The Iron Sheik, a prominent Greco-Roman wrestler from Iran, who gained worldwide fame in professional wrestling during the 1980s with his rivalries against wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 81, according to an announcement on his official Twitter account.
Born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, The Iron Sheik was a former WWF World Heavyweight champion and was honored with induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
He was known for his villainous persona and engaged in legendary battles during the 1980s against the likes of Hogan, Bob Backlund, and Sgt. Slaughter.
Vaziri defeated Backlund in December 1983 to claim the WWF title, but one month later, Hogan triumphed over Vaziri in front of a crowd of over 20,000 at Madison Square Garden, marking Hogan’s first championship victory.
This match played a significant role in launching the phenomenon of Hulkamania, which eventually led to the inaugural WrestleMania event one year later.
A statement from The Iron Sheik’s Twitter account described him as a larger-than-life personality with incredible charisma and unmatched skills in the ring. It acknowledged his role as a trailblazer who broke barriers and paved the way for a diverse generation of wrestlers who followed in his footsteps.
Prior to his professional wrestling career, Vaziri served as a bodyguard for the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. He was an accomplished Greco-Roman wrestler in his home country and came close to making the Iranian Olympic team in 1968.
Vaziri later relocated to the United States, where he won the AAU Greco-Roman wrestling championship in the 180.5-pound weight class and served as an assistant coach for the U.S. wrestling team, including the Olympic team in 1972.
During this period, he entered professional wrestling in Minnesota under the tutelage of coach and catch wrestling legend Billy Robinson, working for promoter Verne Gagne in the American Wrestling Association (AWA). Vaziri embraced a character inspired by his Iranian background, coinciding with the start of the Iranian Revolution.
He adopted a distinct look, shaving his head, growing a handlebar mustache, and wearing shoes with curled toes, which became his iconic appearance. He first joined the WWF in 1979, winning the inaugural battle royal match at Madison Square Garden and facing renowned wrestlers such as Bruno Sammartino and Chief Jay Strongbow.
After losing the WWF title to Hogan in 1984, Vaziri engaged in a memorable feud with Sgt. Slaughter, portraying a character with a military background.
The storyline capitalized on the real-life tensions between the United States and Vaziri’s Iranian homeland. Their intense and bloody “boot camp” match at Madison Square Garden in June 1984 received critical acclaim and is still revered today.
In recent years, Vaziri developed a devoted fan following on Twitter, even among individuals who had never witnessed his legendary battles within the wrestling ring.
The Iron Sheik is survived by his wife of 47 years, Caryl, his children Tanya and Nikki, and his son-in-law Eddie, as mentioned on his Twitter account.
“Beyond the spectacle and allure of the wrestling ring, The Iron Sheik was a man of immense passion and commitment,” stated the Twitter announcement.
“He embodied resilience, overcoming countless challenges in his life, both within 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.”