2 min read

Day 7: Before the Iron Sheik

Day 7: Before the Iron Sheik
Dan Chandler, today

Minneapolis, MN (Population: 424,536)/Hennepin County (2020 Election Results: +43 Biden)

Miles Driven: 74.78 (2,105.88 total)/Top Speed: 70 mph/Cups of Coffee: 2 (17 total)/Lowest Gas Price: $4.57 (new low!)/Number of States Visited: 7

Lodging: Some dude's house (Air BnB) (to be fair, I don't think it's fair to compare this suburban house with an overgrown backyard lawn to the Thunderbird Inn et al., so I won't be rating).

One of the goals of The Six Pack, perhaps the primary goal, is to separate myth from reality in professional wrestling, to find truth in an industry built on illusion. This is no small task when the people who called this their livelihood spent a lifetime guarding its secrets.

While wrestling is now out in the open as entertainment (I refuse to use the word "fake," because to me it is insulting to an industry that is all too real), up until 1988, promoters insisted that their shows were legitimate athletic contests. Indeed they were regulated by state athletic commissions (and in some cases still are, which baffles me).

So the Iron Sheik, whose real name is Khosrow Vaziri and who portrayed an Ayatollah-loving heel at the height of the Iranian Hostage Crisis, found himself the subject of death threats from crazed (and xenophobic) fans who thought he really was an evil terrorist.

But before he was the Iron Sheik, he was just Khosrow, an amateur wrestler and former bodyguard of the shah who defected to the U.S. in 1969 after one of his best friends was murdered by the shah's secret police. I've always wondered how a guy who didn't speak a word of English ended up as one of the assistant coaches for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team by 1972, and today in a tony suburb of Minneapolis, I started to get some answers.

Dan Chandler, a giant in amateur wrestling, is only about 5'10" with a wiry frame at age 70. I found him on his front porch on a beautiful June morning, the Saturday Star-Tribune splayed out on the table in front of him.

Chandler has coached the American Olympic team for decades after competing in three Olympics himself, and only recently retired (although he still has his hands in the game). His ears tell the story, cauliflower masses obscuring much of the opening to his ear canals. He is soft-spoken with an easy handshake, but another gear lies below the surface, peeking out with the right topic of conversation.

Dan Chandler, then

Before he was the master, he was the student, and one of his mentors was a freshly-arrived Khosrow Vaziri. Chandler provided some of the pieces of the puzzle in Vaziri's story. Over the years, I had heard different versions of how Vaziri had known to come to Minneapolis when he bought that one-way ticket out of Tehran in 1969--that he had met Minnesota Wrestling Club head coach Alan Rice at an international tournament in Bulgaria, for example.

But the truth lies with a name I had never heard before: Rasoul Mir Malek, another Iranian wrestler who was instrumental in helping his colleagues flee the tyrannical grip of the shah. Accoding to Chandler, he's still alive, and lives in my town of Oakland, CA. The breadcrumbs lead back home.