The Iron Sheik, legendary WWE wrestler, dead at 81 — rest in peace

The Iron Sheik, legendary WWE wrestler, dead at 81 — rest in peace

One of the most memorable and iconic figures of professional wrestling has died: The Iron Sheik, a WWE Hall of Famer and former world champion, is dead at 81.

The Iranian wrestler — real name Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri — was a fixture of the WWE in the 1980s, embracing his role as a colorful villain who had rivalries with several other wrestlers, most famously Hulk Hogan.

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The news was announced via a statement on The Iron Sheik’s official Twitter account. “With his larger than life persona, incredible charisma, and unparalleled in-ring skills, he captivated audiences around the globe,” the statement reads. “He was a trailblazer, breaking barriers and paving the way for a diverse range of wrestlers who followed in his footsteps.”

“Beyond the glitz and glamour of the squared circle, The Iron Sheik was a man of immense passion and dedication. He embodied resilience. He overcame countless challenges in his life, both inside and outside the wrestling ring. His journey from a small village in Iran to becoming one of the most recognized figures in the world of wrestling is a testament to his unwavering dedication.”

Born September 9, 1942 in Iran, Vaziri began his sports career as a Greco-Roman wrestler, competing for a spot on Iran’s Olympic team. After moving to the United States, he won the AAU Greco-Roman wrestling championship and became an assistant coach for the US Olympics wrestling team.

He later broke into professional wrestling, creating a character based on his Iranian heritage, The Iron Sheik. He shaved his head, grew out his signature mustache, and wore a Persian-inspired robe and curled-toe boots in the ring.

Throughout the 1980s, he was one of pro wrestling’s most famous “heels,” providing a villainous foil to other wrestlers. During an era where the US had deep tensions with Iran and the Soviet Union, The Iron Sheik embraced the role of a bombastic antagonist, often waving the Soviet flag at booing crowds.

His persona embodied stereotypes about Iran, and according to NBC News, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee described him as having a “complicated legacy” and was “emblematic of a time period rife with misguided depictions of Arab culture.”

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Even so, The Iron Sheik was one of the most famous wrestling figures of his era. In 1983, he defeated Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden to become world heavyweight champion, though he was soon defeated by Hulk Hogan.

Iron Sheik’s rivalry with Hogan is one of the most famous in pro wrestling. With Iron Sheik as his nemesis and foil, Hogan became one of wrestling’s biggest stars. Iron Sheik continued to gleefully antagonize Hogan for decades — even in recent years he was still tweeting “f**k Hulk Hogan.”

Iron Sheik also formed a tag team with wrestler Nikolai Volkoff, who played the part of a Russian heel, and had a rivalry with the US military-themed Sgt. Slaughter.

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In recent years, well after his time in the ring, Iron Sheik became a viral celebrity on social media, continuing his colorful wrestling persona.

He was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. After his death, many professional wrestlers praised him as a major influence.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was one of the wrestlers paying tribute to Iron Sheik — he has previously said that “jabroni,” one of The Rock’s wrestling catchphrases, was originally made famous by Iron Sheik.

Rest in peace to The Iron Sheik — whether you loved him or loved to hate him, he was undeniably one of the most unforgettable and influential pro wrestlers of his time.

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