallas' World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) where he feuded with Matt Borne over the WCWA Texas Heavyweight Championship. He stayed with that organization for only a few months, followed by brief stints with the AWA, where he attacked Sgt. Slaughter during a match, and Puerto Rico's World Wrestling Council (WWC). In addition to reigniting his feud with Slaughter and teaming with Colonel DeBeers, his main opponent during this time period was Tony Atlas, with whom he feuded in both WCCW and WWC.
World Championship Wrestling (1989–1991)
On February 25, 1989, the Iron Sheik made a surprise appearance at a NWA taping in Atlanta, Georgia and immediately challenged Ricky Steamboat. On April 11, he challenged Sting at a television taping to a Persian clubs swinging competition. On the April 29 episode the competition ensued which Sting admitted that Sheik had won, leading to a match between the two at Music City Showdown. On May 7 the two faced off, and Sheik was defeated by TV Champion Sting.
In August 1989, he would form a brief alliance with Ron Simmons, appearing in his corner during a match with Jon Brewer. He would appear later that month in the corner of Simmons & The Cuban Assassin in a victory over Tommy Rich and Eddie Gilbert. On August 26, Simmons and Sheik were guests of Paul E. Dangerously's "Danger Zone", where he admitted that he was now training Simmons and was looking for a tag-team partner for him. The angle was eventually dropped and Simmons went on to team with Butch Reed as Doom, while Sheik finished his initial WCW tenure in house show matches against Norman in January 1990.
The Iron Sheik would return after a seven-month absence following Ole Anderson's elevation to head booker. A contract snafu saw WCW allow Sheik's one-year deal to accidentally roll over and continue to work with the company. On July 7 at Great American Bash 1990 he faced Mike Rotunda in a losing effort in his first match back. He wrestled Brian Pillman, Tom Zenk, Terry Taylor, Brad Armstrong, and Big Van Vader on the house show circuit through the fall and winter of 1990. His final match was against the Junkyard Dog on January 26, 1991 in Columbia, South Carolina, after which he left the company.
Return to the WWF (1991–1992)
He returned to the WWF again on March 11, 1991, making his re-debut on Wrestling Challenge as Colonel Mustafa, and was aligned with former enemy Sgt. Slaughter. Along with Iraqi General Adnan, Slaughter and Mustafa were portrayed as Iraqi sympathizers during the Gulf War and feuded with Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. Following Slaughter's face turn after SummerSlam 1991, Mustafa remained aligned with Adnan. He dropped to a lower midcard position, primarily losing matches against faces such as Slaughter, Tito Santana and Tatanka. Mustafa would challenge for the WWF World Championship during the star-studded 1992 Royal Rumble match. His final match was at a Superstars taping on May 19, 1992 where he defeated Reno Riggins, after which he left the promotion again.
Return to the independent circuit (1993–1994)
The Iron Sheik wrestled independently afterward, and went on a wrestling tour to Nigeria in 1994, promoted by Chris Adams and co-sponsored by Pepsi, and featuring former WWF stars Jimmy Snuka, Greg Valentine, Demolition Ax, and World Class wrestler/owner Kevin Von Erich.
The Sheik was the second champion of "Boston Bad Boy" Tony Rumble's Century Wrestling Alliance, originally winning the title from Tommy Dreamer in Burlington, Vermont on March 21, and dropping the championship to Vic Steamboat on October 23, 1993 in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
In 1992, the Sheik tried his hand at strong style professional wrestling in the UWFi in Japan. He lost by tap-out to Yoji Anjo in about 5:30 (the in-ring action of the UWFi, though tailored to resemble an actual competitive bout, was in fact made up of predetermined outcomes).
Sporadic appearances (1996–present)
In late 1996, the Sheik teamed with his old nemesis Bob Backlund to manage WWF wrestler The Sultan, who had a Middle Eastern gimmick. He then failed another drug test (he refers to this as a "medicine test" in various interviews) and was released.
On April 1, 2001, at WrestleMania X-Seven, The Iron Sheik won the Gimmick Battle Royal, a match between other popular or outlandish wrestlers from the 1980s and 1990s. Rather than being booed for winning, the villainous Sheik was cheered as a fan favorite. He eliminated Hillbilly Jim to win the Battle Royal and was immediately attacked by former rival/partner Sgt. Slaughter who put him in his Cobra clutch. He went on to wrestle in various independent promotions for several years afterwards and he still appears at independent events today.
