Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik by Brian R Solomon

December 17, 2021

For an impossible task, this is an impressive effort.

Author Brian Solomon is open about the challenges of portraying a wrestler whose dedication to protecting his character alongside the secrets of the business was perhaps greater than any other. It’s possible that a Sheik who survived until the 2020s would have joined The Undertaker and Kendo Nagasaki in finally lifting the lid on his career, but the one who died in 2003 took his secrets to the grave.

In a similar way to how Pat Laprade and Bertrand Hebert acknowledged whenever they were uncertain if a story in their biography of Andre the Giant was a tall tale, Solomon is clear when he switches from documented facts to supposition in the absence of first-hand insight. He brings together historical records, archive interviews and contemporary quotes from the Sheik’s younger family members and wrestling associates.

This approach certainly does not detract from the story, covering Edward Farhat’s development of the Sheik character and taking over the Detroit territory, his run as arguably the biggest box-office draw in the country, the stunning collapse of the business, and his unlikely career revival in FMW.

It’s the type of account where it’s a net positive that you are left uncertain how to feel about Sheik as both a performer and a man, with the book covering both the strengths and weaknesses of both his personal and professional personas.

While sections of the book may feel a little samey, that’s partly because there’s fewer outlandish tales of outside-the-ring antics than some of Sheik’s contemporaries and partly because there’s not a great deal of variety to cover in his in-ring activity. That said, the section covering Detroit wrestling’s decline is jarring in a good way, conveying just how dramatically business collapsed and not trying to paint over Sheik’s own contribution through overexposure and protecting his spot.

It’s hard to think of many wrestling fans who wouldn’t find something of interest here, but for anyone with an affection for the territorial era or character work, it’s a must.

Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik will be released on 12 April, 2022.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a review copy.

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