AS I SEE IT - 1/28/2003:
Memories of a 'Madman'...
thoughts on The Sheik's passing

by: Bob Magee

I was 7 years old.

I had just moved 600 miles away from just about everything I ever knew, as my Dad's railroad job had moved from upstate New York to a suburb just outside of Detroit. All my relatives, all my friends, and pretty much everything I knew was back in upstate New York... and I had a new baby brother to boot.

My whole world was pretty much up in the air.

Then, one Saturday afternoon I turned on the TV set and saw something I'd never seen before... professional wrestling.

On CKLW Channel 9, from across the river in Windsor, Ontario... there was this bizarre looking character called The Sheik.

I didn't know what I was watching... but I was fascinated.

Back in that long-ago world of a seven year old, I didn't know what phrases like "kayfabe", "a work", or "workrate" meant, but I knew I'd seen something I liked.

Nearly forty years later, I guess you could say I was hooked for life.

Wrestling has been something that's gotten me through the bad times... has given me enjoyment during the good times...has given me friends that have lasted for many years...and it all started with seeing this "Madman" on a small black and white TV.

On January 18th, Edward Farhat...The Sheik...this legend from what seems like so long ago in my own life... died after a long illness, as his heart gave out at age 76 in Williamston, MI.

The Sheik was said to be "from a wealthy, aristocratic Middle Eastern family". He wore a kaffiyeh (Arabic head covering), and used his trademark jagged piece of wood to "cut his opponents". He also "threw fire" at his opponents, one more amazing trick for a seven-year old who'd never heard of flash paper.

The real life Edward Farhat was born in Lansing, MI, one of 10 children of Lebanese immigrants. After hiding his age of 17 in order to enlist during World War II, Farhat entered wrestling in 1950.

As even CNN recognized in reporting in Edward Farhat's death, few if any wrestlers are more responsible for creating the "hardcore" wrestling style.

Ed Farhat came to the Detroit territory as booker in 1963, and by 1965 had bought out owners Jerry Doyle and Jim Barnett to become owner of the Detroit territory, beginning one of the wildest territorial runs of the 1960s and 1970s.

The Sheik was involved in what was likely the most legendary feud of the 1960s with Bobo Brazil, a feud worked primarily in the Detroit territory, but also extending as far away as California in the late 1960s, and to Frank Tunney's Toronto territory all the way down to Texas in the late 1970s.

The Sheik partnered during much of that time with manager Abdullah Farouk, better known to those from the Northeast as The Grand Wizard.

The Sheik also worked a memorable series of matches in 1969 and 1970 in southern California with Fred Blassie, selling out the famous Olympic Auditorium. In later years, he was also managed by Eddy Creachman.

His other most legendary feud on and off over 30 years from the United States to Japan was with Abdullah The Butcher, who he also partnered with in All Japan.

The Detroit territory, operating as Big Time Wrestling/World Wide Sports, lasted as a major territory until October 1980, when the worsening economic climate in the Detroit area, as well as booking that kept the Sheik on top longer than many thought helpful, finally ended the promotion's run.

Even at the end of the Detroit territory's run, The Sheik helped create three superstars of the future, nephew Sabu, Rob Van Dam and Scott Steiner, and gave a chance to a wrestler later named Randy Savage.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, The Sheik spent time in Japan working for All Japan, a tenure that included several years in the Real World Tag League tournaments together with Abdullah The Butcher, and later working such names as Ricky Steamboat, Giant Baba, and Kintaro Oki. The Sheik won the NWA United National Heavyweight Title (now part of the All Japan Triple Crown) by defeating Seiji Sakaguchi on September 6, 1972 in Tokyo, Japan.

The Sheik returned again in the 1990s working Atsushi Onita's FMW promotion in programs with Atsushi Onita, Tarzan Goto and Tiger Jeet Singh, even working matches as the WWA World Martial Arts Heavyweight Title at age 66 in 1992. He also worked with his nephew who became known as one of the legends of the hardcore style, Sabu.

