Slaughter vs. Sheik (Part 1)
In the world of professional wrestling, sometimes booking just writes itself. Case in point, the 1984 feud in the World Wrestling Federation between Sgt. Slaughter and The Iron Sheik. The ideological battle between the United States and Iran was personified in the in-ring battle between Marine tough-guy Sgt. Slaughter and Iranian bad-boy The Iron Sheik.
To fully appreciate the feud, one must understand what was going on in the country at this time. The 1980’s was a time of incredible patriotism in the United States, thanks to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Reagan had been elected over incumbent Jimmy Carter. Carter presided over the U.S. during economic and foreign crises, not least of which was the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran in 1979 and the taking of American hostages. A failed rescue attempt didn’t help Carter’s image or the morale of Americans. That changed when Reagan came into office, taking a tough stand against America’s enemies, salvaging the economy, and restoring Americans’ hopes for a brighter tomorrow.
Born Khosrow Ali Vaziri, the man who would become best known in the ring as The Iron Sheik grew up in Iran. Khosrow’s hard work as an amateur wrestler led to him being on his country’s Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. His skills also saw him become one of the bodyguards to Iran’s leader, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
He emigrated to the United States and served as assistant coach to the U.S. wrestling team at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. After an invitation from American Wrestling Association (AWA) owner Verne Gagne, Khosrow trained under wrestler Billy Robinson and made his professional wrestling debut in 1972, initially working as a face.
Khosrow’s career began to take off when he adopted the villainous persona of an evil Arab character known as the Great Hossein Arab. Khosrow shaved his head, grew out a stylish mustache, and began wearing wrestling boots with the toes curled up (loading them up whenever the occasion called for it). Khosrow also used Persian clubs to exercise with and challenged opponents to try using them, often using this feat of strength as a chance to ambush his opponents. When Iran’s government was taken over by Islamic fundamentalists in 1979 (which in turn led to the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Iran), promoters took advantage of Khosrow’s heritage to further promote him as a heel. With kayfabe so strong, some promoters had to tone down Khosrow’s anti-American gimmick to protect him from violent fans. Regardless, he got over wherever he went working in various territories of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). Eventually he began going by the name of The Iron Sheik.
In 1983, The Iron Sheik returned to World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and challenged Bob Backlund for his WWF championship. The Iron Sheik challenged Backlund to use the Persian Clubs. At first Backlund was unable to lift the clubs up (not only are they heavy but they are difficult to balance) but he finally succeeded, only for The Iron Sheik to attack him from behind, injuring Backlund’s neck. On December 26, 1983 at Madison Square Garden, The Iron Sheik entered the club of a select few when he became WWF World Heavyweight Champion, defeating Bob Backlund and ending his five plus year title reign. The match was not without controversy, however. The Iron Sheik applied his finisher the Camel Clutch to Backlund and Backlund refused to give up. However Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland feared for Backlund’s health and threw in the towel, effectively conceding the match. The Iron Sheik held onto the belt for about a month until his historic loss to Hulk Hogan at Madison Square Garden.
Although The Iron Sheik’s title reign was brief, his career in the WWF was far from over. With manager “Ayatollah” Fred Blassie guiding him, The Iron Sheik ran roughshod over opponents and seemed to be as much of a threat as when he first entered the WWF. The Iron Sheik continued to beat opponents mercilessly with his dreaded finisher the Camel Clutch, insulting American fans and taunting his downed American opponents by spitting on them. Then an unlikely American opponent emerged, the rulebreaker known as Sgt. Slaughter. The Iron Sheik’s taunts and tactics would inspire Slaughter to turn from heel to hero.
After working as a Marine drill instructor, Robert Remus took to the squared circle, working in the AWA under his real name and then under a mask as the Super Destroyer Mark II. He achieved success in the AWA and NWA before adopting the Sgt. Slaughter character in the WWF in 1980 (according to Remus on The Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 80’s his fellow drill instructors nicknamed him “Sgt. Slaughter” due to his resemblance to a Jackie Gleason film character). Slaughter issued a cash reward to any wrestler who could escape his submission hold, the Cobra Clutch. Like The Iron Sheik’s Persian Club challenge, this often led to beatdowns by Slaughter, setting up feuds.
One such feud was when Slaughter beat up wrestler Pat Patterson when Patterson appeared to be escaping from the Cobra Clutch. The two men feuded, leading to a bloody match in Madison Square Garden known as “The Alley Fight”. After a campaign in Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) where he won the United States Heavyweight Championship and NWA World Tag Team Championship, Slaughter returned to the WWF where he commenced terrorizing the promotion’s babyfaces.
