Life story

The Incredible Real-Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik”

BOOK REVIEW: “Blood & Fire: The Incredible True Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik” by Brian R. Solomon

From: Brandon Sears

In an episode of the third season of Vice’s critically acclaimed series, The Dark Side of the Ring, Atsushi Onita’s hyper-violent Japanese promotion FMW is featured. In this particular episode, ECW alumni Sabu recounts a match where he teamed with his uncle, Ed “The Sheik” Farhat, against the promotion’s founder, Atsushi Onita and Tarzan Goto. During the match, things took a horrific turn, resulting in The Sheik narrowly escaping after sustaining third-degree burns.

This match took place nearly forty-three years after The Sheik’s debut. So why did one of wrestling’s most successful performers risk his life at sixty-six? Author Brian Solomon examines the entire career of one of wrestling’s most legendary promoters and wrestlers inside and outside the ring in BLOOD AND FIRE: The Unbelievable True Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik.

Before getting into the meat and potatoes of the Sheik’s career, Solomon gives the reader a detailed history of what would become Sheik’s territory for most of his career, Detroit, Michigan. I’d like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to the territory system, but Detroit has remained a blind spot throughout my time as a wrestling fan. Promoter Nick Londes is hinted at while in control of Olympia Stadium – the 15,000+ seat arena in Detroit that was home to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. But he had a rival in Adam Weissmuller – a former welterweight wrestler who, after a long career, moved into professional wrestling promotion work. While Weissmuller would eventually win the war, his victory would be short-lived as he would die soon after. His successor would lose to another opponent in the person of Harold Lecht who would go on to create Big Time Wrestling, a name that would be synonymous with Motor City.

Solomon gives a lot of insight into Sheik’s life before the fight, highlighting his brief time as a member of the armed forces. Sheik had been drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II shortly after turning eighteen (although he tried to enlist earlier but was reprimanded). While seeing action in Europe, he arrived shortly before Germany’s surrender and had been sent home during the American bombardment of Japan. However, during his time in the Forces, Farhat tried his hand at amateur wrestling and made a name for himself by winning several tournaments.

Ed would be discovered by one of the aforementioned Harold Lecht’s right-hand men in Bert Ruby – an active artist and talent booker. Although he was able to gain experience working on the undercard, it wasn’t until pro wrestling and television went hand in hand that Farhat exploded in popularity. The demand for over-the-top colorful characters went hand in hand with the advent of professional wrestling on television. Through several iterations, Farhat came up with The Sheik of Araby.

Around the same time, the NWA was founded, which made talent exchanges easier than ever. Through the NWA’s territory system, Farhat was able to travel all over the United States to work in many of the nation’s top promotions, expanding his reach as an in-demand artist and gaining experience working different styles with a wide variety of styles. opponents producing legendary rivalries with Bruno Sammartino in New York, Dory Funk in Texas, Billy Watson in Toronto and Freddie Blassie in California to name a few.

Since this book is as much a biography of The Sheik as it is a history of the Detroit Territory, you get the inside story of the battle between Lecht and upstarts Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle. Barnett and Doyle would eventually take control of the territory away from Lecht, but a scandal would soon take Barnett halfway around the world to Australia. This allowed Farhat to strike a deal with the couple and take over the territory for a whopping $50,000. Solomon goes on to explain how Farhat managed to be the exception to the rule in how heels were commonly presented in the 1950s and 1960s. Given that he was his own draw, Farhat would reserve on n’ any big star who would start to gain momentum in the territory, keeping all the heat and glory for himself. Unfortunately, this would lead to irreversible damage to both his brand as a performer and promoter on the road.

Although Sheik could have easily rested on his laurels and become a full-time promoter, the lure of the spotlight became too much as he would end up in Japan. Brought in by Giant Baba in 1973, Sheik would work for All Japan as a challenger for Baba’s Pacific Wrestling Championship. In the years that followed, Sheik worked in Japan’s Tag League teaming up with various partners, including Abdullah the Butcher. Abby and Sheik reportedly have an on-screen falling out that led to a match so violent it wouldn’t air on Japanese television.

As success increased in Japan, business dwindled in the United States. Many of Sheik’s poor business practices were beginning to catch up with him. A prolonged run to the top where he extinguished the accumulated heat of any other performer, coupled with his reluctance to lose and give up the top spot, would ultimately hurt attendance. He also did himself a disservice to other wrestlers by continuing to offer laughable payoffs leading to drying up the talent pool from which to book performers. Gallbladder surgery led to a growing addiction to painkillers that would spiral out of control toward harder drugs like cocaine and heroin. If that wasn’t enough, Sheik would find himself struggling with a gambling addiction that would wipe out his personal savings. Coupling drug addiction with declining business, Farhat would end up struggling much longer than necessary. Since he couldn’t do what he once could as a younger man, Farhat would rely on smoke and mirrors and ultra-violent matches replacing athletics, leading to close calls like the fire match without ropes and barbed wire mentioned earlier.

Author Brian Solomon notes that Farhat was known for keeping the true nature of the wrestling industry incredibly close to the vest. Much of what he said to others was in line with kayfabe, so it was sometimes difficult to know what was true and what was not true. Solomon also noted that while he hasn’t had much help from the Sheik’s immediate family, he goes to great lengths to explain how he came across certain information and where the waters were more or less. less muddy.

Like many biographies of those from that era, BLOOD AND FIRE chronicles both the kinds of crushing highs and lows that seemingly cannot go along with the world of wrestling. While many fans may only know The Sheik as the coach of Sabu and Rob Van Dam, he has his own fascinating story.

BLOOD & FIRE: The Incredible True Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik is available via ECW Press now.


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