Iron Mike Sharpe: Secret Tale of Canada’s Greatest Athlete

Discover the hidden truth behind Iron Mike Sharpe. From his iconic introduction by Joe McHugh as “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” to his unexpected descent down the WWE food chain, Sharpe’s story is as colorful as his in-ring persona (and secret behavior outside it)!

A Great Wrestling Family

The Sharpe Brothers, consisting of Canadian wrestlers Ben and Mike Sharpe.
The Sharpe Brothers consisting of Canadian wrestlers Ben and Mike Sharpe. Photo Credit: WWE.

If you were fortunate enough to have heard Joe McHugh introduce “Canada’s Greatest Athlete,” Iron Mike Sharpe, on a Saturday morning, you truly had a memorable wrestling childhood.

"Aaaaahhhh ladies and gentlemen, the next contest, set for one fall with a ten-minute time limit, introducing from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, weighing in at two-hundred eighty-two pounds, here is Iron Mike Sharpe!"

Michael Sharpe Jr. was born on October 28th, 1951, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada (see, Joe McHugh wasn’t making that up!). As is the case with many professional wrestlers, Sharpe was born into a wrestling family.

His father, Mike Sharpe, along with his Uncle Ben, was one of the premier tag teams of the 1950s. Initially wrestling in their native Canada, The Sharpe Brothers relocated their base of operations to Northern California in 1950, the year before Mike Jr. was born.

Wrestling for Joe Malcewicz’s San Francisco-based Big Time Wrestling promotion, the brotherly duo was enormously successful, capturing the NWA World Tag Team Championship an astounding 18 times over the next decade. Ben Sharpe briefly branched out as a singles star, winning the NWA Hawaii Heavyweight Championship in 1953.

Ben was a world-class athlete, having competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics as part of the Canadian Rowing team. The Sharpe Brothers also won NWA Tag Team Championships in Chicago (1953) and Indianapolis (1951). During their decade-long stay in the Golden State, the brothers frequently visited Japan, often appearing on Japanese television.

The younger Sharpe grew up in California but eventually moved back to Canada as a teenager. Mike tried his hand at boxing and weightlifting before deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps as a professional wrestler.

He was trained by fellow Canadian Dewey Robertson, a good-looking, clean-cut babyface who later in his career became a not-so-good-looking, very unclean-cut heel who went by the moniker The Missing Link.

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Early Triumphs

Mike Sharpe early on in his career.
Mike Sharpe early on in his career. Photo Credit: WWE.

Mike Sharpe Jr. made his professional wrestling debut in 1975 and, like many of his counterparts, hit the road in search of wrestling fame and fortune.

Initially wrestling in his home country, Sharpe achieved early success in former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Gene Kiniski’s Vancouver-based NWA All-Star promotion. He captured the NWA Canadian Tag Team Championship on two separate occasions.

Sharpe also garnered singles gold, winning the NWA Pacific Coast Heavyweight Championship (Vancouver version) from Guy Mitchell, known to WWWF fans as Jerry Valiant. Sharpe held the title for 56 days before dropping it to the masked Mr. X, who, under the hood, was Guy Mitchell. Only a true wrestling fan can appreciate events like this.

After his debut in the Great White North, the youngster went to the Oklahoma-based Tri-State promotion. Debuting in February 1979, Sharpe reeled off an impressive string of victories, including a win over Ron Bass on 12th of March 1979 for the NWA Tri-State Brass Knuckles Title.

However, Sharpe’s stay in the territory was temporarily interrupted by a three-week tour of Japan, where he frequently teamed with Gene Kiniski and Dick Murdock.

During Sharpe’s reign as Brass Knucks champ, he recorded triumphs over Angelo ‘King Kong’ Mosca, ‘Bruiser’ Bob Sweetan, and Ivan Koloff (yes, you read that correctly). However, Sharpe eventually dropped the title to Mosca, whom he had defeated in several previous title encounters, on July 9th, 1979, at the Tulsa Assembly Center.

The Victories Keep Piling In

Iron Mike Sharpe as champion.
Iron Mike Sharpe as champion. Photo Credit: Canadian Pacific Coast Wrestling News magazine.

Iron Mike Sharpe continued to amass impressive victories over foes such as ‘Crazy’ Luke Graham and John Tolos. Finally, on September 5th, Sharpe defeated Mike George at the Riverside Centroplex in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to capture the prestigious Mid-South Louisiana Heavyweight Championship.

