The name Khosrow Vaziri may not be immediately familiar to most people, but during the early 1980s he was among the most hated men in America. Or, to be more accurate, he was the man that Americans loved to hate. In his persona as the Iron Shiek of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF – the forerunner of today’s WWE), Vaziri showed off broad comic theatricality as the Ayatollah’s alleged agent provocateur in the squared circle. And when he teamed with Josip Peruzovic (better known as Nikolai Volkoff), their tag team created brilliant spasms of American nationalism at every WWF event.
Today, Vaziri is 74 and not in the best of health. But thanks to Igal Hecht’s entertaining documentary, he can get his life story out to a wider world.
Born in Tehran, Vaziri was a champion wrestler who became the bodyguard to the Shah of Iran. He abruptly left Iran in 1969 following the suspicious death of wrestling champion Gholamreza Takhti, which was officially declared as a suicide by the government – the film is somewhat vague as to why Vaziri feared for his life in the aftermath of Takhti’s passing. Arriving in the U.S., he snagged work as a coach for the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team before finding his way into professional wrestling. The tumult in Iran helped him to gain notoriety as a wrestling “heel,” and his career with the WWF was rich in giddy highs (including the winning of the championship belt from Bob Backlund) and embarrassing lows (a 1987 drug arrest with fellow wrestler Hacksaw Jim Duggan that led to his expulsion from the league and exile in poor-attended bouts for minor independent leagues).
Vaziri speaks frankly about the injuries he sustained as a wrestler and the difficulties that his family endured from his long periods away from home and from nutty fans that harassed him. The film handles difficult subjects, including the murder of Vaziri’s daughter by an ex-boyfriend and his problems in fighting drug addiction, with sympathy and sincerity.
Wrestling fans will enjoy seeing some of the 1980s legends talking about Vaziri – Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Bret Hart, Koko B. Ware, King Kong Bundy, Hulk Hogan (whose career soared after he won the championship belt from the Iron Sheik) and former tag team partner Nikolai Volkoff turn up on camera, some looking more than a little worse for wear. Dwayne Johnson is also on hand, but no contemporary WWE stars can be found (though, frankly, they are not missed here). And Vaziri is a charming raconteur who still knows how to put on a great show.
Two minor quibbles here: the film runs English subtitles when Vaziri speaks (they are not needed, as his accented English is perfectly comprehensible) and, sadly, there is no footage from the classic WWF matches in the film (obviously, the McMahon clan wanted too much money in licensing fees). But, otherwise, this flick is a winner.