Part of The Sheik's charm to fans was his ability to stay in gimmick and protect his gimmick. Much like Abdullah The Butcher, he was said to be one of the few that even smart marks were afraid of. He held to the old kayfabe code and protected the business, staying in character nearly everywhere.

In one of the almost amusing touches to this protecting his gimmick even within the business, Farhat wouldn't even answer promoter phone calls to his home for "Ed"...not even for potential bookings. He would tell them "no Ed lives here".

Everywhere he was... The Sheik.

But in case this devotion to gimmick makes you think Edward Farhat didn't have a grip on real life, this story recalled by the Charleston Post and Courier's Mike Mooneyham might convince you otherwise:

Farhat was working Bobo Brazil down in Texas, realizing that in Texas (like everywhere else) they could draw good money with each other.

In a Texas arena, during those pre-civil rights era days, black fans were seated in a balcony behind chicken wire. Farhat got to the ring, and saw this seating setup. A very real-life Edward Farhat got very upset, and in full Sheik gimmick, he climbed up 15 feet and ripped down the wire.

He got back in the ring and locked up with a shocked Brazil, who asked Farhat, "What the hell did you do?" Sheik told Brazil that the local promoters were racist @$#$@$#s, and to hell with them. So the "hated enemies" were in a clinch in the corner laughing at what a real-life Edward Farhat had done, and could get away with in the segregated South...simply because he did it as "The Sheik.

A number of mainstream outlets picked up the story of Edward Farhat's passing. Associated Press ran the news across the country. CNN reported him as a "pioneer of hardcore wrestling" on their news ticker. The New York Times ran a detailed and well-written obituary. Even an episode of ESPN's Pardon The Interruption gave Farhat a "Happy Trails" shout-out.

But in his own business... a business that seems to feel more and more obligated to forget its history, it was a mixed bag in terms of those within wrestling remembering him officially.

WWE couldn't be bothered to remember The Sheik on TV (one of the columnists on their website did finally mention him later on in the week...as "The Original Hardcore Legend").

CZW, one of the promotions that certainly owes its "ultraviolent" roots to The Sheik, didn't do a ten-bell count for him, apparently preoccupied with opening their new venue in Philadelphia. Across town that night, XPW did remember him with a ten-bell count prior to their show.

Mike Tenay also remembered to mention The Sheik's passing on the January 22nd NWA-TNA PPV.

This weekend, IWA Mid-South Wrestling remembered him at their 300th show, as did Jersey All Pro Wrestling at their Saturday matinee show Saturday in Bayonne, NJ.

Those promotions and many more should have taken the time to honor this colorful figure, without whom they might not be holding their kinds of wrestling shows at all.

As for the business Edward Farhat gave so much to, one of its longtime publications, The Ring Chronicle, summarized his contribution to wrestling this way:

"...During his 30 years in pro wrestling, The Sheik not only created a character that was emulated many times over, but also set a standard of violence and mayhem inside the ring that few have ever been able to match. Were it not for him, today's 'hardcore' stars like Mick Foley, The Sandman, Sabu, Raven and Tommy Dreamer would likely be wrestling a very different style. Additionally, the 'sport' itself would surely have a much different look to it, had it not been for The Sheik. As a result, he will forever go down in history as one of the most important wrestling figures of the late 20th century."

But one little seven year old boy turned 45 year old man, remembers him simply as the mysterious figure who turned him on to an artform he enjoys to this very day.

Edward Farhat is survived by wife Joyce, sister Eva Brunk, brother Moses Farhat, sons Edward and Thomas, and four grandchildren.

If any of you would like to send cards of condolence to the Farhat family, send them to Joyce Farhat c/o Big Time Wrestling, P.O. Box 123, Williamston, MI 48895-0123.

Until next time...

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(If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at bobmagee1@hotmail.com)