He picked up this championship a second time by defeating Killer Khan on September 18th, 1982, at a Mid-South TV taping. Jack Brisco, Jose Lothario, Ernie Ladd, Jake Roberts, and Junkyard Dog were also prestigious holders of this title before it was retired in 1983.

In addition to his multiple title wins in Louisiana, Sharpe also picked up the Mid-South Mississippi Championship on two separate occasions.

Iron Mike soon headed due south. He worked briefly for Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) before returning to his native Canada and Stu Hart’s Stampede wrestling promotion in August 1980. Sharpe recorded victories over Gene Kiniski and both members of The Hart Foundation, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, and future WWF Champion Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart.

Iron Mike Keeps Moving

Iron Mike Sharpe.
Iron Mike Sharpe. Photo Credit: Alchetron.

Apparently, the lights had yet to go out in Georgia, as Mike Sharpe returned there after a nine-month stay in Stampede. He hit the ground running, winning over Jim Duggan, Bobby Eaton, Ken Patera, and ‘Beastmaster’ Rick Link.

On November 21st, 1981, Sharpe even faced reigning NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair at the WTBS Studios in Atlanta.

Not wanting to endure another winter in Calgary, he moved his base of operations to the Sunshine State in January of 1982, wrestling for Eddie Graham’s Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF) promotion.

Once again, Mike experienced success, as he recorded numerous singles victories and received several shots at the prestigious NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship, then held by Mr. Wrestling II.

The Return to the Mid-South

Professional wrestling Iron Mike Sharpe pointing at himself with his left hand while raising his right, clenched fist in the air.
“Canada’s Greatest Athlete” Iron Mike Sharpe. Photo Credit: WWE.

After several months in Florida, Iron Mike Sharpe returned to Mid-South. During this run, he picked up his second Louisiana Heavyweight Championship, defeating Killer Khan on August 18th, 1982, at a Mid-South TV taping in Shreveport. Sharpe remained with Mid-South into early 1983, per the website.

He also saw great success in late 1984 with the Memphis-based Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) promotion. Mike, during his five-month stay in Grind City, won the NWA Mid-America Heavyweight Championship. Sharpe successfully defended this title against such notables as Lanny Poffo, Tojo Yamamoto, and Jimmy Valiant.

Although he eventually dropped the belt to The Boogie Woogie Man, Iron Mike received title shots for the AWA Southern Heavyweight Championship (then held by Jerry Lawler) and the NWA National Heavyweight Championship (then owned by Ronnie Garvin).

Mike also teamed with Eddie Gilbert in a tournament to decide the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship, making it to the semi-finals before being eliminated by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express.

A WWF Push For Iron Mike Sharpe

Iron Mike Sharpe in the WWF.
Iron Mike Sharpe in the WWF. Photo Credit: WWE.

Iron Mike Sharpe, however, is best known for his lengthy WWE run.

He made his then WWF debut on February 15th, 1983, defeating Curt Hennig at the TV Tapings in Allentown, Pennsylvania. During April of that year, wrestling exclusively for WWF, he defeated top stars such as Tony Garea, Jules Strongbow, and Pat Patterson (via disqualification).

Then, on April 30th, just two and a half months after he entered the territory, Sharpe wrestled reigning WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund in a televised bout at The Spectrum in Philadelphia. Though Backlund triumphed, the Iron Man lasted over 19 minutes.

Sharpe continued to look impressive during the first half of 1983, amassing numerous victories and receiving several more title shots against Bob Backlund. However, Butcher Vachon, Swede Hanson, and Ivan Putski (via count-out) went down to defeat against Canada’s Greatest Athlete. Most of his defeats were by disqualification, and he went to no-contests with Rocky Johnson and Ivan Koloff.

One would think that the future looked quite bright for Iron Mike Sharpe.

What Went Wrong In WWE?

Iron Mike Sharpe and Vince McMahon.
Iron Mike Sharpe and Vince McMahon. Photo Credit: WWE.

This, sadly, was not the case. Iron Mike Sharpe slowly descended the WWF food chain. By late 1984, although still picking up the occasional win versus a preliminary wrestler, Sharpe dropped most of his matches against Tony Atlas, Jimmy Snuka, Tito Santana, and Pat Patterson.

