Iranian Legend: The Iron Sheik Story
This is the title for a proposed video document about eccentric wrestler The Iron Sheikh, essentially the Iranian equivalent of UK’s favourite 80s wrestler “Big Daddy“.
The Kickstarter project – with just 40 days left to appeal – is by identical Iranian twins Jian Magen and Page Magen. For six years these film makers have followed and documented the life of their childhood hero, number one ‘villain’ wrestler Hossein Kosrow Vaziri, otherwise knowns as The Iron Sheikh. He’s also been billed though as “Col. Mustapha of Iraq“, the transferable nature of his country of origin an example of late last century Orientalism at its best.
The 73 year old legend is now friends with the young Canadian duo after letting them see a very private side of his life for these six years, which they’ve documented alongside the more public facts known about this one-time giant of the ring.
These facts are: the trajectory of coming from an Iranian village to working for the Shah of Iran as his personal bodyguard, running away to USA, losing his close friend in suspicious circumstances, winning the AAU championship, USA in 1971, being presented a gold medal by Muhammad Ali, serving as coach under the legend Alan Rice in the 1972 U.S. Olympic wrestling team, stardom as a cartoon-like villainous professional wrestler in boots that curled at the toe, taking and being busted for crack cocaine, the murder of his eldest daughter, general poor health and a professional oblivion that is objected to by many who grew up watching him on TV. For many young Iranians, especially Iranian-American boys, he must have been more than just a wrestling icon.
What was he famous for, aside from the super bronze limbs of steel and flowing robes? The Iron Sheik hit his international high when he ended the near six-year World Wrestling Federation Championship reign of Bob Backlund and is also remembered for being the man Hulk Hogan defeated for his first WWF Championship.
The twins say their documentary will “chronicle The Iron Sheik’s electrifying career – from his years as a top WWF wrestler and Olympic Wrestling Champion, to his rebirth as an outlandish pop culture and social media phenomenon, known for public outbursts on the Howard Stern Show, YouTube videos and a hugely popular Twitter account.”
@the_ironsheik, if you’re wondering. On both platforms he swears and gesticulates, maintaining the wrestling theatrics as he speaks his mind, reminiscent of one of the A Team, you know which one.
Yet this doc won’t be the Sheikh’s first bout with professional cameras. Aside from his prime time TV appearances in wrestling matches and colourful charity publicity appearances, he’s been on screen in The Tale of the 3 Mohammads in 2005 billed by director Spike Lee as “a unique and important film“. More recently he appeared alongside Daniel Baldwin and Corey Feldman in the historically hammy Operation Belvis Bash in 2012.
He also appeared in Six Pillars guest Maz Jobrani‘s 2009 comedy stand-up special Brown & Friendly.
The “sad turn” referred to in the strap-line of the Yahoo article above refers to the Sheikh’s urgent need for double knee and ankle surgery brought on by years of professional wrestler.
What’s his wrestling calling card? Aside from the usual Belly to Belly action (the official name for the move) the Iron Sheikh’s signature throws are The Iranian Drop (Two-handed chokeslam) and fittingly The Camel Clutch.
How can this film be anything but depressing, you ask? Old age for man who’s health was his career is not a pretty sight. However it turns out the really iron thing about the Sheikh is not his body, but in fact his indomitable character that is as large and unusual face to face as it was on screen in his heyday. There’s a child in those eyes, of a man who kept it together even after losing a dear daughter in such a violent and later much publicised manner, a man who put his own shoulder up against international walls and remains resilient. Perhaps he’s the Biggest Daddy.
In the end his freakiest moment turns out not to be one of with an immense, glitter-clad giant held between his naked thighs, but instead one in which he encircles a rather serpentine Cyndi Lauper who shimmers an incredibly pale tone back off the film in contrast to his earthy beef. Although caught in his steely embrace, she rises out of his arm in a near-alarming manner looking more a wild piece of theatre than the Sheikh ever did. His square and even smile to camera seem incongruous beside her wild mimicry and make up.
Whatever the caption for such a shot, never have two such different nations been better embodied, for although he lived the ‘American Dream’ the Iron Sheikh is the successor to the Iranian house of strength, Zurkaneh, the while Cyndi is eternally the reckless girl who wanna have fun. Feel free to post your ideas for a caption here.