Some people just like a challenge, Brian Solomon is one of those people. Back in 2019, pre lockdown earth, he pitched the idea of an in-depth biography of The Original Sheik, one of the most famous but also illusive wrestlers of the ‘60s and ’70s. That would become Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik. SteelChair’s James Truepenny talked to him, in part two of this exclusive interview Brian and James talk about the Sheik’s effect on the wrestling business and his lasting legacy. 

The Sheik’s era was like the wrestler himself, unique. It was a different world to the one we know today, where wrestlers are omnipresent on Twitter, and the business is exposed to its fan base. “One of the things that I have been saying for better or worse, that he was a wrestler of his time, very much so, and there is good, and there is bad to that. I don’t think that you could do what he did today. I don’t think it would necessarily work. I do think that there are lessons to be learned from him. I just don’t think they are being learned. Even if you can’t do it to the degree he did, that’s fine, but protect your persona and protect your gimmick. We know the way the business works now, but you don’t have to have it rubbed in our faces. We don’t need wrestlers thanking each other on Twitter for a great match. When we watch a movie, the characters don’t break character in the movie and wrestling is a little different in the sense that personas and the person are a little more intertwined than in other forms of entertainment, there is no doubt about that. But I think that trying to make the fans believe a little more than they do because I don’t think fans realise how often they are being worked when they think that they know everything that they really are, and 2, you can go further than you would assume in trying to convince people in the reality of certain things, or at least keep them guessing and keep them wondering and even in the back of their heads, I know this can’t really be real, but because it’s been done so well. It makes it relatively easy for them to suspend disbelief at the moment and not feel embarrassed to be able to go with it. Everybody talks about with a lot of younger wrestlers what they think of as working is just what moves can you do in the ring, but it’s so much more than that. The things that the Sheik did, where he would take ten or fifteen minutes before he would even make contact with you, that’s all working. ALL of that, what he did with his eyes, how he would get a crowd of people to run away, all with a turn of his head. That’s all working, and those are the kind of things that are lost. I don’t want to say completely lost. There are some people that do very cool things, but largely lost because of a lot of kids that just think everything that needs to be something that you see in New Japan.”

Because of his unique character, Farhat was not always popular with his peers either, making money was one thing, but breaking the way the business worked at the top was another thing entirely. “Jack Brisco, who was embarrassed. Whether he was right or wrong, he took himself very seriously, maybe too seriously, I don’t know. But he was embarrassed to say I am the World’s Heavyweight Champion, I am a serious wrestler, I am an NCAA Champion, and I have to pretend I’m scared of this lunatic throwing fireballs. He didn’t like doing that. Also, Bruno Sammartino was another person, and they had great matches and feuds and sold out everywhere, much more than he did with Brisco. They really worked a lot together, and I found out that Bruno didn’t like working with him because he thought it was very frustrating. He wanted to get in there and lock up and do stuff, and The Sheik would be running around the ring, and he lost patience with that, he felt like he wasn’t giving the people their money’s worth.”

Which brought us on to the subject of violence. This seems less pertinent now with someone bleeding on AEW shows on fortnightly basis, and GCW bring Deathmatches to the North American mainstream, but for the longest time, the North American market was based around attracting the widest possible audience, which meant a product that could be accepting to a family audience. The Sheik broke that code with a high level of violence and made it a bankable box office attraction, a similar trick Atsushi Onita made pulled off in Japan with a short time of wondrous success, and I asked Brian, given that the Sheik was such a potent character, was the violence really necessary? “I think that it was kind of essential to creating something new and different because if you look at the early Sheik stuff, like from the ’50s when he was The Sheik of Araby, and you can see him in the Chicago International Amphitheatre matches, he has a great gimmick, and he looks great, and its a great presentation and an entrance. But once the bell rings, he’s like any other wrestler. To be honest, he’s not as good as any other wrestler, you’d much rather watch someone like Thesz or Buddy Rogers, or people like that, or Rocca, even Gorgeous George. He was just by the numbers. He was a mid-carder, and he spiced things up with the violence. And this was even in the 60s when he was still working well and doing like hour draws and things, but he was bleeding and fire and all the stabbing and biting and things, now that piqued the interest, and that’s what made him an attraction. But as he got older and more hurt and injured and unhealthy, even addicted to things and stuff, he started relying on it too much to the point where it became his entire act. And that you can only do for so long, especially when you are sticking around one area for so long, like Detroit or Toronto. It is alright if he shows up in LA a handful of times and gets in the ring and stabs people for five minutes and disappears. There is a certain macabre attraction to that, but when it is every week, and you are going to Cobo Hall, and you just know it’s gonna happen again, and this babyface that we’ve built our hope in is just going to get annihilated in three minutes and that eventually does start to wear thin, and so it was like a blessing and a curse. It was a double-edged sword. It made him, and it ruined him.” 

As our time came to a close, I asked what Brian thought was the last legacy of The Sheik. “The last chapter of the book is basically his legacy, so how do you answer that in one question? Part of it is a cautionary tale for sure. In some ways, how not to do things, the mistakes that can be made, when you achieve success in wrestling, the personal demons, and the kind of egocentric decision making. Especially if you are someone in power that could destroy you. To avoid that. But also, on the positive side, it is a testament to what wrestling was. In a time that I don’t think we will ever get back, and just that sense of wonder, and the sense of excitement and belief in wrestling, you know he was the epitome of that. In that era, you had Bruno Sammartino, and you had, The Sheik. Then there were other people too, but they were the ultimate Babyface and the ultimate heel, and they both epitomised that time because you will also talk to people who loved Bruno and followed him from that time period, and it was like he was a member of their family, and that is something that is gone. That is part of the legacy too, that moment in time when wrestling was very special in a certain kind of way that it is not anymore.”

“Blood and Fire” is available from Amazon. More information is available from Brian’s website. You can also find him on Twitter.

Feature image courtesy of its owner – Video courtesy of WWE

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