From bad guy pro wrestler in the 80s and 90s to a present-day social media and pop culture star, Hossein Vaziri, best known in the ring as the Iron Sheik, has led an extremely interesting life. In the new documentary “Sheik,” filmmaker Igal Hecht takes audiences through the ups and downs of Vaziri’s career, which includes bouts with substance abuse and becoming the most hated man in the sport of wrestling for most of his career.
During my interview with the Sheik, we discussed the time wrestling promoter Verne Gange offered him money to ignore the planned loss to Hulk Hogan in 1984, which launched Hogan into what many refer to ask his “Hulkamania” years, and if he thought his role as the Sheik was a negative stereotype for Iranians.
When promoter Verne Gange offered you $100,000 to break Hulk Hogan’s leg, was there ever a moment when you actually thought about doing it?
[No], for the respect to my boss Mr. McMahon. He feed me, take care of me. The hand that feed me, I never cut that hand. I help him make the Hulkamania. Everybody in the locker room know I could beat the fuck out of the Hulk Hogan, but I help my company and my company never forget me this way.
During your WWF/WWE years as a heel with so much heat, what are some of the worst things you heard from fans in the audience during a match?
Bubba, somebody come with a gun to the arena and try to kill me 7-8 times. I get stabbed in the Louisiana and also I start riot in the Texas. Everywhere I go they try to kill me.
Do you feel the Iron Sheik persona you made popular during you WWF/WWE years fed Americans’ Islamaphobia and created a negative stereotype that spurred hatred? If so, why did continue to play that character beside the fact that it was your job?
My job to be bad guy. I was believable Iranian bad guy. I am in the show business of the wrestling. My job to do this. The people don’t know the wrestling is the real or the fake. I have to always protect myself.
If the WWF/WWE used current events to create rivalries during the 80s – for example, the Iranian conflict/Iran Hostage Crisis helped your character become more hated – why do you think that practice it’s not really done in today’s WWE? Why haven’t we really seen a heel created as an Islamic fundamentalist or terrorist during the 00s and 10s?
Today different era for all TV, not just wrestling. Thing change, the business change. Mr. McMahon know what the fans want. I was perfect place, perfect time.
If winners of WWF/WWE matches were not predetermined, which wrestlers do you think would’ve given you the best fights?
Kurt Angle, Bob Backlund, Brock Lesnar, [and] Bruiser Brody, God bless him.
What do you remember the most about the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich and the tragedy that took place over there? I know you were helping to coach the American wrestling team. Were you in Munich when everything happened? What was going through your mind at the time?
I love I help the U.S. team in the Munich. I work very hard to help America and I remember what happen. It broke my heart and I never forget the people all very, very sad about the terrorist.
Did you ever hurt anyone intentionally or unintentionally with the camel clutch?
Oh, Bubba I can’t tell you, but, yes hundred time it hurt people.
You drug usage has been well documented over the years, but did using things like cocaine and marijuana ever spur you to use performance enhancing drugs like steroids during your days in the WWF/WWE?
Back then part of your job is your body. You have to do whatever you have to do to get over with the crowd. Everybody try little bit to give them extra push. This was part of all sports not just the wrestling. You know what I mean?
So many WWE/WWF wrestlers have died tragically at very young ages. Which of your colleagues’ deaths has impacted you the most over the years?
You know, this sport toughest sport. My friends and my brothers, they die. Break my heart. Curt Henning, I love him forever. Road Warrior, Hawk, Big Boss Man, British Bulldog, Owen Heart. Many of them I live with, I train with, I party with. Forever in my heart I love them.