EVANSVILLE – Jerry “The King” Lawler lit fires all the time.
For some in-the-ring pyrotechnics, he’d run a hidden lighter over a piece of magician flash paper and throw the resulting fireball at his advancing foe. It was a classic wrestling move, and the brief-but-impressive-flame would always make the crowd go crazy.
One night at the Evansville Coliseum, he was supposed to do that to the Iron Sheik. What happened next, Lawler later said, was “the most embarrassing moment of my career.”
The Iron Sheik, born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, died Wednesday at the age of 81. The legendary heel, WWE Hall of Famer and glorious Twitter personalities came to Evansville multiple times in his long career.
One of those matches became the subject of an episode of Lawler’s “King Cast,” which he happened to record at Evansville’s Secret Headquarters. Lawler, who has deep ties to the city, didn’t say when the match occurred, but according to Courier & Press archives, the two faced off at the Evansville Coliseum on July 21, 1982.
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Both had been skeptical of the fire trick in the first place. Making an inferno in your own hands isn’t without its stresses, and the Sheik didn’t exactly relish the idea of taking a fireball to the chest, Lawler said.
“The Sheik, he told me, ‘Jerry I don’t like the fire. I’m not crazy about the fire.”
Still, they soldiered on. And at the peak of a grueling match, the big moment finally arrived.
With Lawler tucked in one corner of the ring, the Iron Sheik charged with his arms lifted over his head. Lawler reached for a giant wad of flash papers – “that would have made a huge flame” – and quickly tried to set it alight.
“I thought I had it lit – I’m scared of it myself, so I’m gonna get rid of it as fast as I can – so I see the flame and I turn and I throw it and it hits the Sheik in the chest,” he said.
The Sheik immediately reacted like he’d run headlong into a flamethrower. He screamed, threw his arms in the air and fell backwards. But there was a problem.
“I look and I realize it didn’t ignite,” Lawler said. “It was just a little white ball of paper I hit him with.”
Ever the professional, the Sheik continued to sell it and Lawler eventually resorted to chasing the man around the ring with the lighter.
Lawler and Vaziri went on to have a long friendship. On Twitter, the Iron Sheik was often a mix of kind and brash. But with Jerry, he was usually just the former.
“God bless the Jerry Lawler,” he tweeted in 2012. “I love him forever.”
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Iron Sheik and Jerry Lawler had a fireball go awry in Evansville