Cover Image: Blood and Fire

Blood and Fire

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Admittedly, it's a bit odd to see a biography of a professional wrestler on this site. That "activity" is something of a combination of sports and entertainment, and the former is more important than the latter.

For an explanation, let me go back to 1970. I had just moved to the Buffalo area as a teen, and pro wrestling was shown weekly on television. I enjoyed the action and the story lines, mostly because of the campy approach. My friends and I even went to a few matches. We may have been laughing at them or with them in a given moment, but our money went into their cash registers all the same.

Meanwhile, up iu Toronto, "The Sheik" was holding court at Maple Leaf Gardens on many a Sunday night. Television station CFTO had the longest sportscasts in history back then, and sometimes would run film of the entire main event of the wrestling card. That was great exposure for the business and the Sheik, who would somehow figure out a way to avoid losing, match after match. He might have come to Buffalo for the odd match, but I'm not sure if I saw him live.

Therefore, the chance to read "Blood and Fire" - a biography of the fabled villain - was too good to pass up. What was the story on that guy who usually wound up bleeding all over everything but still managed to avoid losing by a pin? Brian R. Solomon, who has worked for several wrestling organizations over the years, has some answers in his book.

We start, as we always do, with the name. Eddie Farhat was just another guy from Eastern Michigan who had spent some time working in the auto factory before thinking there had to be a better way. He turned to wrestling, and found the gimmick that made him relatively famous. Ed dressed up in Arabian clothes, complete with pointed shoes, picked up a "prayer carpet," said he was from Syria, and was off on his new life. That's a major transformation for a Catholic, but it worked. 

The Sheik was quite a villain. He always kept an air of mystery around him, mostly by a willingness to stay in character in almost all situations. The Sheik also was all in when it came to selling that image. He never spoke, either on television or in person. The Sheik had a manager along to do the talk when necessary. And in the ring, his ability to drive the emotions of the audience higher and higher often meant that he had to give a little slice to an forehead or arm - sometimes but not always his own - in an effort to raise the temperature of the audience via some spilled blood. As a promotional tool, it worked quite well. He was the man many loved to hate. 

This all came with a behind-the-scenes catch. The Sheik was wrestling in a time when the business was cut into regional territories, lightly brought together in a national organization. That's why there seemed to be 57 world champions in the United States in a given moment. You could say the business sort of resembled organized crime in its structure. The catch is that the boss of the Detroit region was, yes, Farhat himself. When you are the boss and can plan the results, you probably don't want to prearrange a loss (although it could be argued that the occasional defeat might have been good for business). It turns out some of the wrestlers ran territories as well.

The Sheik had quite a ride for a while. He appeared all over North America, and made some lucrative stops in Japan. However, eventually the territory system started to blow up, and Farhat was known to spend money as fast as he earned it - if not faster. Eventually, the regional promoters fell by the wayside, leaving the WWE as the only major financial player in the field. Still, the Sheik soldiered on, wrestling until he was close to 70 years old - even if the matches were very short. Once he quit, his health quickly turned for the worse. He died at the age of 76 in 2003.

We have to salute Solomon for his level of research here. It couldn't have been easy to delve into this man's past. Many of the family members are dead or are unwilling to talk. That leaves something of an outside-in approach to biography. He talked to a number of people who were involved in wrestling in that era, who all seem to respect the Sheik if they never knew what he would do in a given moment - even in the ring itself. And how did he find all of the results of so many of matches. Solomon deserves plenty of credit for this.

One fun part of the book is that some of the back stories of the wrestlers of that era come out. Consider that the Sheik took a look at his oversized gardener, gave him some lessons, and called him "J.B. Psycho." Heck, Chief Jay Strongbow was Joe Skarpa, an Italian American from Nutley, New Jersey. The Mighty Igor, practitioner of "Polish Power," was Dick Garza, an Hispanic American. And so on. But of all of them, the Sheik was the one who did the most to push forward the idea that watching half-nelsons applied for a few hours could get dull, and that the act needed a little chaos to keep the customers entertained. That theory still drives some of the business to this day.

I'm not the usual reader for a book like "Blood and Fire," since a long magazine article might have satisfied my curiosity on the subject. It probably could have lost some pages quite easily, as the details of matches from 50 years ago feel a little irrelevant these days. But it's still fun to get the full story of Ed's life, while marveling at the effort to put it together. And those who have an interest in pro wrestling - and in particular in that era - will find plenty to enjoy. 

