The Sheik (wrestler)

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The Sheik
Farhat, circa 1973
Birth nameEdward George Farhat
Born(1926-06-07)June 7, 1926
Lansing, Michigan, U.S.
DiedJanuary 18, 2003(2003-01-18) (aged 76)
Williamston, Michigan, U.S.
Cause of deathHeart failure
FamilySabu (nephew)
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s)Eddie Farhat
The Arabian Sheik
The Original Sheik
The Sheik
The Sheik of Araby
Billed height5 ft 11 in (180 cm)[1]
Billed weight250 lb (113 kg)[1]
Billed from"The Syrian Desert"
Debut1947
RetiredMay 5, 1995
(final match)
December 11, 1998
(retirement ceremony)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1944–1946
Battles/warsWorld War II

Edward George Farhat (June 7, 1926 – January 18, 2003) was an American professional wrestler, better known by his ring name The Sheik (often called The Original Sheik to distinguish him from The Iron Sheik, who debuted in 1972). In wrestling, Farhat is credited as one of the originators of the hardcore style. In addition to his in-ring career, he was also the promoter of Big Time Wrestling, which promoted shows at Cobo Hall in Detroit until the 1980s, and was the booker for Frank Tunney's shows at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto from 1971 to 1977.[1]

Farhat is the uncle of Extreme Championship Wrestling alumnus Sabu, who he also trained.

Early life[edit]

Edward George Farhat was born on June 7, 1926, to a Lebanese family in Lansing, Michigan. He was one of eleven children;[2] unlike most of his older brothers, Edward did not attend college, though some sources erroneously report that he did. The confusion is likely the result of his similarly named older brother Edmund having attended college. Edward quit school in the eighth grade and worked odd jobs during the Great Depression.

During World War II, he falsified his records in an unsuccessful attempt to join the United States Army, likely using his older brother Edmund's birth certificate. Edward would eventually be drafted in 1944, serving during World War II. He was honorably discharged in 1946 after 18 months of service.[3]

Despite portraying an Arab Muslim in professional wrestling, Farhat was a Maronite Catholic.[4][5]

Professional wrestling career[edit]

Early career and cementing The Sheik gimmick (1947–1965)[edit]

After completing his service in the U.S. Army, Farhat competed in his first professional wrestling match in January 1947, wrestling as the clean-cut babyface "Eddie Farhat". Within a few years of his debut, Farhat would develop his "Sheik" gimmick, under which he would gain international fame. Farhat first started wrestling as The Sheik of Araby in the Chicago area, with the gimmick initially being that of a privileged son of a wealthy, aristocratic Middle Eastern family.[6] As the Sheik of Araby, Farhat formed a tag team with Gypsy Joe, with the duo capturing the NWA Midwestern Tag Team Championship in 1954,[7][8] before eventually moving to Texas. During this period, The Sheik received the biggest match of his career up to that point, when he was booked to face NWA World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz in Chicago for his title. Thesz, regarded in wrestling as a legitimate shooter, had a reputation for embarrassing "gimmick wrestlers" so The Sheik left the ring during the course of the match and hid under a bus in the parking lot. The incident received much coverage in local media and helped to push The Sheik character to a more prominent level.[2] Following the incident, The Sheik began wrestling in New York for Vincent J. McMahon at Madison Square Garden where he teamed with Dick The Bruiser and Bull Curry in feuds against Mark Lewin and Don Curtis as well as the team of Antonino Rocca and Miguel Pérez. On August 18, 1961, The Sheik was notably defeated by Buddy Rogers in a 2-out-of-3 falls match at the Cincinnati Gardens.[9]

By the early 1960s, The Sheik's wrestling was centered on his character of an Arab wild man from Syria. Clad with his keffiyeh, before each match, he would use stalling tactics as he would kneel on a prayer rug to perform an Islamic prayer to Allah (in real life Farhat was a Maronite Christian).[10] He would lock on choke holds and refuse to break them, and use a camel clutch hold leading to submission victories. The hold would have him sit over his opponent's back as he applied a chinlock.[2] He used hidden pencils[10] and other "foreign objects" to cut open his opponent's faces.[11] Often, the tactic backfired and the opponent got hold of The Sheik's pencil, leading to the extensive blade scars on Farhat's forehead.[10] Sheik's other signature illegal move was his fireball that he threw into his opponents' faces, sometimes burning their faces severely.[11] The fireball move was performed through the use of lighter fluid soaked pieces of paper which he quickly lit with a cigarette lighter hidden in his trunks.[11] The Sheik didn't speak on camera, apart from incomprehensible mutterings and pseudo-Arabic.[11] At the start of his career, his wife Joyce played the part of his valet Princess Saleema who would burn incense in the ring. He had three different male managers during his career to cut promos on his behalf. His first manager was Abdullah Farouk but when Farouk moved full-time to the World Wide Wrestling Federation, Eddy Creatchman became his manager.[12] When Creatchman was unable to work with him later in his career, The Sheik was managed by Supermouth Dave Drason, his final manager.[11]

