Iron Sheik A&E Biography: An Honest Review

Who would be more fitting a subject for a WWE Legends documentary than “Iran’s number one”? But did the Iron Sheik A&E Biography capture the story of one of wrestling’s most legendary heat magnets?

The WWE Legends Iron Sheik A&E Biography documentary follows the journey of one of wrestling's most legendary heels.
The WWE Legends Iron Sheik A&E Biography documentary follows the journey of one of wrestling’s most legendary heels.

WWE Legends Iron Sheik A&E Biography Review

The chrome-domed heel sporting a dastardly epic mustache waved a flag replete with Ayatollah Khomeini’s face painted on it. Then, maniacally twirling a pair of giant clubs that most mere mortals couldn’t lift, The Iron Sheik spewed a barrage of anti-American venom and even spat at us.

A twenty-megaton heat magnet, it was times two once he added powerhouse tag partner Nikolai Volkoff to the wild mix.

His was quite an amazing ride.

A Star is Born

Born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, he was an excellent amateur wrestler who represented Iran in several international tournaments.

In 1968 he moved to the USA, and in 1971, the Iranian obtained two silver medals in AAU Greco-Roman tournaments, one in 1969 and one in 1970. In 1971 he finally won gold.

Soon, Khosrow evolved into The Iron Sheik, where he would find his true calling as a professional wrestler.

On June 4th, 1979, at Madison Square Garden, a star was born. Then going by The Great Hussein Arab, he won a 20-Man Battle Royal, wading through some of the biggest names in the history of the business.

Among the legends were Ted DiBiase, Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Ivan Putski, Haystacks Calhoun, Bulldog Brower, Gorilla Monsoon, all three Valiant Brothers, and other notables.

But the best was yet to come as he’d go toe to toe with the then WWF Champion Bob Backlund that very same night in a grueling thirty-minute classic.

They exhibited "every move in the book," from butterfly suplexes to gut-wrench suplexes on down.

With his fantastic conditioning and wrestling skills, those lucky enough to sit there fully realized we had witnessed greatness; the man was at the peak of his powers.

Yet none of us could have possibly dreamed that a mere few years later, The Iron Sheik would return to best Backlund at the mecca of professional wrestling to become the WWF Heavyweight Champion.

On December 26, 1983, The Iron Sheik defeated Bob Backlund for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden after Backlund's manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel.
On December 26, 1983, The Iron Sheik defeated Bob Backlund for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden after Backlund’s manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel. [Photo: @WrestlingIsKing on Twitter]

Memorable Moments

While The Iron Sheik title victory over Bob Backlund and loss to Hulk Hogan have been discussed ad nauseam due to their historical importance, his greatest Madison Square Garden match was the gory Boot Camp Match against arch-rival Sgt. Slaughter.

Now regular MSG fans of that era were accustomed to juice in our main events, and champs Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, and Bob Backlund stomped mudholes in an endless array of super-heavyweight challengers, but this went above and beyond.

These two guys threw everything they had at each other, and with Sheik’s anti-American rhetoric, there was Roman Coliseum gladiator-level bloodlust in the air.

They more than obliged us by bleeding buckets for our entertainment. Plus, the pair could wrestle when they chose to, tossing an array of moves into the mix. So this was far more than "just a brawl."

It was bloody, brutal, and beautiful. And we still talk about it today.

On June 16, 1984, in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, Sgt. Slaughter and the Iron Sheik (with Ayatollah Blassie) squared off in their classic Boot Camp Match:

How Well Did the Iron Sheik A&E Biography Capture His Story?

If anybody deserves a full-length documentary chronicling a turbulent, tragic, and truly fascinating life, it’s The Iron Sheik.

The WWE Legends A&E Biography documentary opens strongly, going back to his youth in Iran, where he developed a love of wrestling. He became an amateur champion, and rare photos show a magnificent Vaziri in his prime.

Fleeing Iran’s turbulent politics, he eventually lands in Verne Gagne’s bare-bones training camp and more than pays his dues in the business, driving and setting up rings before struggling as a face low on AWA cards.

Footage of the grim conditions in a freezing barn and noted classmates like the late Olympian Chris Taylor doing endless conditioning exercises leaves no doubt about how hard they worked to get their foot in wrestling’s elusive door.