On the February 4, 1984 edition of Championship Wrestling, Sgt. Slaughter was walking out to his match while The Iron Sheik and manager “Ayatollah” Freddie Blassie were leaving the ringside area. When the three men met, nobody would get out of the other’s way.
This impasse quickly escalated to a shouting match and it appeared that fisticuffs were imminent. Blassie took The Sheik to the side and Slaughter passed. As he did, Blassie got in Slaughter’s face. It looked like violence could break out at any moment and Slaughter appeared to be inviting the Sheik into the ring. The following week, Slaughter and the Iron Sheik clashed again with WWF officials having to separate them. The Sarge then gave a patriotic speech and challenged the Iron Sheik to a match the next week.
The next week on Championship Wrestling, the scheduled match never took place. The Iron Sheik attacked Slaughter before the bell, beating him down until the Sarge rallied back and drove The Iron Sheik from the ring. If the fans had any doubt that things were only beginning to heat up, they found out the following week when Sgt. Slaughter ran in on The Iron Sheik after he destroyed babyface Eddie Gilbert.
The Iron Sheik quickly bailed out of the ring. Sarge led the fans in a recitation of the pledge of allegiance. The Iron Sheik’s anti-American attitude had sparked a patriotic fire in Sgt. Slaughter and the fans embraced Slaughter for defending America’s honor.
The Sarge began playing mind games with The Iron Sheik by using the Sheik’s submission hold, the Camel Clutch during matches. Sgt. Slaughter demonstrated that he was capable of changing his tactics whenever and however needed. He also took preliminary wrestler Terry Daniels under his wing, inducting him as the first member of his Cobra Corps. Fans in New York City got to see Slaughter and the Sheik battle it out at Madison Square Garden on April 23, 1984. Slaughter was accompanied to the ring by Private Terry Daniels, the first member of Slaughter’s Cobra Corps. Daniels carried “Old Glory” to ringside and Slaughter saluted the flag while the crowd chanted “USA, USA”.
Seeing another chance to ambush his opponent, The Iron Sheik ran into the ring, decked in his traditional Persian robe and headgear. This time Slaughter was ready and he bodyslammed The Iron Sheik. Slaughter then ripped up the Sheik’s headgear and began choking him with part of his clothing. Sgt. Slaughter was merciless to his Iranian foe. Slaughter spit on the Sheik, just as the Sheik had done to many of his fallen opponents in previous matches. Slaughter threw The Iron Sheik over the top rope and beat him up some more before throwing him back into the ring.
Announcers Gorilla Monsoon and Pat Patterson noticed that Slaughter wasn’t concerned with pinning his opponent, he wanted to hurt him. Slaughter’s desire for punishment may have got the better of him. Slaughter whipped the Sheik into the corner and charged him only to be met by a raised boot. The Sheik capitalized on Slaughter’s tactical error and began a dreadful offensive. The Iron Sheik wasted no time loading his boot and he used it on Slaughter. He utilized his mastery of suplexes and saltos, slamming Slaughter onto the unforgiving mat apron. Somehow, Slaughter found the strength to make a comeback. He blocked a suplex and reversed it. Finally, Slaughter hit the Sheik with the Slaughter cannon, his devastating version of the clothesline. To many fans’ surprise, he stopped attacking his downed opponent and instead worked on taking off one of his combat boots. Slaughter went to blast the Sheik with the boot but the referee stopped him. The Sheik saw his window of opportunity and landed a kick to Slaughter’s ribs. Slaughter fought back though and swung his boot until it connected with The Iron Sheik. A couple hits from Slaughter’s boot was all the Sheik needed to make a hasty retreat. The Iron Sheik had won the match by disqualification but it was a painful and meaningless victory.
Backstage, The Iron Sheik was being interviewed alongside manager “Ayatollah” Fred Blassie when Slaughter attacked him again with his boot. Several wrestlers ran in to break things up. The backstage area became instant chaos and it was clear that the war between Sgt. Slaughter and The Iron Sheik was just beginning.
The first Slaughter/Sheik match at MSG can be found on the WWE DVD Legends of Wrestling 5: Ric Flair and Sgt. Slaughter.
Thanks again to Graham Cawthon for his awesome resource page The History Of The WWE.