Tuesday Obituary: The Iron Sheik

Tuesday Obituary: The Iron Sheik

by Sahar Tavakoli

Fabe to Black: The Iron Sheik has died, age 80 or 81, on June 7, 2023 in Fayetteville, Georgia. Born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri on the 23rd of Esfand, 1320 Solar Hijri year, People Also Ask if he was related to Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson. He was not.

A Greco-Roman style wrestler, Royal bodyguard to the Pahlavi family of Iran and member of its Imperial Army, assistant coach to the US Olympic wrestling team, and one of my favourite people on Twitter, it was in the world of Sports Entertainment that the Sheik made his name. His signature look was iconic. A shaved head (sometimes covered by red keffiyeh although just as often not) a thick moustache, shorty shorts, and boots bearing the curled nokh of a mojari slipper; little raised middle fingers on each foot.* Opponents locked in his signature finisher—the Camel Clutch—would find themselves gazing upon the toes of this Heel, the Sheik’s hands locked under their chins, his feet on either side of their head, and the rest of him seated on their backs like a Qajar-era Zamburakchi guard atop a Mahabadi camel.

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In his World of Wrestling, Roland Barthes writes that “what wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice [...] Wrestlers know very well how to play up to the capacity for indignation of the public by presenting the very limit of the concept of justice [...] Wrestling is above all a quantitative sequence of compensations (an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth)”. The Sheik’s dedication to the Kayfabe was blind and ravenous. In 1979, at the height of the diplomatic standoff between the US and Iran known as the Iran Hostage Crisis, and, at the encouragement of WWE (née WWF, née WWWF) chairman, Vince McMahon, the Sheik would enter the ring wrapped in an altered Iranian flag emblazoned with the face of Sean Connery lookalike, Ayatollah Khomeini. In 1982, as US alliances in the region shifted, and as his compatriots died in the tens of thousands by foreign-supplied Iraqi nerve gas attacks, the Sheik would don the black beret and khaki uniform of the Republican Guard, temporarily changing his name to Colonel Mustafa and declaring allegiance to Saddam Hussein. Later, in the same decade, the Sheik would perform in Tel Aviv decorated in Nazi insignia.

His odiousness was a gift to his audience, unifying them like only a common enemy can. Spitting on the ground at any utterance of the words “United States” and swinging meels or Indian clubs, he was a 6ft embodiment of contemporaneous** fears of an aggressive and dangerous Middle East whose very existence was an injustice to the aspirations of the West and an act of humilation that only some Hollywood hulk could redress. He balanced this contemptuousness and generosity artfully, reminding supporters and adversaries to “TAKE A MINUTE OF YOUR DAY TO BE NICE TO SOMEONE YOU DUMB SON OF A BITCH”.

Vaziri is survived by that blonde Hollywood jabroni Hulk Hogan as well as by his wife, Caryl Peterson, and daughters, Nikki and Tanya Vaziri.

*Which isn’t necessarily an insult. The ‘rude finger’ in the Sheik’s homeland is actually the thumb.

** And perhaps contemporary

Sahar Tavakoli writes The Stopgap’s late news (10 letters).

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