World Wide Wrestling Federation (1965–1972)[edit]

Farhat, circa 1973

In 1965, The Sheik made his return to the New York City area, competing for the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). On September 25, 1967, he wrestled former world champion Édouard Carpentier to a 20-minute draw. In 1968, he was back brought into the WWWF for title matches with then-WWWF World Heavyweight champion Bruno Sammartino.[11] They met three times in Madison Square Garden — Sheik won the first match via count out on October 28, he lost via disqualification in the second match on November 18, and he lost to Sammartino in a Texas Death Match via submission on December 9, when Bruno grabbed a pen and attacked Sheik's arm until it was bloody. Sammartino and Sheik also had a series of matches in Boston in January and February 1969, including one on a sold-out event the day after a major snow storm; public transportation had yet to be restored in the Boston area but the event still sold-out. The two would later fight in three steel cage matches, one in Philadelphia and two in Boston.[11] On November 18, 1972, The Sheik competed in his final match for the WWWF, losing to WWWF Champion Pedro Morales by count out at Boston Garden.

Feud with Bobo Brazil; Canada and Japan (1960s–1980s)[edit]

The Sheik's biggest feud was his nearly career-long conflict with Bobo Brazil, beginning in The Sheik's own Big Time Wrestling promotion in Detroit before expanding throughout the country.[1] The two feuded over Sheik's version of the United States Championship, frequently selling out Cobo Hall.[1] The feud was briefly covered in the wrestling mockumentary movie, I Like to Hurt People.[6] Following their success at Cobo Hall, the two took the feud to several markets, most notably Memphis, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California.[2] His other major opponent in Los Angeles was Fred Blassie.[12] Sheik and Blassie faced off several times, including cage matches in the Grand Olympic Auditorium.[11] In 1967, The Sheik was wrestling a match in Texas when a fan pulled a gun and tried to shoot him three times. Fortunately, the gun didn't go off and the fan was arrested; the gun later fired when police tested it at a shooting range.[2]

Starting in 1969, The Sheik began wrestling regularly in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where he was undefeated for 127 matches at Maple Leaf Gardens. He defeated the likes of Whipper Billy Watson, Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Bruno Sammartino, Édouard Carpentier, Ernie Ladd, Chief Jay Strongbow, Tiger Jeet Singh, Johnny Valentine, and even André the Giant during Andre's first extensive tour of North America in 1974.[6] It was Andre who put an end to The Sheik's Toronto winning streak in August 1974 by disqualification. In 1976, he lost by pinfall to Thunderbolt Patterson and Bobo Brazil. Sheik continued to headline most shows in Toronto until 1977, but business dropped off significantly over the last three years of his tenure as headliner. In addition to wrestling in Toronto, The Sheik was the area's booker; due to the wrestling tradition of kayfabe, few fans were aware of the fact that he was actually the booker of Frank Tunney's Toronto promotion — a position he acquired following the retirement of Whipper Billy Watson in 1971. As business in Toronto failed, he began working for independent promoter Dave McKigney elsewhere in Ontario.[13]

In 1972, The Sheik ventured to Japan for the first time, competing for the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (JWA). His JWA run was successful, but the promotion was struggling financially, so when the company went bankrupt, Sheik jumped to Giant Baba's All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). He then jumped a year later to Antonio Inoki's New Japan Pro-Wrestling, but had a falling out with Inoki due to having to leave a Japanese tour early to deal with a "coup attempt" in his Big Time Wrestling promotion. He returned to AJPW in 1977, teaming, and then feuding, with Abdullah the Butcher.[12][6] His match with Abdullah the Butcher against Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk where Terry fought off Abdullah and The Sheik with his arm in a sling is credited for turning the foreign Funks into faces in Japan.[2] In Japan, he would also team with Baba, Ricky Steamboat, and Kintarō Ōki.[12]