Insiders like author/historian Keith Elliot Greenberg, Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell, Sgt. Slaughter and Iron Sheik managers Jian and Page Magen, along with an unusually low-key Vaziri himself, give a true insight into his early hardships in the business.

Former Killer Bee Brunzell is particularly refreshing, as the well-spoken veteran is simultaneously reflective, nostalgic, and amused by his reminisces. And Greenberg only adds to the proceedings with thoughtful and insightful musings.

Iron Sheik’s wife, Caryl, as well as their children, speak about the harsh life of a wrestler on the road and its toll on the family as well as delving into his later drug and financial issues. This, too, is handled quite well by the filmmakers. But I also have a few qualms.

Drawing Heat

There’s a section of the film where the wrestlers discuss the unreal heat that The Iron Sheik drew.

Nikolai Volkoff told me that at Madison Square Garden, they’d purposely put them on in the middle of the card, hide them in an ambulance and drive them out before the show ended to avoid angry mobs awaiting them outside.

Now that’s mega-heat.

Why we needed 37 talking heads in the film saying the same thing repeatedly isn’t great documentary filmmaking. “We got it” the first couple of times- the Sheik drew heat.

And for DJ and radio host Peter Rosenberg to put a positive spin on a circus-like SummerSlam 1991 main event of Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior versus Slaughter, General Adnan and the shell of The Iron Sheik sadly repackaged as "character" Colonel Mustapha doesn’t ring true.

Speaking of Hogan, considering the decades of venom Iron Sheik has spewed at him, he comes off particularly well and gracious, speaking of his rival in nothing but complimentary and glowing terms.

But What About…?

The Achilles Heel of so many WWE documentaries is when they become too WWE-centric, where they fixate on a wrestler’s history in the Fed and virtually ignore their outside accomplishments.

Add Vince McMahon being presented as some benevolent benefactor with a warm spot for Vaziri, and it’s a challenging premise.

Clearly, that alleged warm spot should have also included a pension, 401K plan, and health benefits for his former world champion, a man pivotal in setting off Hulkamania and the new era and expansion.

Also lost in all of this is that The Iron Shiek wrestled in Japan on top against the likes of Antonio Inoki, acted in films, and had a mixed blessing controversial social media presence post-wrestling. They all would have been of interest and should have been addressed.

While so few wrestlers have crossed over into mainstream entertainment, plenty of people know The Iron Sheik from his outrageous Twitter posts and other public feuds and misadventures.

His post-wrestling career antics brought him to the attention of an entirely different audience. You wouldn’t have known this existed except for a brief Howard Stern clip.

Interestingly, while much of what Iron Sheik has tweeted would be deemed politically incorrect, he’s never been close to being canceled in these hyper-sensitive times.

On the contrary, America has a warm spot for the outspoken champion. That this is ignored entirely is a gaping hole in the A&E documentary that could have been explored.

Iron Sheik Scandals and Tragedies Galore

To the WWE Legends A&E Biography filmmakers’ credit, though, they don’t dance around The Iron Sheik’s troubled personal life.

The humiliating drug arrest in the same car with opponent Hacksaw Jim Duggan is relived here, with both Duggan and Sheik commenting.

Iron Sheik’s addictions and visits to rehab are also discussed, as are days-long crack binges.

And the horrific murder of a beloved daughter and his shocking intention to kill her murderer right there in the courtroom during his trial is also tackled head-on.

Like their recent well-done Dusty Rhodes documentary, it is in powerful and poignant personal moments like these that the film shines.

The man transcends wrestling with a life of Shakespearian-level triumphs and tragedies. It’s not just about long-ago WWE matches and moments.

The one and only Iron Sheik.
The one and only Iron Sheik.

The Death and Legacy of The Iron Sheik

The Iron Sheik, who sadly passed away at 81 on June 7th, 2023, would be on any knowledgeable fan’s list of top heels- particularly foreign ones. He has left an array of classic bouts that will always be savored, along with outrageous promos, angles, and even tweets that shocked, entertained, and amused us.

His life has been chronicled in many projects, including another documentary, 2014’s The Sheik, and now this A&E thoroughly involving yet flawed opus.

Yes, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, aka The Iron Sheik, remained larger than life until the end, and his tumultuous life will forever fascinate.

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Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and a contributing writer since 2017. He's a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie "The Wrestler" and acclaimed wrestling documentary "350 Days." He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring.