Former WWE Champion Hossein Khosrow Ali, better known as The Iron Sheik, pioneered a winning legacy in amateur and professional wrestling. And in recent years, he has grown a reputation for his controversial trolling on Twitter. However, outside this public persona lies a dark and unimaginable tragedy: the murder of his eldest daughter Marissa in 2003.
And while dealing with what no parent should ever have to, he devised a plan to seek vengeance: he was going to kill his daughter’s murderer.
The Iron Sheik’s Vengeance: Daughter’s Murder Sparks Powerful Reactions
Whether you remember his early career as “The Great” Hossein Arab, later as The Iron Sheik during the ’80s wrestling boom period, his outrageous appearances on Howard Stern and Jerry Springer in the late 2000s, or his reputation as the “King of Heat” on Twitter, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri has always been a highly complex personality.
And over his many decades in the public spotlight, he’s experienced tremendous highs and lows.
But his life began far more quietly as a typical farmer in Iran.
The Calm Before The Storm: Early Life in Iran
Before becoming a despised foreign bad guy on TV, Khosrow came from a humble background in what he calls “the old country.”
He helped on the family farm outside of the Iranian capital of Tehran along with his three brothers and sister. They cultivated pistachios, grapes, and watermelons to subsist.
Wrestling: Iron Sheik’s First Love
At the time, Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling were the country’s most popular sports, and many great Persian athletes entered the club’s doors and became world champions.
During high school, wrestling became his passion and lifestyle. He often describes the sport as “the toughest in the world.”
His goal was to become an Olympic champion, and he was fortunate to have shared the mat and faced many standout grapplers that helped further hone his skills.
One of Iran’s most accomplished freestyle wrestlers and overall revered athletes of the 20th century was Gholamreza Takhti.
A multi-medal winner in various Olympic Summer Games and World Freestyle Championships, Takhti was a hero to the masses, including Khosrow.
Unfortunately, to the dismay of all his admirers, the star wrestler shockingly committed suicide on January 7th, 1968.
And although Khosrow’s love for the sport faltered a bit, he was determined to push forward and make a name for himself.
Amateur Wrestling Excellence
Although he kayfabes and pretends otherwise, Khosrow never represented Iran in the Olympics. However, he did represent Iran in several international tournaments.
In 1968 he moved to the USA, and in 1971, the resilient Iranian obtained two silver medals in AAU Greco-Roman tournaments, one in 1969 and one in 1970. In 1971 he finally won gold.
In 1972, Team USA hired him as an assistant coach for the Olympic Games held in Munich, Germany, and later Montreal, Canada, in 1976.
However, he soon lamented that he couldn’t live off his amateur athletic status alone. So, he looked into making money in professional wrestling.
From Amateur to Professional Wrestling
The Iron Sheik learned early on that turning pro wasn’t easy.
Wrestler Frank Dusek remembers, “When I first saw the Iron Sheik, he was wrestling under his real name. He was terrible. He didn’t understand when he had to lose.
“He would cry in the dressing room. I heard him tell a referee, ‘There aren’t six men in the world who can beat me- why should I lose?'”
However, Billy Robinson and Verne Gagne would soon show him the ropes and instill a respect for pro wrestling.
Gagne’s wife, Mary, suggested Khosrow adopt a heel gimmick similar to that of the notorious Sheik (Ed Farhat).
Khosrow obliged and soon adopted what came to be his signature look: a bald head with a traditional “buffo” style mustache and wrestling boots with the toes curled up (an acknowledgment of his ethnic background).
Becoming a Heel, Winning WWE Championship Gold
By the early ’70s, Khosrow resided in the USA. Throughout his career, though, as The Great Hossein Arab and later as The Iron Sheik, he would portray a despised foreign heel.
He even feigned support for Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who in 1979 orchestrated the Iranian Revolution and established the current Islamic Republic. The United States considers them an anti-Western religious theocracy still today.
During the ’80s, his name resonated far more in the pros than it ever did in the amateur ranks, and now he was getting paid good money to be hated.
In one of wrestling’s legendary title changes, a previously “injured” Bob Backlund, on December 26th, 1983, dramatically submitted to the Iron Sheik’s back-stretching Camel Clutch and dropped the coveted WWF World title after his manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel.