The same caliber of talent that Sharpe was defeating during his halcyon days in the territory was now garnering the winner’s share of the purse.

Several theories abound on why Iron Mike Sharpe ended up in preliminary status in the WWF. One could opine about his age. After all, stars like Chief Jay Strongbow, Dominic DeNucci, and Baron Mikel Scicluna were working opening matches at the end of their illustrious careers.

However, these men had been at their trade for 20-plus years, each at or over the half-century mark. If we use 1984 as the year of descent for Mike Sharpe, he was only 33 at the time and in excellent physical condition.

Another more likely option to consider is the change in ownership from Vince Senior to Junior. Senior was more inclined to assess a wrestler’s physical stature and ring prowess. Junior seemed to pigeonhole each grappler to fit a specific gimmick. Perhaps none fit a 6’4," 280-pound bull of a man who knew his way around the squared circle.

The Piper’s Pit Debacle

Piper's Pit featuring Roddy Piper, Tonga Kid, and the Executioner.
Piper’s Pit featuring Roddy Piper, Tonga Kid, and the Executioner. Photo Credit: WWE.

Perhaps the most viable option for Iron Mike Sharpe’s decline was presented by former wrestler, referee, manager, promoter, and author Sal ’The Big Cheese’ Corrente. Sal shared that Sharpe was asked to appear on a Piper’s Pit episode featuring the Tonga Kid. In this episode, Tonga challenged Piper to avenge his cousin, Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka.

Accompanied by The Executioner, Piper told Tonga "You wanna fight somebody, you get through my man The Executioner brother, and maybe, next week, if you fight him next week and can beat him, maybe I’ll give you a chance."

The Executioner (Frank Savage) filled in for Sharpe, who protested the angle. Sharpe was still going over mid-card opponents on most occasions, and he felt the loss to Kid would make him look weak and lose steam.

Sharpe left the WWF due to his unhappiness with the Piper’s Pit episode. But professional wrestling is a business that is short on memory and long on forgiveness. Sharpe was welcomed back to the WWF several months later.

Iron Mike’s Stay in the WWF

"Canada's Greatest Athlete" Iron Mike Sharpe in the WWF.
“Canada’s Greatest Athlete” Iron Mike Sharpe in the WWF. Photo Credit: WWE.

Most likely though, Iron Mike Sharpe got comfortable wrestling for WWF and decided to stay there simply because it became ‘home.’ During the heyday of the territories in the ’60s and ’70s, a wrestler would typically remain in a given territory for 6-12 months, then move on to stay ‘fresh.’ WWF mainstays such as Johnny Rodz and Mikel Scicluna went against the grain and took up residence in the Northeast.

This significantly affected their status on the card, although both greats are rightfully enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame. Sharpe, went the route of The Baron and The Unpredictable One and homesteaded in WWF.

Mike worked for the WWF until 1995 and wrestled on the independent circuit for several years afterward.

The Man Had His Quirks: Iron Mike Sharpe and His OCD

Iron Mike Sharpe.
Iron Mike Sharpe. Photo Credit: WWE.

Iron Mike Sharpe’s obsession with physical fitness and cleanliness is the stuff of legend.

The late Lanny Poffo, on an episode of The Genius Cast, commented, "He had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. That’s the only way to say it. He used to wear Sansabelt slacks, and then, when I’d be riding with him, we’d get out of the car and get gas, which he would wear gloves to pump.

“Then, before we’d go to the convenience store, he would pat himself on the leg and thigh, like pat, pat, pat. And he’d never go to the store; he’d be patting his leg like he had lint on it, but it was invisible. So I’d be in and out by the time he was done patting himself."

YouTube video

Lanny also related a story about a long road trip, where he felt compelled to make some interesting conversation to keep Sharpe, who was driving, awake and alert. However, the conversation could have been better, and Lanny felt he needed to up the ante.

"I decided to ask him a question I always wanted to ask,” said Poffo. “‘Do you eat a woman down there, Mike?’

“Sharpe managed to stammer, ‘Wait a minute, ha ha ha. That’s a personal question!'”

Lanny, undeterred, continued.

"Well, I asked because you’re such a germophobe. How long does it take you to prep her down there before you go down on it? Do you wear a bib, you know, like from Red Lobster? How do you do that, and how does a man like you go about that?"

A flustered Sharpe responded, “Oh, it’s personal, Lanny, ha ha ha!”

