The Iron Sheik is, no doubt, one of the most memorable wrestling villains of the 1980s. From his feuds with Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter to his teaming with Nikolai Volkoff, Sheik's anti-American persona made him the perfect foil for the biggest heroes of that era. But while his matches and promos made him a shoe-in for the WWE Hall of Fame (Class of 2005), his antics outside of the ring have led him to develop a whole different kind of notoriety. In fact, thanks to viral videos, a strong presence on Twitter, and appearances on The Howard Stern Show, Sheik has attracted legions of fans who haven't seen his matches – and who, in some cases, don't even particularly like professional wrestling.
Sheik has been involved in a number of real life events over the years that were too outlandish even for the cartoonish 1980s wrestling landscape. From feuds with former coworkers and celebrities to events that very possibly could've landed him in jail, his countless hard-to-believe stories could fill up many volumes. But they're not all controversial. Indeed, Sheik has led a fascinating, complex life, filled with his fair share of highs and lows.
Listed below are 15 of these stories. Whether good, bad, or bizarre, each of these items is certifiably Sheik – because these things truly couldn't have happened to anyone else.
15 Former Bodyguard for the Shah and his Family
Long before he ever proved his worth in a wrestling ring, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri (the real man behind the Iron Sheik persona) had firmly established himself as someone not to mess with. This was especially true in his native Iran. Vaziri, who also served in the Imperial Iranian Army, was selected as a bodyguard for Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi – the king of Iran from 1941-1979.
Obviously, this was no small assignment. Tasked with protecting not only the country's king, but also Pahlavi's family, Sheik needed to stay on his toes. And he took the responsibility very seriously. He later told Vice magazine, "I make sure no one touch him. If anyone did, I break their neck. I respect the Shah and make sure he protected." Strong words, to be sure.
14 Tried out for the 1968 Olympics
Nearly three decades before Kurt Angle parlayed his Olympic wrestling success into a vaunted WWE run, The Iron Sheik was laying the groundwork. He may not have any gold medals to show for it, but Sheik was quite successful as an amateur competitor. He tried out for the 1968 Olympics, looking to represent Iran in Greco-Roman wrestling. And though he didn't quite make the cut, he did manage to establish himself on the international stage (more on that later).
At the time of these Olympic trials, Sheik was growing concerned about his own safety. His friend (and Iranian gold medal winning wrestler) Gholamreza Takhti had been found dead earlier that year, with his death ruled a suicide. But Takhti had been a vocal opponent of the Pahlavi regime, and Sheik and others suspected that he'd actually been murdered. For the sake of his future, the man who'd one day become WWE champion decided to move to the United States to pursue his dreams.
13 US Olympic Wrestling Coach
While he didn't qualify for the chance to compete at the Olympics as a resident of Iran, Sheik's extensive training would certainly not go to waste. Before he ever stepped foot in a professional wrestling ring, he would go on to establish himself as a formidable amateur competitor in his new home country.
After topping his weight class at the Amateur Athletic Union wrestling championships in 1971, he went on to become an assistant coach for the U.S. Greco-Roman team at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. That year, standout grappler Dan Gable (who is the namesake of current WWE star Chad Gable) won a gold medal without losing one point to an opponent. And though he may not have competed himself, Sheik deserves at least some of the credit for that victory.
In retrospect, it's funny to think that a man who for so many years portrayed such a fiercely anti-American character was an integral part of U.S. Olympic history.
12 Refused a Cash Offer to Break Hulk Hogan's Leg
One of the most famous Iron Sheik stories is also the genesis of one of his most legendary "real life" feuds. It's no secret that Sheikie isn't a fan of Hulk Hogan. Whether through Twitter, shoot videos, or other avenues, he's taken many opportunities to make his feelings for The Hulkster perfectly clear.
Just where does this animosity come from? It all dates back to January 23rd, 1984. On that night, Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik for the WWE World Heavyweight title. It was the beginning of Hogan's first run as champ, as well as the dawn of Hulkamania. But, had the Sheik been a bit less scrupulous, it might never have happened.