Although considered a transitional WWF World Heavyweight Champion after the “guitar-playing bodybuilder” Hulk Hogan (as Sheik calls him) dethroned him, The Iron Sheik nonetheless became one of the more recognizable wrestlers of the decade of decadence.
Yet he never again reached the same heights.
Career Post-WWF Championship
Further feeding into professional wrestling fans’ American patriotism that was in vogue thanks partly to President Ronald Reagan, The Iron Sheik took on the popular Sergeant Slaughter in a series of fierce 1984 encounters; their Boot Camp Matches were classic bloodbath brawls.
Later many fans recall the hated tag team he formed with Nikolai Volkoff and how a younger generation got introduced to the obnoxious Iranian who had a penchant for spitting at and insulting the USA.
At the inaugural WrestleMania on March 31st, 1985, Sheik and Volkoff obtained WWF tag team gold after defeating “The USA Express” Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham.
The Iron Sheik is now a fervent backer of everything red, white, and blue, but he admits being very scared at the height of the American kidnappings in Iran in late 1979 and years afterward because the fans hated him so much.
Along with Nikolai, they’d sneak out of a packed Madison Square Garden in the middle of the card, hiding in an ambulance, driving them away from the hostile mob awaiting them outside.
A “Speed Bump” in His Career
In 1987, several years removed from winning the prestigious WWF world title, Iron Sheik’s career hit a significant “speed bump” after being caught in New Jersey with weed and coke while driving in the same car as his then-rival, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.
He would work the independent wrestling circuit from 1992 into the late 2000s, followed by sporadic appearances in the WWE.
But with The Iron Sheik’s career winding down, one tragic event in May of 2003 sent his world into a tailspin that he would barely recover.
“I didn’t get a chance to see her face because the coroner said that there had been too much damage. It was my worst year since leaving Iran.
“I was confused and upset. Marissa was beautiful, but now she’s gone.”
– The Iron Sheik
Tragic Death of Iron Sheik’s Daughter Marissa Jean Vaziri
Charles Warren Reynolds, 38, of Riverdale, Georgia – or Reno, as he was known – was the suspect charged in the murder of The Iron Sheik’s eldest daughter, 27-Year-old Marissa Jean Vaziri.
He would be denied bond pending a hearing after a first appearance before Clayton County (GA) Magistrate Court Chief Judge Michael Baird.
“Apparently, Saturday night (May 3rd, 2003), they were popping pills and drinking,” said Clayton County Police Department spokesperson Jeff Turner.
“Something went wrong, and they had a physical confrontation.”
There had been a party at the apartment, but after everyone had left, the two had an altercation but nothing that alarmed the neighbors, and that’s when Reynolds killed Marissa.
An autopsy determined that she died of strangulation.
“We want him to be convicted and given the death penalty,” said Vaziri’s uncle Neil Peterson.
Friends and family, including her mother Caryl, gathered at The Iron Sheik’s house to mourn their loss.
The Clayton News Daily reported what transpired before the body was found:
“In spontaneous statements to police shortly after his arrest at about 9:41 a.m. Sunday, Reynolds seemed to express regret and a desire to trade his life for Vaziri’s.
“‘She wouldn’t calm down. What was I thinking?? I was wrong. Now I must die? I want to die; I want to trade,” Reynolds said shortly after his arrest, according to police reports.
“‘She’s such a good girl, but she wouldn’t calm down. I didn’t know what else to do. It wasn’t me. This must be a dream.'”
According to police reports, Reynolds allegedly slept in the same bed with Vaziri in their apartment in the Alexander Falls complex on Lakeridge Parkway after the murder.
The following morning, he called his pastor, the Rev. Mark Medlin, with the Riverdale Church of God at about 8 a.m.
“Medlin told police that Reynolds wanted to pray with him, then asked him to come to the apartment. Medlin and two other church members prayed with Reynolds.
“After praying, Reynolds showed Medlin and the others into the bedroom, where Vaziri’s body was on a bed.
“When police asked Reynolds what had happened, he told them, ‘I’m sure I’m the reason she’s not breathing. She was on pills, I was on pills, and we were drinking. It’s my fault. It’s my fault. Take me; I’ve done wrong. You hear me?'”
Jessica Blankenship, a friend of Marissa’s, stated that she had discovered that Reynolds had been in prison prior for nine years for almost killing a man during a fight.