In 2005 before WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles, The Iron Sheik was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his long-time rival and former partner, Sgt. Slaughter. On the June 11, 2007 episode of Raw, he, along with Jimmy Snuka, appeared in a taped segment showing their appreciation of WWE owner Vince McMahon. On the June 18 episode of Raw, he approached McMahon's executive assistant Jonathan Coachman about having his own interview show on Raw. Coach replied saying, "I like the idea and I will really take some time to consider it." On August 13, he appeared on an episode of Raw held at Madison Square Garden for a WWE version of American Idol. Sheik came out with Nikolai Volkoff while Volkoff sang the Soviet anthem. The March 10, 2008 edition of Raw featured rematches from previous WrestleManias. Iron Sheik appeared with Nikolai Volkoff to face off against the U.S. Express in a rematch from the first WrestleMania. Before the bout could begin, they were interrupted by Jillian Hall, who came out to sing the Bruce Springsteen song "Born in the USA."
In 2004, his MWF Studio Shoot Interview DVD made him a star to a whole new generation of fans, talking about his hatred for Brian Blair, Hulk Hogan, Jake Roberts and others.
He made an appearance on Raw on November 16, 2009 in the opening of the show, with Rowdy Roddy Piper and Luis Guzmán, going nuts on Hulk Hogan and proving his dominance with a LJN WWF action figure of himself and Hulk Hogan.
The Iron Sheik's final match took place at MWF Soul Survivor VI April 24, 2010 in Melrose, Massachusetts, teaming with TNA star "Black Machismo" Jay Lethal to defeat "Stalker" Dylan Kage (with Paul Bearer) by making Kage submit to the camel clutch. The Sheik remains active in the MWF as a manager.
On the November 15, 2010, edition of Raw, as part of the Old School theme, Iron Sheik appeared with Nikolai Volkoff, singing the Soviet national anthem before being interrupted by Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov, the latter of whom then sung a duet with Volkoff of the Russian National anthem. He then proceeded to rant on Hulk Hogan until his microphone was cut off.
In February, 2011, The Iron Sheik underwent an ankle operation to repair his damaged left ankle, which is one of the many injuries he has sustained over his long professional and amateur wrestling career. The operation lasted 9 hours. In an interview after the operation, Khosrow stated that, although he found a big improvement, he felt like he had another 50 percent to fully recover, and as for 2014, he is awaiting another ankle operation.
The Iron Sheik made his film debut in The Tale of the 3 Mohammads in 2005. He then appeared alongside Daniel Baldwin and Corey Feldman in Operation Belvis Bash in 2011. Sheik also made an appearance on the Canadian show Kenny vs. Spenny on the "Who is a better pro wrestler?" episode where he attempted to sodomize a naked Spenny with a beer bottle. He also appeared in Maz Jobrani's 2009 stand-up comedy special Brown & Friendly.
Vaziri was a former soldier in the Iranian Army. He married Caryl J. Peterson on March 21, 1976, the Best Man at the wedding was Mean Gene Okerlund. They have three grown daughters as well as five grandchildren together. Vaziri's eldest daughter, Marissa Jeanne Vaziri, was found strangled to death in her apartment on May 3, 2003, at the age of 27. Marissa's boyfriend, Charles Warren Reynolds, 38, confessed to the crime and was charged with murder.
In August 2013, Iron Sheik's managers Page and Jian Magen crowdsourced $40,441 to write, direct and produce a documentary, Iranian Legend: The Iron Sheik Story. Some of the proceeds from the film will be used toward the costs of double knee and ankle surgery he cannot afford. Originally the documentary was scheduled for a 2008 release under the title Iron Sheik: From A to Z. Sheik's documentary was released in 2014 under the title The Sheik.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- Wrestlers managed
- Entrance themes
Championships and accomplishments
- All-California Championship Wrestling
- ACCW Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
- Century Wrestling Alliance
- CWA Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- George Tragos / Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
- Class of 2016
- Georgia Championship Wrestling
- International Association of Wrestling
- IAW Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- IAW Tag Team Championship (3 times) – with Brian Costello
- International Wrestling Association
- IWA United States Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Maple Leaf Wrestling
- Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling
- NWA All-Star Wrestling
- NWA Canadian Tag Team Championship (Vancouver version) (1 time) – with The Texas Outlaw
- National Wrestling Alliance
- NWA Hall of Fame (Class of 2008)
- NWA New Zealand
- NWA 2000
- NWA 2000 American Heritage Championship (1 time)
- Pacific Northwest Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him #134 of the 500 best singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- PWI ranked him #96 of the 100 best tag teams of the "PWI Years" with the Nikolai Volkoff in 2003
- World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
- Most Underrated Wrestler (1980)
- Islip Wrestling Hall of Fame member in 1994