The Iron Sheik’s Persian Club Challenge

Wrestling has always held a special place in my heart. Thanks to my grandparent’s old VHS collection, I grew up with the WWF and later the WCW firmly moulding my impressionable mind. Like countless others I was a ‘Hulkamanic’ growing up but I was always fascinated by the Iron Sheik.

Known for kickstarting Hulk Hogan’s meteoritic rise to fame in the 1980s, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri or the Iron Sheik, was an incredible wrestler in his own right. Aside from having possibly the best heel personality for his time (although fans of Nikolai Volkoff may disagree), the Sheik also held the distinction of being a champion Olympic weightlifter. Trained, in part, in the Persian wrestler tradition, which I have yet to cover, the Sheik really was a specimen of an athlete.

Like many other wrestlers in the 1980s, the Sheik created his own strength challenge for other wrestlers to try their hands at. It was here where the Sheik really caught my young attention. Unlike other wrestlers who used the bench press or some form of callisthenics, the Sheik came to the ring with 75 pound Persian meels. The challenge itself was simple. If anyone could swing the meels for as many reps as the Sheik, they would win $2000.

Now oftentimes the challenge descended into a farce as the Sheik would attack the challenger long before they could win. The above video is evidence of that. Nevertheless the Sheik was influential in popularising the meels to Western minds and, in my own life, encouraged me to take up Indian club swinging. I doubt I’ll ever match the Sheik’s reps so in that sense, he managed to humble me without putting me in the camel claw.

As always … happy lifting!

10 thoughts on “The Iron Sheik’s Persian Club Challenge

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  1. Hello Connor, I have an article I wrote in a forum, it’s about female bodybuilding. Could you share it on your blog?.

    Short history of female muscle

    We are going to review the history, the rise, the rejection, the decline and the resurgence of the female muscle. This will be a master of sociology and history of physical culture, let’s begin.

    In ancient Greek culture, when the cult of the body develops, the sculptures that show muscular anatomy were about men and only men competed in Olympic sports.

    In the 19th century, with the arrival of the Renaissance, new sports for men appear, but they are sports for gays as soccer or maraton, strength and muscle are not considered something valuable, that’s why the strongmans have to work in the circus.

    These big men are engaged in feats of strength, a century later they will no longer be exposed in the circus, now they more respect.

    Meanwhile, the first bodybuilders appear who are not interested in demonstrating their strenght, they want to do muscular poses similar to those of the status of Greece and Rome. Bodybuilders innovate, create new training methods, invent new poses, experiment with different diet approaches, supplementation and drugs. The scientific method becomes essential.

    A few decades later, we have many bodybuilding competitions worldwide, weightlifting is in the Olympic Games, powerlifting begins to develop as a new sport.

    We reach the key point of our history.

    In the 70s and 80s, women began lifting weights and the first bodybuilding contests appear. Never in the history of mankind had a woman developed muscle to expose it through poses on stage. This is a revolutionary fact that will change broad spectra of Western culture.

    If muscular mens are rejected by society in general, muscled women have it much worse, because they have to fight against the stereotypes and sexual roles that have remained for millennia. Therefore, when bodybuilders begin to get bigger and harder, federations and companies reject this image and decide to introduce new divisions with softer women who dont show their muscles with the characteristic poses. Its the arrival of fitness models that compete in beauty contests, get magazine covers and contracts with companies of industry.

    Olympia and Arnold eliminate female bodybuilding, all federations have bikini and very few have womens physique, nobody wants extreme female muscle, only the IFBB Pro League maintains the division of female bodybuilding. Many believed it was the end, but something is changing, the ideal of the thin and weak woman is no longer cool, women no longer do aerobic shits, now they want to lift weights, we have the strongwoman competitions, instagram is filled with hoes with biceps, abds and hard buttocks, women want to feel and looking strong, powerlifting meetings have more and more females.

    El mié., 11 dic. 2019 a las 17:42, Physical Culture Study () escribió:

    > Conor Heffernan posted: “ > Wrestling has always held a special place in my heart. Thanks to my > grandparent’s old VHS collection, I grew up with the WWF and later the WCW > firmly moulding my impressionable mind. Like countless others I was” >

  2. Hello Conor,

    Just yesterday, I got a pair of mugdars from India. Their weight is 5kg (apiece), height: 29 inches, diameter at base, 5 inches. Yes, they look smaller than the Iron Sheik’s meels, but not that radically smaller, certainly not one-seventh the size. The Sheik’s meels are definitely not 35 inches in diameter at the base! I am left wondering whether the 75-pound (individual) weight of the meels wasn’t just “kayfabe.” as they say in pro wrestling. You certainly have much more experience around Indian clubs (in the wide sense) than I do. I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts…as I always do!