“He came off as the nicest guy, but we all knew something was weird,” Blankenship said.
According to Blankenship, there was already tension in the relationship as Reynolds grew more possessive, and during an argument, he punched out a window of Vaziri’s car.
Then Wednesday, Vaziri e-mailed Blankenship and indicated that she wanted Reynolds to leave the apartment he had helped her get, but she felt pity for him because he had nowhere else to live.
“I think she finally expressed that feeling (Saturday night), and that’s what started it,” Blankenship reasoned.
A Powerless Father Responds to an Extreme Situation
After the murder of his daughter, a distraught Iron Sheik sought to take the law into his own hands.
Keith Elliot Greenberg, who was the only print reporter to be invited to The Iron Sheik’s room after he won the WWF Championship in 1983 and author of Iron Sheik’s unreleased autobiography, tells the story:
“At the lowest point in his life, The Iron Sheik tucked a razorblade into his cheek and walked into a Jonesboro, Georgia, courtroom.
“He was going to cut a man’s throat and had good reason to do so.
“From the gallery, he narrowed his eyes and contemplated 38-year-old Charles Warren Reynolds, who rose nervously from the defendant’s table.
“When the judge asked him to address the court, Reynolds broke into tears and apologized for the murder of The Iron Sheik’s 27-year-old daughter, Marissa.”
“In court,” Greenberg continued, “The Sheik’s Minnesota-born wife, Caryl, warned the rest of the family about her husband’s homicidal intentions.
“But, despite his recent surgery, The Sheik was strong and skilled enough to barrel through a court officer or two, spit out the blade and draw some blood.
“So, the entire clan surrounded the former bodyguard for the Shah of Iran, boxing him near the wall and refusing to allow him to carry out his plan.”
“You can’t kill him ’cause they’ll put you in prison!” his daughter Tanya whispered.
“I lost my sister and don’t want to lose my father.”
In an interview with Fight Game Media, Greenberg described his completed book, “The Iron Sheik: Listen Jabroni!” which WWE canceled twice, as “the greatest unpublished biography ever.”
According to The Iron Sheik, his daughter’s former boyfriend and killer, Charles Reynolds, got life in prison. However, on May 31st, 2016, Reynolds died in jail of undisclosed causes.
Karma perhaps took control over a situation a grieving father could not.
The Iron Sheik spoke of the murder of his daughter:
“My daughter was murdered, but I’m a survivor.
“He strangled her in a chokehold. We weren’t allowed to see her face or body because the coroner said there was too much damage.”
With tears in his eyes, he continued. “I didn’t even get a chance to see her face.”
“Marissa was in her apartment for one or two days before her boyfriend contacted the authorities. It was the worst year of my life.”
“It broke my heart,” The Iron Sheik professed. “Marissa was beautiful. She was very, very pretty. She was my eldest daughter. Now, she’s gone.”
The Legacy of The Iron Sheik
Years of turmoil would follow for The Iron Sheik. He would turn to drugs for years, characterizing the substances he abused as his “medicine.”
It took hitting rock bottom and several miserable years to kick his habit.
In 2007, while The Sheik was out of town, his wife Caryl wielded the only option she had left.
“I up and moved out on him," she would say in 2013.
“I could no longer beg him to quit. We had lost our daughter. We were all sad and depressed. But enough was enough.”
The couple would live apart for two years until agreeing to an ultimatum: The Iron Sheik had to sever ties to his closest friend, a man who’d accompany him to the inner city to purchase drugs.
“It was painful for him because they’d really become best friends,” his daughter Tanya admitted. “But he cared about my mother more.”
From humble beginnings in a faraway land, The Iron Sheik beat the odds to become the WWE Champion and one of the greatest and most recognizable wrestling villains ever while enduring addiction and pain no parent ever should have to.
In remembrance of Marissa Jeanne Vaziri (1976-2003).
Discover further stories which delve into the dark history of wrestling:
- Wrestler Nanjo Singh and the Horrific Murder of His Wife
- Evelyn Stevens – From Champion Wrestler to Murderer
- Rockin’ Rebel: Wrestling’s Shocking Unspoken Murder
- Buffalo Jim Barrier: His Shocking, Unsolved Death
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