Iron Sheik by Rob Schamberger © 2013 Rob. All rights reserved.

The Iron Sheik

Iron Sheik painting by Rob Schamberger

Acrylic on 24″ x 24″ wood

A lot of guys claim to be the most notorious man in wrestling history, but the Iron Sheik may have the best claim to that title. Born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri in Tehran, Iran, he built a strong reputation in amateur wrestling, first competing to be on the Iranian Olympic Greco Roman team for the 1968 Summer Olympics. After relocating to the United States, he would become the 1971 Amateur Athletic Union Greco-Roman wrestling champion, and then was the assistant coach to the USA team for the 1972 Olympic Games. With his notable amateur background, he was invited to train to be a professional wrestler by Verne Gagne in 1972.

In Gagne’s American Wrestling Association, he slowly developed what would become his signature look, at first wrestling under the name The Great Hossein Arab (really), playing off of the Iranian revolution to get hatred from the crowd. He was also a trainer for the AWA, teaching the likes of Ricky Steamboat, Greg Gagne and Jim Brunzell. He would soon become The Iron Sheik, spouting anti-American taunts during the Iran hostage crisis, making him one of the most-hated heels in the business.

This caught the eye of the WWF, where he would end Bob Backlund’s near six-year championship reign in 1983. He lost the title four weeks later to Hulk Hogan, but then went on to a notable feud with Sgt. Slaughter. He partnered with Nikolai Volkoff and brought on manager ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie to become the Foreign Legion, winning tag gold and garnering the hatred of fans everywhere they went. After Volkoff would sing the Soviet national anthem, Sheik would get on the mic and say his classic line, “Iran number one, Russia number one, USA…” and he would spit, “Hok-ptooie!”

In 1991 he briefly worked as Colonel Mustafa, aligning with Sgt. Slaughter and Iraqi General Adnan as the Iraqi Sympathizers during the first Gulf War. This garnered tremendous heat at the time, leading me to start using my Slaughter GI Joe figure as a Cobra guy instead of one of the Joes. That’s serious, yo. Sheik has made appearances since, including his infamous shoot interview where the terms ‘make him humble’ and ‘old country way’ became part of the wrestling lexicon.

About the piece: I limited this to the colors of the Iranian flag, playing off of his character’s (and his real-life) roots. Where I normally would have used a cool or darker color for the shadows, I instead used an electric green, giving the piece an almost-supernatural feeling.

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