    1. Oh I am very interested in this! Awesome, where did you pick them up and, more importantly, how have you found swinging them?

      On the Sheik, without a doubt I’d imagine it was kayfabe. I’ve always been skeptical ever since Dino Bravo’s ‘world record’ bench press at a WWF event

  3. Hello again, Conor,
    For whatever reason, my reply to your queries never got posted. I got the mugdars from Swapnil Dangarikar, who runs an operation called The Great Indian Workout based in Nasik, India. His prices are very reasonable, but shipping runs up costs greatly. The quality of the mugdars was very satisfactory, packaging meticulous and thorough, and one I weighed last night was spot-on for weight. As to swinging, there’s big difference between these and my 3kg Indian clubs–wa-a-ay more challenging! I hadn’t realized there was such a disparity between my right and left sides. However, if I could have swung the mugdars with ease, I’d have felt I’d wasted my money. Exercise should be challenging, as I’m sure you would agree.

    1. That’s what I found when I shipped clubs from India to the United States – that being said I wouldn’t be without mine. What do you find the most challenging? For me it wasn’t the weight (well not all the weight) but just the constant changing dynamics as it swung around!

  4. Thanks for getting back to me on this, Conor. “Constant changing dynamics” seems to be a good way to characterize the challenge. A few years ago, I tried a pair of 10-pound steel clubbells at a gym and ran through a sequence of Indian club drills with them. If memory serves, they seemed far less challenging than the 11-pound mugdars. I presume the balance and leverage of the latter are what makes them so challenging. The thought occurs to me that a factor in the displacement of clubs by free weights is that the latter make bragging much easier. Most people are going to be much more impressed if you tell them, “I pressed a pair of 100-pound dumbbells for three reps today,” than if you tell them, “I performed a full club swinging routine with a pair of 35-pounders,” even though the latter is surely the more impressive feat.

    You will be the best man to answer this question: Professor Harrison’s full name? Most articles simply refer to him as “Professor Harrison.” However one online source calls him “Professor James Harrison.” Long after I referred to him as that in an article on the Set for Set blog, a woman claiming to be the professor’s great-great granddaughter posted that his name was properly “Thomas Henry Harrison.” She said she had seen this mistake in a book by one “Ann Libourel,” whoever she may be. “Libourel” is a rare surname, and it would be a strange coincidence if there were two of us writing about such a relatively arcane topic. The only book I ever generated was one on defensive handguns, now hopelessly out of date!

    1. Hey Jan,

      Apologies for my late reply on this – long story! But thankfully I’m back now and currently working on some new articles to upload here. That’s awesome you’re really getting into the swing of things – pun intended. That would certainly square with my own experience with the clubs. On the DBs v. ICs split you are right – so few gyms have mugdars or heavy clubs that people have no frame of reference whatsoever.

      Henry Thomas Harrison was his full name although like you I have seen it listed as James elsewhere. His father was John which may explain the confusion. Funnily yes Ann is his descendant! She actually helped a friend some years back to fill out his bio. I’m (hopefully) submitting a manuscript on club swingin’s history this year so watch this space as there’s an entire chapter on Harrison! Is there a link to your Set for Set piece? Would love to read it!

  5. Dear Conor,
    My deepest apologies for having let months elapse before replying to this! What led me to return to this thread was that I recently learned that in Iranian physical culture, the weight of meels is always given for the pair, unlike in India or the West, where the weight is for single clubs. Thus, when asked what his meels weighed, the Sheik may have truthfully answered “75 pounds,” meaning that that was the weight for the pair, which sounds about right. Thus, the figure may not have been “kayfabe,” just a cultural misunderstanding. You will recall that Professor Harrison used 37-pound mugdars for his displays of strength.

    I fear I am so computer illiterate I have never learned how to post a link. Moreover, Set for Set have so reorganized their blog that even I can’t find the article myself. If you care to e-mail me, I’ll be delighted to send you the text. Much of it will be be very familiar since your blog and other researches were major sources for my humble production. Please keep up the good work!

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