The Sheik's Japanese feud with Abdullah would later extend to the United States. A match between the two in Birmingham, Alabama, saw them brawl outside of the Boutwell Auditorium, where they held up traffic until the police broke it up.[10] The match was described by observers as "just classic, bloody mayhem.”[10]

Later career (1980–1998)[edit]

In 1980, The Sheik's Detroit-based Big Time Wrestling promotion ceased operations. Sheik then wrestled for various independent promotions throughout the United States and overseas.

From 1991 to 1995, he mainly wrestled in Japan, alongside his nephew Sabu, for Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW).[6] FMW utilized the hardcore wrestling style that The Sheik had innovated and in FMW, he participated in various dangerous death matches.[6] On May 6, 1992, The Sheik wrestled in a Fire Death Match with Sabu against Atsushi Onita and Tarzan Goto, where the ring ropes were replaced with flaming barbed wire. During the match, Sheik suffered third-degree burns and went into a coma, nearly dying.[2] In 1994, he had a brief run in Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW), notably teaming with Pat Tanaka to defeat Kevin Sullivan and The Tazmaniac at The Night the Line Was Crossed.[14] On May 5, 1995, at the FMW 6th Anniversary Show, The Sheik defeated Damián 666 in front of 58,250 fans; this ended up being his last match. Following the match, he suffered his first heart attack while attempting to board a taxi.

When Sabu joined World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1995, The Sheik accompanied him as his manager.[9] During Sabu's match with Mr. JL at Halloween Havoc, The Sheik's leg was broken by the wrestlers during a spot he was previously unaware of, forcing him to finally leave the wrestling business. On December 11, 1998, the night before the ECW/FMW Supershow, Atsushi Onita held a retirement ceremony for The Sheik in Korakuen Hall, during which The Sheik, in his final public appearance, officially retired from professional wrestling at age 72.[2]

Death[edit]

Farhat died of heart failure around 3:15 a.m. at a hospital near his Williamston, Michigan, home on January 18, 2003, having been admitted to that hospital earlier in the year due to an illness.[12] He was 76 years old and, at the time of his death, was in the midst of writing his autobiography.[9] Several publications, including The New York Times, erroneously reported that Farhat was 78 years old at the time of his passing.[13] He is buried at the Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Williamston.[2]

Legacy[edit]

Farhat, circa 1972

During the course of his in-ring career, The Sheik was seen as one of professional wrestling's biggest box office attractions.[2][6][9] He later became regarded as a pioneer of hardcore wrestling, a style which became a major part of mainstream American professional wrestling in the 1990s.[2][6][9] On March 31, 2007, The Sheik was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by his nephew, Sabu, and Rob Van Dam, who he had trained.[15] He is also credited with training Scott Steiner[11] and independent wrestler "Machine Gun" Mike Kelly, among other students.[6] Most notably, he and Freddie Blassie trained boxer Muhammad Ali before Ali's famous 1976 "boxer vs wrestler match" with Antonio Inoki in Tokyo.[16]

As a promoter, Farhat developed a reputation for short-changing wrestlers and employees on pay. However, he would additionally become known as a benefactor to friends in need; according to Harley Race, after his wife died in an automobile accident and he was forced to take time off early in his career, The Sheik mailed him a check every week for a year until he could return to work.[2]

His wife, and former valet, Joyce, died on November 27, 2013, in Michigan, after being ill for some time.[17] She is buried with her husband at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Williamston, Michigan.[2] He was also the uncle of Michael Farhat, who wrestled as "Mike Thomas" in Detroit. Thomas died in 1978 at age 27.[17] The Sheik's son Tom died on October 2, 2020, from kidney cancer at 57,[17] and his eldest son Ed Farhat Jr. — who wrestled under the ring name "Captain Ed George" — died from complications of COVID-19 on March 22, 2021, at the age of 70.[18]

In his later years, Farhat provided extensive interviews to a biographer with the intent of publishing a book on his life. These interviews provided a detailed non-kayfabe look into his career and character, which he previously took great effort in concealing from the public. Farhat had previously had a reputation for "living his gimmick"; he didn't answer promoter phone calls for "Ed", not even for potential bookings, telling the promoters "no Ed lives here".[12] After his death, the interviews and draft of the book were sealed. A book about Farhat's life and career, titled Blood and Fire, was later released in April 2022 by ECW Press. Blood and Fire won the 2022 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Pro Wrestling Book award.

