GUEST AUTHOR: “After Addiction and Tragedy, the Iron Sheik Gets Back Up Off the Mat” by Keith Elliot Greenberg

Iron Sheik 2Editor’s note: This column originally appeared on and was written by Keith Elliot Greenberg.

At the lowest point in his life, the wrestler popularly known as The Iron Sheik tucked a razor blade into his cheek and walked into a Jonesboro, Ga., courtroom.

He was going to cut a man’s throat, and he had good reason to do so.

From the gallery, the Sheik—the real-life Hossein Khosrow Vaziri—narrowed his eyes and contemplated 38-year-old Charles Warren Reynolds, rising nervously from the defendant’s table. When the judge asked him to address the court, Reynolds broke into tears and apologized for the murder of the Sheik’s 27-year-old daughter, Marissa.

With their mixed Iranian, German and Scandinavian ancestry, Marissa and her sisters, Tanya and Nikki, were striking. But The Sheik had also raised his daughters to be tough. In their Fayetteville, Ga. home, outside Atlanta, the Vaziri girls, along with a group of other kids from the neighborhood, endured a rigorous regimen of calisthenics and exercise.

As their father, a one-time World Wrestling Federation (currently World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE) champion, stood over them, the sisters would lock up, push and pull on one another and go for single- and double-leg takedowns, the way The Sheik did when he trained in his native Iran.

“We do Greco Roman, freestyle,” he says of the wrestling practiced in the family’s leaving room. “The Old Country way. No gimmick wrestling in my house.”

He also told his daughters that he’d always be there to protect them.

But on May 3, 2003, as The Sheik recovered from knee replacement surgery, Marissa was partying in the apartment she shared with Reynolds. They argued slightly, but not to the degree that any of their guests were alarmed. When everyone left, Reynolds strangled Marissa, then pulled the blanket up to her chin, like she was asleep.

“She’s such a good girl,” Reynolds would tell police, “but she wouldn’t calm down.”

In court, the Sheik’s Minnesota-born wife, Caryl, warned the rest of the family about her husband’s homicidal intentions. Despite his recent surgery, The Sheik was strong and skilled enough to barrel through a court officer or two, spit out the blade and draw some blood.

So the entire clan surrounded the former bodyguard for the Shah of Iran, boxing him in near the wall, and refused to allow him to carry out his plan.

“You can’t kill him ‘cause they’ll put you in prison,” Tanya whispered. “I lost my sister and I don’t want to lose my father.”

Apparently touched by the words, The Sheik maintained his composure. And, as a tribute to Marissa, he made a pledge that he hoped would strengthen the family. He was going to quit drugs, particularly crack, a vice that gripped him as his professional wrestling career waned, along with his funds.

“The drug thing was so embarrassing,” says Tanya, “especially to someone who was an extreme athlete most of his life.”

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