They don't make them like "The Sheik" any more.
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Subtitle: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik

Blood and Fire is the biography of Ed Farhat, better known as the former Detroit-based wrestler and promoter ‘The Sheik.’ I first became aware of the Sheik in the mid-70s when episodes of his Big Time Wrestling television show aired on KDNL – Channel 30 in St. Louis. I don’t recall seeing him attack any of his opponents with a pencil at that time, but definitely remember his throwing one of his patented fireballs at a particularly unlucky opponent (Pompero Firpo, I think). Then, about 20 years ago, I purchased a copy on eBay of I Like To Hurt People, the cult classic quasi-mockumentary film about The Sheik and the Detroit wrestling promotion that was filmed in the mid- to late-70s but not completed and made available to the public until 1985.

In Blood and Fire, author Solomon covers the Sheiks lengthy in-ring career as well as his career as a promoter that ended a little more than five years before Vince McMahon’s takeover of the wrestling industry put most other promotions out of business, the primary reasons being the struggles of Detroit’s auto industry at the time and the Sheik’s insistence on maintaining his status as the top performer in the territory. The Sheik continued to be a top draw after the promotion closed and was in demand in several other territories through the U.S. and overseas.

The Sheik began his wrestling career in 1949 and officially retired in 1998. During that time, he encountered many of wrestling’s biggest names, many of whom I was familiar with from working with Harley Race and Bob Geigel on a series of documentary videos in the late 90s. Solomon does a great job of filling in background on these personalities, and I learned a great deal about people I had only previous known of by name or sometimes by photograph as well. Personally, I’ve never really understood the appeal of the Sheik’s wrestling style (or lack thereof), but there is no denying his status as one of the biggest box office attractions of his era and as one of the most significant personalities in wrestling history. He not only lived his gimmick, he also was a pioneer in what is now known as ‘hardcore’ wrestling.

I gave Blood and Fire five stars on Goodreads. This was one of my most anticipated reads thus far in 2022, and it certainly met all of my expectations and more. Readers who are not fans of wrestling may not take as much from it as I did, but readers who would like to learn more about the history of the wrestling industry will not find a better resource.
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In an episode of the third season of Vice's critically acclaimed series, The Dark Side of the Ring, Atsushi Onita's hyper-violent Japanese promotion FMW is profiled.  In that particular episode, ECW alumni Sabu tells of a match where he teamed alongside his uncle, Ed "The Sheik" Farhat, against the promotion's founder, Atsushi Onita and Tarzan Goto.  During the match, things took a horrific turn resulting in The Sheik barely escaping with his life having suffered third degree burns.

This match took place nearly forty-three years after The Sheik's debut.  So, why was one of wrestling's most successful performers risking life and limb at sixty-six years of age?  Author Brian Solomon looks at the totality of the career of one of wrestling's most legendary promoters and wrestlers both inside and outside of the ring in BLOOD AND FIRE: The Unbelievable True Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik.

Before getting into the meat and potatoes of The Sheik's career, Solomon gives the reader a detailed history of what would become The Sheik's home turf during the bulk of his career, Detroit, Michigan.  I'd like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to the territory system but Detroit has remained a blind spot throughout my time as a wrestling fan. Promoter Nick Londes is discussed as he controlled Olympia Stadium - the 15,000+ seat arena in Detroit that housed the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.  But he had a rival in Adam Weissmuller - a former welterweight wrestler who after a long career, transitioned into pro-wrestling promotional work.  While Weissmuller would ultimately win the war, his victory would be short-lived as he would pass away shortly thereafter.  His successor would lose to another adversary in Harold Lecht (Light) who would go on to create Big Time Wrestling, a name that would be synonymous with the Motor City.

Solomon gives a lot of background into Sheik's life before wrestling by spotlighting his brief time as a member of the armed forces. Sheik had been drafted into the US Army during the Second World War shortly after turning eighteen (although he did try enlisting earlier but had been rebuked).  While he saw action in Europe, he arrived shortly before Germany's surrender and had been sent home during the US bombing of Japan.  However, during his time in the Forces, Farhat dabbled in amateur wrestling making quite the name for himself by winning several tournaments.

Ed would be discovered by one of the aforementioned Harold Lecht's right hand men in Bert Ruby - an active performer and talent booker.  While he was able to get experience working on the undercard, it wasn't until pro wrestling and television went hand-in-hand that Farhat exploded in popularity.  The demand for over-the-top colorful characters went hand-in-hand with the advent of pro wrestling on television.  Through several iterations, Farhat came up with The Sheik of Araby.

Around the same time, the NWA had been founded, which made talent exchanges easier than ever.  Through the NWA's territory system, Farhat was able to travel all over the United States to work in several of the nation's top promotions, thus expanding his reach as an in-demand performer as well as gaining experience by working different styles with a wide variety of opponents producing legendary rivalries with Bruno Sammartino in New York, Dory Funk in Texas, Billy Watson in Toronto and Freddie Blassie in California just to name a few.

