Iran and Iron Sheik number one! USA and Hulk Hogan, ach tooey!
With a rich and storied history stretching back several decades, WWE has created its share of stars, myths, and legends.
Many of these stars are beloved household names. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. John Cena, Dave Bautista. And who can forget Hulk Hogan, the ultimate 1980s icon?
However, every Batman needs his Joker, every Aquaman his Black Manta. Heroes are measured by the opposition they face - in other words, their villains.
One of professional wrestling's greatest and most iconic villains is The Iron Sheik. He was both a product of his time and a pro wrestler who has transcended the wrestling ring to become an internet icon in his own right.
But where did the Iron Sheik come from? He obviously didn't fall from the sky. Nor did he spring to life from the pages of a comic book. Behind the iconic mustache and boisterous sense of humor lies a real person. A real person whose history is a lot more storied than most people realize.
The real question that fans must ask is this--are pro wrestlers actors or real people? When you shake hands with Tom Cruise, you're not shaking hands with Maverick or Jack Reacher. You're just shaking hands with the actor who plays him.
But on the other hand, if you shake hands with Ric Flair, you're shaking hands with a man who has double digit world title reigns. At the end of the day, the lines blur between what makes a wrestler a wrestler, and not just an actor playing a character...although they are that, as well.
So is the Iron Sheik a real person, or a larger-than-life cartoon persona? As it turns out, he might be both.
Fun Fact #1: The Iron Sheik is an Olympian
Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri was born in Iran in 1952. In the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City, he competed in Greco-Roman wrestling for his home country.
While Sheik failed to medal, just being an Olympian is an accomplishment few other pro wrestlers can claim.
Sheik's amateur acumen carried over to his professional career, leading him to be one of the original 'human supex machines.' Even Taz can't deny this.
Fun Fact #2: He Once got Fired for Breaking Kayfabe
In 1987, the internet to most people was just a funny word. Professional wrestling thrived on Kayfabe, the phenomenon of wrestlers pretending that the sport was a legitimate athletic contest, rather than a performance with a pre-planned result.
Wrestlers have gone to great lengths to maintain kayfabe. Mr. Wrestling II once wrestled a match with a broken back to prove that he was on a plane with hated rival Ric Flair...a plane that famously crashed.
During this era in WWE, The Iron Sheik and Hacksaw Jim Duggan were booked into a feud. And a natural feud it was. Hacksaw the pro-America patriot vs. nefarious foreigner The Iron Sheik.
The only problem was that behind the scenes the two were fast friends. Duggan and Sheik often travelled together between house shows. This caused problems when they were having a little bit too much fun in New Jersey one night and got pulled over by the police.
The two were arrested on minor charges and later released. However, the incident was reported in the media, and WWE was upset that two hated rivals had been outed as being friends, thus breaking kayfabe. Both wrestlers were disciplined, with Sheik seeming to get the worse end of it.
Fun Fact #3: He's the only Iranian champion in WWE History
The Iron Sheik has accrued a lot of accolades over his long tenure in sports entertainment.
One of them that has yet to be repeated as of 2022 is that he is the only Iranian-born WWE Champion in history.
The Sheik is a trailblazer in many senses, but this is one thing he can crow about all day long, because nobody else can say the same thing.
Fun Fact #4: He defeated one of WWE's longest-reigning champions to win the world title
These days, if a champion keeps their title for a full year, it's considered a huge feat. But back in the day things were different. Much different.
Sheik challenged Bob Backlund for the WWE World Championship in 1983. Backlund had held the title for over six years!
Backlund had been the face of the company for as long as many fans had been watching. Iron Sheik wrote himself into the history books by dethroning the legendary champion Backlund at Madison Square Garden.
Fun Fact # 5: Appearances on the Howard Stern show helped him find new fans
The Iron Sheik's sense of humor and propensity to shoot from the hip made him a natural for shock jock Howard Stern's nationally syndicated progam.
Sheik became a fan favorite guest and was asked back frequently to the show. He was able to adapt to the changing media landscape and has become internet famous in addition to being renowned in the wrestling world.
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