Every now and then, I get asked to review books on professional wrestling. Now whether one considers it "sport" or "entertainment" can be up for debate, but there is no debate when I am asked - I always enjoy reading about the industry. This is another good book on a legend in the business, the Sheik. Here is my review of "Blood and Fire."
Title/Author: “Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik” by Brian R. Solomon
Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)
Review: In the heyday of televised professional wrestling in the 1950s and 1960s, one of the biggest draws was in the Detroit territory was the Sheik whose real life name was Ed Farhat. His outlandish and brutal wrestling style combined with his promotional company Big Time Wrestling made him a huge success in Detroit as well as a few other territories. This book by Brian R. Solomon tells of the Sheik’s interest in wrestling, his rise to success and his ultimate downfall. It should be noted early that this Sheik is not to be confused with the Iron Sheik who was part of the rise in popularity of WWF (now WWE) entertainment in the 1980’s.
The book is not only a well-researched and well documented description of the Sheik’s life both in an out of the ring, but it is a nice illustration of the wrestling industry at the time territorial companies were ruling the day. Stories of how the Sheik would pilfer talent from other well-known wrestlers who were running their own organizations such as Dick “The Bruiser” (who was Farhat’s main competition in Detroit) and Vern Gagne whose AWA enterprise was also enjoying success in the Midwest. This was my favorite part of the book as a reader will learn much about the business in those days before the bigger corporate entities like today’s WWE became the only show in town.
The Sheik’s wrestling style is also well chronicled, as he was one of the first wrestlers to use outlandish tricks and special effects. His fireballs became as much of a trademark as his pointed boots. While this was proving to be very successful for Farhat on his way to the top, it also contributed to his downfall. Between his refusal to allow any other wrestler, heel or babyface, to defeat him in his matches, much of the talent he sought to keep ended up going to other territories or eventually signed with WWE or their main competition in the 1980’s and 1990’s, WCW. It led to the demise of Big Time Wrestling in the US, but the Sheik was able to become a draw for a few years in Japan. Of note, Farhat was one of the managers for Antonio Inoki when he had his infamous wrestler-boxer match against Muhammad Ali in 1976.
Farhat’s personal life is not forgotten in the book, as his marriage to his wife Joyce had a lot of turbulence but stayed intact for 42 years. His many trips to Japan, infidelity and substance abuse led to many of these issues. It was nice to see, however, that he was able to have a positive accomplishment near the end of his involvement with wrestling when he was trained two successful wrestlers in the ECW company (that eventually was bought out by WWE) – Sabo (who was his nephew) and Rob Van Dam. He eventually succumbed to cancer in 2003 and while at first he was shunned by most in the industry, WWE gave him a fitting and well deserved place in their Hall of Fame.
A complete book on the life and career of one of the most successful wrestlers and promoters during the territorial era, this is a book that any wrestling fan should read, whether a fan of that era, during the boom in the 1980’s when wrestling became a part of pop culture, or even the current version which bears some resemblance to the Sheik’s more outlandish schemes.
I wish to thank ECW Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.