As this book is as much a biography of The Sheik as it is a history of the Detroit territory,  you get the inside story of the battle between Lecht and upstarts Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle.  Barnett and Doyle would eventually wrestle control of the territory away from Lecht but a scandal would soon drive Barnett halfway around the world to Australia.  This allowed Farhat to strike a deal with the pair and take over ownership of the territory for a tidy sum of $50,000.

Solomon goes on to explain how Farhat managed to be the exception to the rule in how heels were commonly presented in the 1950s and 1960s.  Given that he was his own top draw, Farhat would book himself over any top star that began to pick up steam in the territory, keeping all the heat and glory for himself.  Unfortunately, this would lead to irreversible damage to both his brand as both a performer and promoter down the road.

Although Sheik could easily have rested on his laurels and become a full time promoter, the lure of the spotlight became too much as he would find himself in Japan.  Brought over by Giant Baba in 1973, Sheik would work for All Japan as a challenger for Baba's Pacific Wrestling Championship.  In the years that followed, Sheik would work in All Japan's Tag League teaming with a variety of partners - most notably Abdullah the Butcher.  Abby and Sheik would having an on-screen falling out that led to a match so violent, it would not air on Japanese TV. 

While success was rising in Japan, business was dwindling in the US.  Many of Sheik's poor business practices were beginning to catch up with him.  A prolonged run on top where he would extinguish the heat garnered by any other performer coupled with his reluctance to ever lose and relinquish the top spot would eventually hurt attendance.  He also did himself no favors with the other wrestlers by continuing to offer laughable payoffs leading to drying out the talent pool from which to book performers. A gallbladder surgery led to a reliance on pain pills, a growing addiction that would spiral out of control into harder drugs like cocaine and heroin.  If that wasn't bad enough, Sheik would find himself in the grips of a gambling addiction that would obliterate his personal savings.  Coupling drug dependancy with business being down, Farhat would end up wrestling far longer than required.  Given that he could not so what he once could as a younger man, Farhat would rely on smoke and mirrors and ultra-violent matches taking the place of athleticism, leading to close calls like the no-ropes, barbwire fire match mentioned earlier.

Author Brian Solomon notes that Farhat was known for keeping the true nature of the wrestling business incredibly close to the vest.  Much of what he told others was in keeping with kayfabe, so it was difficult at times to know what was and what wasn't true.  Solomon also noted that while he did not have a lot of help from The Sheik's immediate family, he goes to great lengths to explain how he came across certain information and where the waters were more or less muddy.

Like many biographies of those from this era, BLOOD AND FIRE tells of both the types of soaring highs and crushing lows that can seemingly only go hand in hand with the wrestling business.  While many fans may only know of The Sheik as the trainer for both Sabu and Rob Van Dam, he has a fascinating story all his own.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the Publisher ECW press for an advanced copy of this important book on professional wrestling history.

Being a historian whose chosen field is professional wrestling must seem like the worst job in the world on many days. People don't understand why anyone would care about match results from 20 or 30 or 50 years ago. Gathering information is difficult as promoters would lie about how business was either for their image, or if was great, to not pay taxes. To fans folklore and legends pass for fact, even on events that occurred on live TV. Some are willing to talk, but alot don't remember, or didn't care, it was a payday. Others live their persona, or gimmick, and went to the grave with their secrets. Brian R. Solomon in his excellent and important book Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real- Life Story of Wrestling’s Original Sheik discusses this world and more as he writes about the enigmatic wrestler known as The Sheik.

Eddie Farhat, veteran of World War II found himself in the post-war economy struggling in his factory job in Detroit. To make some extra dollars, he returned to something he had tried during his army days, wrestling and found someone to bring him into professional wrestling. It wasn't until he took on the persona of The Sheik of Araby that his career took off, and Eddie Farhat was left far behind. The Sheik was The Sheik, to friends, family, fellow wrestlers and soon fans all over the country as began to get famous for his jabbering, his beautiful valet played by his real wife, and the violence that his matches became. Soon he owned his own promotion both here and in Canada, money was pouring in and nothing could go wrong, till it did. Shrinking business, injuries, stubbornness an overall changes in the industry forced him to try overseas work, which returned him to fame, then infamy. 

An amazing, well researched book about a man that most fans don't remember, but was incredible influential on wrestling, with continue today. Mr. Solomon does an incredible job or research on a man whose prided himself on his secrecy. To The Sheik it was real to him, including as his own funeral service where The Sheik was said more than Ed Farhat ever was. Tons of stories and facts, bits on The Sheik's military history. Just exemplary work. Also Mr. Solomon goes into the history of wrestling and the the promotions and territories. If this is all new, Mr. Solomon explains everything clear and concisely, so even new readers to the sport will not be lost. 

