The Iron Sheik is one of those timeless, classic wrestling characters who has reinvented himself in recent years to become a social media phenomenon. It's been a fascinating run for a fascinating individual, and the new documentary The Sheik attempts to give you the true behind-the-scenes story.
(One quick note: this isn't technically a DVD, but rather a video-on-demand that can be downloaded directly from sheikmovie.com. It's a relatively new way of delivering content, and quite convenient in the age of services such as Netflix and the WWE Network.)
One thing you notice off the bat is just how professional the film is. This is obviously a project that took lots of time and money, and the end result shows. If not for the lack of sanctioned WWE footage, you could see this being a WWE documentary. It's that well done.
The story of Khosrow Vaziri begins in Iran, where the future Iron Sheik started off as a top-ranked amateur wrestler, soldier and bodyguard for The Shah of Iran. Political tensions caused him to flee the country and become both an All-American wrestling coach and professional wrestler for Verne Gagne's AWA. It's remarkable to see some of the footage that has been unearthed here of The Sheik's earliest days, when he was a smiling, muscular grappler with a full head of hair.
A wide variety of wrestling all-stars including The Rock, Hulk Hogan, Bret "Hitman" Hart, Jim Ross, Mick Foley, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, Jimmy Hart, Nikolai Volkoff, Bob Orton Jr., Koko B. Ware, Sunny, Bruce Pritchard, Larry Zbyszko, The Nasty Boys, Ron Simmons and Canadian Bulldog's World LJN Wrestling Figure Hall of Famer King Kong Bundy are interviewed for this piece and give generous accounts of the former WWF World Champion. Unlike some wrestling documentaries, the film's producers took the time to get the panel of commentators right. Even Jack Black and Seth Green make appearances!
The transformation of Iron Sheik from smiling collegiate grappler to hated foreign heel and WWF World Champion is explored, as is Sheik's fall from grace following a highly-publicized arrest with rival Duggan in 1987. And the fall from grace is truly what makes this different than many other wrestling documentaries (or documentaries in general).
The viewer is presented an intimate portrait of Sheik's family and how one of the most outrageous personalities in wrestling history interacts with them as a loving grandfather type. Through tragedy, substance abuse, family problems and injuries, Sheik is shown clearly going down the path to becoming another sad 1980's/90's wrestling statistic.
Due to the timely intervention of family friends Jian and Page Magen (see my interview last month for details on their relationship), Sheik made the difficult and painful decision to give up drugs, and soon discovered that there was a market for the passionate, rage-filled comments he has become well-known for, albeit outside of the wrestling ring.
From cutting a YouTube promo on Michael "Kramer" Richards to being a regular on Howard Stern and eventually becoming a Twitterati staple, Sheik has had a comeback story straight out of Hollywood. It's amazing to see the transformation on film as goes from making unsolicited public appearances at hotel lobbies to score crack money, to becoming a legitimate celebrity hobnobbing with everyone from Beyonce to Kiefer Sutherland.
On a personal note, so much of the documentary hits home for me, such as the numerous references to Toronto; the Magen brothers (and good friend of Canadian Bulldog's World, Stu Stone) as producers... I even know the Chuck E. Cheese where a scene was filmed, and was personally in attendance at the indy show cited where Sheik battled Abdullah The Butcher more than a decade ago! So there's definitely lots of hometown bias here.... a nice touch considering it's a film about an Iranian who lives in the United States.
The Sheik is equal parts touching story, traditional wrestling documentary and cautionary tale. It taught me things I never knew about The Iron Sheik - not an easy task considering I've been following wrestling religiously for 30 years. Highest possible recommendation to see this one.