Though the details of the situation (and the bounty offered) vary a bit, depending upon who's telling the story, the gist of it is that AWA promoter Verne Gagne (who was embittered by The Hulkster having left his company) privately offered Sheik a $100,000 prize to break Hogan's leg during the match. This would've left the Hulk injured and unable to defend his title, with Vince McMahon scrambling to find a suitable replacement.
Sheik, of course, didn't accept Gagne's offer and he even came clean about their conversation after the fact. Though Hogan was reportedly grateful at the time, Sheik feels that this debt was never properly repaid to him over the years. Hence, one of his most famous grudges.
11 Legal Trouble with Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Today, wrestling fans are well aware that onscreen rivalries are fabricated and that babyfaces and heels often get along swimmingly in real life. But back in the 1980s, promoters worked hard to at least maintain the illusion of good vs. evil. That's part of the reason why Sheik's 1987 drug bust was such a black eye for not just him, but the wrestling business as a whole.
While on the road together in May 1987, Sheik and Duggan were pulled over in a run-of-the-mill traffic stop. The traffic stop became something more serious when Duggan confessed to police that he was in possession of marijuana. Meanwhile, Sheik admitted that he was carrying cocaine. While the two men didn't wind up in much hot water, legally speaking, their careers were another story altogether.
In the late 1980s, good guys and bad guys simply weren't supposed to be seen fraternizing together. The proud patriot Duggan and "anti-American" Sheik were perpetually on opposite sides of a conflict and their being friends completely undermined the fantasy world of professional wrestling. That, plus the use of illegal substances, was enough for Vince McMahon to punish both men. Though Duggan was allowed back in a WWE ring not long after, he claims he never fully recovered the status he'd had before. For Sheik, it was worse – he was immediately released and didn't compete for the company again until 1991. Even then, his role was severely diminished, and he never again came close to the main event.
10 Twitter Beef with Jose Canseco
There's no talking about The Iron Sheik's life outside the ring without mentioning his internet presence. Though he's appeared in a number of shoot interviews and YouTube videos, Sheikie's Twitter profile has arguably done even more to contribute to his reputation.
The account, @the_ironsheik, is actually administered by his agents, Page and Jian Magen. But the content is all based on Sheik's actual words and ideas. It's resulted in some absolutely bizarre moments, most notably a number of attempts to start wars of words with other, more famous Twitter users. In most cases, those who are targeted refuse to take the bait. But one person who did was former MLB star, Jose Canseco.
On September 15, 2012, Sheik began the battle by responding to a Canseco tweet:
@JoseCanseco nobody miss you you smell like dead dog shit— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) September 16, 2012
Predictably, it just got worse from there. And indeed, for months after the fact, Canseco continued to be the subject of the Iron Sheik's Twitter fury – though, admittedly, things were pretty one-sided from that point forward.
9 Challenged Rob Ford to an Arm Wrestling Match
The late Rob Ford, who was the mayor of Toronto, Ontario from 2010 to 2014, became internationally notorious in 2013 when video surfaced online of him smoking crack. It wasn't the first or final pitfall for the beleaguered politician, who had struggled with substance abuse in the past. Still, it was unquestionably the beginning of the end of his political career.
Not long after the scandal had erupted, The Iron Sheik – who has had his own well documented history of substance abuse – arrived at Toronto's City Hall to propose a challenge to Ford. In deference to the fact that the mayor had "defeated" Hulk Hogan in a public arm wrestling match a few months earlier, Sheik challenged Ford to throw down with him. Reporters crowded around to hear The Sheik's challenge, as he said, "A man who eats cheeseburgers and smokes crack? What kind of a role model is that for a city?"
Though the arm wrestling match would've certainly gone viral, it was not to be. The following year, Sheik once again reportedly attempted to meet with Rob Ford for lunch, but claims the mayor snubbed him a second time.
8 No-showed an Appearance on Mushrooms and Spurred an Angry Mob
Of course, for all his offensive tweets, aggressive shoot interviews, and brushes with the law, Sheikie is still remembered equally for his actual in-ring career. When fans were promised that he'd appear on a show, they'd be very disappointed not to get their money's worth of the Iranian grappler. This was true during his prime and remained so even toward the end of his run as an active competitor.