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Shields, Brian; Sullivan, Kevin (2009). WWE Encyclopedia. DK. p. 275. ISBN 978-0-7566-4190-0.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Mooneyham, Mike (July 18, 2020). "Remembering the Past - The Sheik set a tone for mat mayhem". The Post and Courier. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  3. ^ "'The Sheik' Was a WWII Army Veteran Who Revolutionized Pro Wrestling".
  4. ^ R. Solomon, Brian (12 April 2022). Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik. ECW Press. p. 6. ISBN 9781770415805. Although he is indeed of Middle Eastern descent, Ed Farhat was born and bred in the good old United States—just about ninety miles west of where they are standing now, in fact. The son of Lebanese immigrants, he was raised not as a Muslim, but as a Catholic, and the only language he speaks fluently is English.
  5. ^ R. Solomon, Brian (12 April 2022). Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik. ECW Press. p. 37. ISBN 9781770415805. Of course, Farhat was not Muslim but Catholic—however, in the fictionalized world of professional wrestling, that mattered little. It was the stereotype, the cultural archetype, that mattered.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Von Slagle, Stephen (March 4, 2020). "The Sheik". History of Wrestling. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c Duncan, Royal; Will, Gary (2000). "Ohio & Upstate New York: NWA World Tag Team Title [George & Bruins]". Wrestling title histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  8. ^ a b c "NWA World Tag Team Title [Ohio / Northern New York]". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "Original Sheik profile". Online World of Wrestling. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d e Shoemaker, David (April 18, 2014). "Detroit Wrestling: There Will Be Blood". Grantland. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Sheik bio". WWE. Retrieved May 25, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Magee, Bob (January 28, 2003). "AS I SEE IT - 1/28/2003: Memories of a 'Madman'... thoughts on The Sheik's passing". Pro Wrestling Between The Sheets. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  13. ^ a b Kaufman, Michael (2003-01-26). "Edward Farhat, 78, Dies; 'The Sheik' of Pro Wrestling". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  14. ^ Kreikenbohm, Philip. "The Night The Line Was Crossed results". Cagematch. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  15. ^ a b "WWE Hall of Fame 2007". The History of WWE. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  16. ^ Getlen, Larry (June 19, 2016). "Inside the bizarre fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki". New York Post. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  17. ^ a b c Oliver, Greg (October 2, 2020). "Tom Farhat, The Sheik's youngest son, dies". Slam! Wrestling. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  18. ^ Bujan, Mark (March 22, 2021). "Sheik's son, Captain Ed George, dead at age 71". Slam! Wrestling. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  19. ^ Real World Tag League 1978 at purolove.com retrieved on October 6, 2018
  20. ^ Real World Tag League 1981 at purolove.com retrieve on October 6, 2018
  21. ^ "FMW results - January 18, 1993". Cagematch. Retrieved 2017-12-10.
  22. ^ Kreikenbohm, Philip. "GLWA results". Cagematch. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  23. ^ Kreikenbohm, Philip. "International City Tag Team Championship". Cagematch. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  24. ^ "Lawler, McMahon, Road Warriors among PWHF Class of 2011". Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. 2010-11-26. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
  25. ^ Kreikenbohm, Philip. "NWA Western States Heavyweight Championship". Cagematch. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  26. ^ Kreikenbohm, Philip. "WCWA Brass Knuckles Championship". Cagematch. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  27. ^ *Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal (2000). "Texas: NWA Texas Heavyweight Title [Von Erich]". Wrestling Title Histories: professional wrestling champions around the world from the 19th century to the present. Pennsylvania: Archeus Communications. pp. 268–269. ISBN 0-9698161-5-4.
  28. ^ "NWA Texas Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  29. ^ Kreikenbohm, Philip. "Big Time Wrestling results". Cagematch. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  30. ^ Saalbach, Axel. "Midwest Heavyweight Title". Wrestlingdata.com – The World's Largest Wrestling Database. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  31. ^ "Southern Heavyweight Title [Louisiana & Mississippi]". Wrestling-Titles. Retrieved February 21, 2017.

Sources[edit]

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