The other half of Hulkamania: The Iron Sheik discusses January 23, 1984
Thirty years ago on this date, the face of the wrestling industry as we knew it was forever changed. In front of a raucous sellout crowd in New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulkamania was born, as Hulk Hogan became WWE Champion by dethroning The Iron Sheik. I had the pleasure of making the ring announcement that evening, verbally anointing Hogan as WWE’s standard bearer. But as there was a victor, there was also a man who tasted defeat.
Recently, WWE.com had an opportunity to discuss that fateful evening with my good friend and truly one of the all-time greats, WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, who was very candid in his thoughts about being a significant part of mat history.– HOWARD FINKEL
WWE.COM: After you beat Bob Backlund for the WWE Championship, did you think anyone could defeat you?
IRON SHEIK: Well, like all my wrestling fans round the world know, I was the first Iranian come to America. I was in Minnesota, and Mr. McMahon called me up to New York. Like everybody know, six years, nobody beat Mr. Bob Backlund. I beat him in most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden. And all of a sudden, Hulk Hogan come to New York, and I lost on one bad day, lost my belt to Hulk Hogan. But all the intelligent wrestling fans around the world, WWE fans and Iron Sheik fans, they know: Without Iron Sheik, no Hulkamania.
WWE.COM: How much did you know about Hogan going into the match?
SHEIK: Only thing I notice about him, I had started in [the AWA in] Minnesota. I left Minnesota, I heard Hulk Hogan was in Minnesota and he was a big bodybuilder wrestling in Minnesota. I’m in New York, but I didn’t know nothing about Hulk Hogan. Only thing I know is he was a bodybuilder and a big man. But I was real Iranian, and my background come from wrestling background, Olympics in Munich, Germany and Olympic coach. And I was most hated wrestler in America because I had the Ayatollah picture on my flag. I was the most hated wrestler in WWE, No. 1 company in the world. But I only heard about Hulk Hogan until I met him in New York.
WWE.COM: Did you think Hogan was worthy of stepping into the ring with you?
SHEIK: Like I said, I was three times All-American AAU champ when Mr. Hulk Hogan never competed in the AAU. No. 1 wrestling company in the world was WWE. But Hulk Hogan, the only thing he had was he was a bodybuilder and going to gym, work hard with the dumbbells. But he didn’t have that Iron Sheik background, because Mr. Bob Backlund grew up with wrestling and I grew up with wrestling all my life. But Hulk Hogan, only thing he had was luck. I have one bad night I lost my belt to Hulk Hogan.
'Break his leg'
WWE.COM: Is there any truth to the rumor that Verne Gagne offered you a bribe before the match?
SHEIK: Absolutely. Like I said, I started in Minnesota and after I was assistant coach in Olympics Munich, Germany ’72. I started ’73 with Ric Flair, Greg Gagne, myself in Minnesota. Mr. [Verne] Gagne was our coach. After I break in this business, Mr. Gagne give me the ring truck, I have to drive the ring around Minneapolis; Chicago from Minneapolis to Winnipeg and Denver, Colorado all over Midwest. I had the truck with the ring. I have to put up the ring, pick up the ring, [act as] referee and wrestle, I had the toughest job in my life. From Shah of Iran bodyguard and All-American AAU champ, I had some rough jobs. But I know that someday it gonna be changed and I’m not always gonna drive the truck and put up the ring, pick up the ring, referee.
All of a sudden, everything change when – God bless – Mr. McMahon call me and I come to New York. Everything made sense for me and I cannot forget Mr. McMahon and all the people in New York. Mr. Gagne call me, “Khosrow, Kaz, give me a favor. Mr. McMahon take Hulk Hogan from our company to New York. I like you to break the jabroni’s leg, take the belt, come to Minnesota. I take care of you and Jimmy Crockett take care of you, Bill Watts gonna take care of you, we gonna give you money, anything you want.” He told me, “We’re gonna take care of you with money. $100,000, break his leg, bring the belt to Minnesota and you have a job the rest of your life.”
I said, “Coach let me think about it, I’ll call you back.” I talk to my wife about it and my good friend Sgt. Slaughter. I said, “Coach called me and he told me break the Hulk Hogan leg, take the belt to Minnesota.” But the hand feed me, I cannot bite that hand. Mr. McMahon was the first promoter in the world give me a break at World Championship. I cannot double-cross that company. I didn’t go and I didn’t lose my respect next to Mr. McMahon, Sr. and Jr. I thank him before I go in the ring. I thank him in the locker room and I tell him, “He call me last night and told me don’t wrestle that jabroni Hulk Hogan, just break his leg, take the belt and come back to Minnesota.” But I said, “No, I cannot do that.” Even now, bad ankle, bad knee, but at least I respect myself next to God and Jesus. I didn’t double-cross my company WWE.
'Everything gonna change'
WWE.COM: Was Gagne mad that you said no?
SHEIK: I saw him again I said, “I’m sorry Coach, I cannot do that, because I had rough time after Olympics in Munich, Germany. I was three times AAU All-American World Champion and I had rough time. I was broke, no money and everything was bad for me until WWE. I cannot cross Mr. McMahon’s company and I’m sorry.” And he accept my apology and he said, “Don’t worry about it, and if you want to again come work for my company, welcome.” But I could never work for that company after that.
WWE.COM: Was Freddie Blassie, your manager at the time, a help against Hogan?
SHEIK: God bless him as a matter of fact yes. Mr. Blassie was the first manager I had in WWE. He was great manager, great charisma, I learn lot of things from Mr. Blassie. He was great manager, he was the best. As a matter of fact, I talked to him about that situation. God bless him. He was the best.
Hall of Fame profile: "Classy" Freddie Blassie
WWE.COM: What was it like when you got in the ring with Hogan?
SHEIK: He was good. Hogan was a big man, he had a bodybuilder body and charisma. I had so much hate, people want to hurt me wherever I go. He win and make all his All-American fans happy. Since then he become Hulkamania, but everybody remember, without Iron Sheik, no Hulkamania.
WWE.COM: If the night had gone differently, do you think The Iron Sheik would have been as big as Hulk Hogan was? Might we have seen “Sheikamania”?
SHEIK: Absolutely. If I break his leg, then everything gonna change after that, because Iron Sheik didn’t lost the belt to Hulk Hogan and everything gonna be completely different after that, you’re absolutely right, sir.
'I was a tiger in the ring'
WWE.COM: Do you think The Iron Sheik in his prime could have beaten a John Cena or a Randy Orton?
SHEIK: Well in my prime and all my wrestling fans around the world know I was a Olympic wrestler. I can beat new generation in my prime time, but not now. Now is different situation and I’m watching John Cena and Randy Orton, Triple H, all of them. They’re doing a great job, they’re excellent.
WWE.COM: How is your relationship with Hogan today?
SHEIK: Well, I be honest with you, last time I saw Hulk Hogan was at a summer wrestling convention. I saw him, he say hello, I say hello to him. I talk to him, but nobody talk bad about the past. I get along with him. I say hello to him, but no any bad mouth or nothing. Just, ”Hello, how are you?“ and, ”Goodbye.”
WWE.COM: If a rematch was made today, do you think history would repeat itself?
SHEIK: Well, today different situation. After many years wrestling all my life, bad knee, bad ankle, different situation. But young man, everybody know I was a tiger in the ring. I was Olympic wrestler, and Hulk Hogan cannot handle me. No way. He was lucky.