RJ Skinner, who began wrestling in the mid-2000s, recalls an incident from early in his career involving The Sheik. The plan was for the wrestling legend to come to the ring after Skinner's match and place him in the Camel Clutch. The crowd in attendance would've been thrilled. But, sadly, no such thing was going to happen on that night.
Prior to his appearance, Skinner says, a very hungover Iron Sheik requested a bit of "medicine" – which, in his unique parlance, actually referred to recreational drugs. Worse still, he refused to get out of his van and come to the ring until he was provided with some. According to Skinner, the promoter obliged Sheik by giving him psychedelic mushrooms. Of course, rather than sate Sheikie, the mushrooms rendered him unable to perform.
Once the crowd found out that Sheik wouldn't be appearing, they were livid – storming the parking lot and striking the his car while demanding that he make an appearance. The promoter called the cops, who, starstruck by the former WWE champion, only posed with him for pictures before giving him a lift back to his hotel.
7 The Time he Slapped B. Brian Blair
Longtime WWE fans will remember B. Brian Blair as one half of the popular Killer Bees tag team with Jim Brunzell. Fans of The Iron Sheik's internet tirades will recognize Blair as the recipient of just about every offensive putdown the Sheik has been known to dish out. Considering the different experiences the two men had in the wrestling world – Sheik a former WWE champion and Blair always more of a midcard attraction – it may seem puzzling that the two could be so at odds. Sure, they competed against in each other in tag matches, but how personal could things have gotten?
At the 2008 comedic roast of The Iron Sheik, Blair (who was then up for a county commissioner position in Florida) approached the former champ, extended his hand, and apologized to him for some unnamed past misdeed. Sheik responded by slapping Blair square in the face.
Though the legitimacy of that slap has been debated, what's certain is that Sheikie had been holding on to some real world animosity for Blair. In a 2014 interview, Blair revealed the origins of their feud. While in the ring together years earlier, Sheik had decided to inflict some actual pain on to Blair, who responded by hooking Sheik in a wristlock until he tapped out.
In those days, tapping out wasn't a way to signal the end of the match, so much as it was a way to admit to your opponent that you couldn't take the heat. Suffice to say, Sheikie wasn't too happy about being put in such a situation and he held a grudge.
6 Tried to Fight The Ultimate Warrior at a Convention
It's almost impressive how long disputes that began decades earlier can linger. And, in case it wasn't already clear, The Iron Sheik has made more than his fair share of enemies over the years. In 2007, at a fan convention in New Jersey, some bad blood between Sheik and The Ultimate Warrior became evident in a pretty major way.
In this particular case, though, Sheik didn't appear to have any ill will toward his former colleague. In fact, he approached Warrior and attempted to shake his hand. Warrior wasn't having it, though. He called Sheik a hypocrite and stated he wouldn't shake his hand because he'd previously accused Warrior of using drugs.
Sheik was furious. He took off his jacket, threw a number of verbal assaults in Warrior's direction, and even challenged to him a fight. When one of the event staff intervened, Sheik slapped that man in the chest. Predictably, fan footage of the event quickly made the rounds online, where it can still be seen today.
5 He Clotheslined a Woman in a Hotel Room
A common thread in many of The Iron Sheik's most outlandish stories involves blurred lines between his wrestling character and the real man behind it. And some of Sheik's less proud moments have also involved any number of illicit substances. This story was fueled by both and it has to go down as one of the man's darker tales.
According to Marty Jannetty, he and Sheik were at a hotel with a couple of female fans. Jannetty took one of the women back to his room, while asking Sheik to keep the other company. Sheik reportedly gave the woman a drink, followed by cocaine and pain killers (at her request). Then, when she seemed only interested in seeing Jannetty, he leveled the fan with a clothesline. Yes, really.
Police soon arrived to question Sheik, as the woman was taken away in an ambulance. When Jannetty later asked him about what happened, Sheik reportedly claimed that "she didn't know how to work" – suggesting that he hadn't really meant to hurt the woman and only actually connected with the clothesline when she moved a certain way. Of course, even if that were the case, a wrestler should never assume that someone who isn't trained would know how to avoid a potentially dangerous move.