A great book for wrestling fans, both classic and new. The sense of history, the information gathered and presented, just very impressive work. Professional wrestling is such an interesting bizarre and odd world. So much about this sport has been lost, mainly because no one asked, and no one thought that anyone would care. Readers can tell that Brian Solomon cares, and I can't wait to read what he does next.
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Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik by Brian R Solomon was received directly from the publisher and I chose to review it.  I have been a fan of wrestling most of my life, not so much the biggest name in the business anymore though.  I can't recall ever having seen the Sheik on television or tapes.  If I had, his described style is what kept me interested in the business.  This book explores the life of the pro wrestler Ed Farhat, whom I will only refer to as the Sheik.  Many names of pro wrestlers and territories are dropped and lessons learned, or not learned are written about.  If you, or someone you buy gifts for is interested in pro wrestling (the only true sport, ;)), buy this book, even if, like me, you had never seen the Sheik wrestle.

4 Stars.
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Free ARC from Net Galley 

I love wrest;log in the old days before the WWE/WWF ruined it.

here is a story within multiple stories of a by gone era when America may have been more gullible but when it sure seemed much tougher!  Wrestler and promoter Ed Farhat better known to wrestling fans as The Sheik, lived a life both public and private and this take tells it all very well.  Amazing history of quote 'fake-wresting' that is not so fake after all.
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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.
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The Original Sheik is an intriguing figure because of his violence in the ring and the persona he cultivated.  However, the secrecy that was a huge part of his persona also makes writing a definitive biography a daunting undertaking.  Through meticulous research, Brian R. Solomon has done a great job of casting a light on the outside the ring life of the Original Sheik while also conveying the stature and cultural importance the world over that the Sheik achieved at the height of his in-ring career.   Highly recommended for any fans of professional wrestling and anyone interested in what is certainly a unique life story.
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This is a biography of the wrestler and promoter Ed Farhat better known to wrestling fans as The Sheik. It tells the story of his early life, his extremely long career as a wrestler and his time as a promoter of the Detroit wrestling territory. The biography also details issues out of the ring such as how his body was affected by his decades as a wrestler, how he coped with the pain his body was put through plus his relationships with others inside the wrestling business and his own somewhat eventful relations with his own family.

Being extremely interested in wrestling history I knew of The Sheik but very little about him apart from his tendency to have his matches generally descend into a bloody, brawling style so was pleased to see so much detail about his life and career. I had no idea that despite being such a popular drawing card for many years in the wrestling business that many of his fellow wrestlers and promoters seemed to look down on him. I found it so interesting reading the good and bad of his life. A lot of the quotes from others who were part of the wrestling business as well stated that they found The Sheik totally believable even though they knew him. He lived his gimmick to quote a phrase and would remain in character in public pretending to be the non English speaking heel. 

The book did a great job of linking The Sheik's wrestling style to the current hardcore style that is popular in some quarters and enjoyed the quotes at the start of the chapters.

This is highly recommended, it tells you so much about Ed Farhat the man, The Sheik as the wrestler, how a successful wrestling territory can be run and also the dangers of trying to keep control for too long with advancing age and repetitive booking leading to the downfall of his business.
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Blood and Fire: The Unbelievable Real-Life Story of Wrestling's Original Sheik is the biography of Ed Farhat, aka The Sheik.

I was planning on getting this anyway since The Sheik is a legendary figure in the wrestling business but ECW Press hit me up for an ARC.

The book chronicles The Sheik's life, from his birth through his fifty year career and finally to his death and legacy. Most of my exposure to The Sheik was in my dad's collection of 1970s wrestling magazines and stories in other wrestlers' books so most of it was new to me.

Without going into too much detail, The Sheik's story is like a lot of other wrestlers' from his era. Humble beginnings, eventual stardom, owning a territory, and having it all come crashing down. Still, the book was loaded with interesting information. A lot of time is spent on the inner workings of the Detroit territory and the Sheik's forays into other territories, both in his prime and much, much later.

I found the evolution of the Sheik's character to be interesting, as well as his devotion to kayfabe, being in character most of the time. It's awesome that his grandkids called him Grandpa Sheik.

The later chapters of the book are sad and frustrating. The Sheik ran his Detroit territory into the ground by featuring himself on top for decades and holding down anyone who might threaten his spot. Once the territory started hemorrhaging money, The Sheik and his long suffering wife lost everything and the Sheik had to wrestle decades longer than he should have just to keep the lights on, even doing death matches in Japan when he was pushing 70. The Sheik training Sabu and Rob Van Dam was one of the few bright spots in the later chapters of the book, the Sheik giving something back to the wrestling business while he still could.

Blood and Fire is a great look behind the curtain of the Detroit Territory and the life of The Sheik. Five out of five foreign objects.
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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.
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