Lanny concluded, “At least I kept him awake so we wouldn’t go off the road and kill ourselves."

Thanks to Leaping Lanny, a Red Lobster bib will never be the same.

Legacy of Iron Mike Sharpe

Iron Mike Sharpe with Roddy Piper on Piper's Pit.
Iron Mike Sharpe with Roddy Piper on Piper’s Pit. Photo Credit: WWE.

While not achieving world championship status, Iron Mike Sharpe left an indelible impression on professional wrestling. Sharpe made an unforgettable appearance on Piper’s Pit on September 23, 1984.

During his appearance, Piper mentioned to Mike that the fans referred to him as ‘wimp’- his trademark trigger word, causing him to go from zero to berserk in less than two seconds.

Piper spent the remainder of the episode trying to calm Iron Mike down and even set up a couple of boards for Sharpe to break to show that he was the hardest-hitting wrestler in history.

Sharpe got into a striking position before deciding he didn’t need to prove anything to anybody. Amen to that, Mr. Sharpe.

How Iron Mike Sharpe is Remembered by His Peers

Iron Mike Sharpe during his time in the WWF.
Iron Mike Sharpe during his time in the WWF. Photo Credit: WWE.

Iron Mike Sharpe was loved and respected by his peers.

‘Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell, on the Wrestling Shoot Interview show, said about Sharpe, "He managed to beat the heck out of you before you could beat him. He was a good guy, too. He worked his *** off in the ring; he was good in the ring, but he didn’t spare any punches."

Brunzell also commented that despite wrestling one of the opening matches at Boston Garden, Sharpe got locked into the building due to his post-match physical fitness/showering regimen.

Wrestling legend Mick Foley was a big Mike Sharpe fan growing up.

“I fondly remember Iron Mike on TV – in the early ’80s, with that solid style, the forearm brace, and the booming voice. I got to know Mike pretty well over the years, and I will miss that booming voice,” Mick wrote in a tribute to Sharpe on Facebook.

“For as loud as he was in the ring, the sound of his laughter was even louder – and I was fortunate to hear it frequently – filling up the bus on overseas trips and echoing in locker rooms at independent shows across the U.S.

“I used to love hearing stories about Iron Mike. Even in a business like pro wrestling, where colorful characters are plentiful, the Mike Sharpe stories – usually centered around his passion for cleanliness – stood out.

“I never got tired of them – no matter how many times old-school wrestlers told me about Mike getting locked inside buildings because of his two-hour showers or how he put every item from his suitcase into his hotel dresser, even if he was staying for just one night. He was a big man, with a big laugh and a big heart – and he liked to be clean.

Evan Ginzburg, Associate Producer on The Wrestler and 350 Days and the Editor in Chief of Pro Wrestling Stories, commented on Canada’s Greatest Athlete.

"Iron Mike Sharpe, whether in the opener, mid-card, or main event, always gave 110% and put on a quality match.

“He possessed quirky mannerisms, and his grunts, groans, and commentary throughout his bouts at times bordered on the comical, which only added to his appeal. In addition, he had that Killer Kowalski-like stamina where he just kept coming at you.

He then further said, “A champion throughout the territories and a challenger to Bob Backlund for the WWF Belt and Tito Santana for his IC crown, the condescending and misguided labeling of him as a ‘jobber’ is ultimately unfair. He remains a favorite of mine and many of my generation.”

Agent and promoter Sal Corrente also said of Sharpe, "He was a good guy. He traveled with his mom."

A Wrestling Legend

Iron Mike Sharpe in one of his final photos in 2016.
Iron Mike Sharpe in one of his final photos in 2016. Photo Credit: The Hamilton Spectator.

Looking back over a stellar career, Iron Mike Sharpe main-evented in multiple territories, garnered a nice collection of regional singles title and tag team titles, and held a bucketful of wins against some of the top-ranked stars in the business.

Iron Mike Sharpe- was he truly Canada’s Greatest Athlete? Probably not. But he may go down in history as Canada’s most colorful.

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Benny J. Scala is a senior writer at Pro Wrestling Stories and co-host of the Dan and Benny In the Ring podcast. He is also a writer/promoter for Jimmy Valiant's Boogie’s Wrestling Camp and Hall of Fame Museum (BWC). Benny is a licensed Florida Realtor and recently joined the writing staff of the Through The Fence Baseball website. He has been a fan of professional wrestling since the late '60s.