4 The Rock Credits Him With the Word "Jabroni"
During the Attitude Era, quite a few catchphrases from the world of professional wrestling crossed over into mainstream pop culture. But while lines like "Austin 3:16" and DX's "Suck it" were easy enough to explain to the uninitiated, the word "jabroni" was a bit more complicated. The term is a play on the word "jobber," referring to the wrestlers who are placed into matches only to lose handily to more important competitors. The Rock turned this slightly inside-baseball phrase into a popular putdown.
But while most are quick to give the credit to Rocky for coining the term (or at least making it popular), that isn't the whole story. In the 2014 documentary The Sheik, Rock set the record straight, saying,"It's not my word. It's the Iron Sheik's word."
It turns out that Sheik made Rock aware of "jabroni" early in his career, when the two were on a flight together. Rock took to the word quickly and he worked it into his regular routine. Of course, anyone who's watched Sheik's shoot interviews or read his tweets knows that he uses the word every bit as much as The Rock.
3 Got Himself and Three Other Wrestlers Detained at Canadian Border
The Iron Sheik has gotten himself into trouble more than a few times. Of course, wrestlers tend to travel in packs and it only follows that Sheik's shenanigans would lead to some consequences for those he chose to surround himself with. On a 2012 episode of his podcast, Roddy Piper recounted one of these incidents.
Piper began the story by saying that he and Sheik were crossing the American border from Canada, along with Nikolai Volkoff and French-Canadian wrestler Rene Goulet. Piper admits that the group had some hashish with them, which he hid in his lip as they crossed the border. Meanwhile, the border patrolman asked both Volkoff and Goulet for their working papers, which neither possessed.
The officer, who was already growing frustrated, finally had enough when he approached the fourth member of the party, who insisted he was "The Iron Sheik, from Tehran!" To make matters worse, Piper says, this all took place during the infamous Iran-U.S. hostage crisis. Tensions between America and Iran were at an all-time high and Sheik's antics were not going to be tolerated.
After a quick search of the trunk, the four men wound up in a private room for questioning, as Piper continued to hide the hashish in his mouth. Eventually, after some intense examination (and a series of phone calls), the four men were allowed to leave. When they returned to the car, they'd discovered that Sheik had left an ounce of marijuana loose in the backseat – covered by only a newspaper. Had the officer only searched the inside of the vehicle after he looked in the trunk, the 1980s wrestling landscape might've been much different indeed.
2 Asked a Police Officer for Marijuana
About a decade later, while on the road for WCW with Teddy Long and referee Nick Patrick, The Iron Sheik had an equally ridiculous run-in with law enforcement in southern Texas. When the group arrived at a roadblock near the Mexican border, they were asked to come into a roadside police trailer – not for questioning, but to pose for pictures and sign autographs. Sheik and his travel companions obliged.
At the makeshift station, Long says, the group spotted two large bales of marijuana, which had obviously been confiscated near the U.S.-Mexican border as someone tried to smuggle them across. In fact, there were two men in a nearby cell, who were apparently being detained for the crime. Noticing the large amount of contraband, Sheik attempted to broker a deal with one of the officers, asking for "a sample" of the marijuana in exchange for an autographed picture.
When the officer informed him that, no, he could not make such a trade, Sheik apparently launched into a profanity-laden tirade. Long was terrified, as the group actually had some marijuana of their own back in the car and a mere search would've led to a precarious legal position for everyone in their party. Luckily, the border patrolman was more amused than anything and the men left without any further issue. But it could've been much worse.
1 He and Bruno Sammartino Beat Up Six CFL players
Like many of Sheik's craziest stories, this one seems almost too ridiculous to believe. But according to no less than the legendary Bruno Sammartino, the Iranian former bodyguard knew how to handle himself in an actual fight, even against multiple opponents.
The incident reportedly occurred circa 1986, when Sammartino was in his early 50s. He was backstage at a show, in an area where the general public wasn't permitted to be. That's when Bruno ran into Dave Fleming, an ex-player from the CFL, who was flanked by five other men. Fleming took offense when Sammartino suggested he shouldn't be in the backstage area, and things quickly escalated into a physical fight.
Though the former champion was able to handle Fleming, he soon found himself fighting off six men. Fortunately for him, The Iron Sheik was nearby and, hearing his fellow wrestler was in trouble, came to the rescue. According to Sammartino, the two men "cleaned house" on the other six.