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The Meme's Pro Wrestling Origins

The Meme’s Pro Wrestling Origins

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When the Iron Sheik died last year at 81, the pro wrestling villain left behind his finishing move, the Camel Clutch, scores of hilarious yet polarizing tweets, and a cut-and-dry POV toward life: You were either the real (a legit person) or a jabroni (a hack) — there was no in between.

But the Middle Eastern heel also gifted us with one of the best taunts in WWE history, an onomatopoeia that, thanks to the heavy accent of a charismatic Tennessee girl and a viral video, has since taken on an entirely different meaning: The Iron Sheik was the “Hawk Tuah” O.G.

Back in the Eighties, after the Sheik’s feud with “Real American” Hulk Hogan ran its course, the Iranian baddie paired up with Russian caricature Nikolai Volkoff to form a bogeyman tag team that never missed an opportunity to jab at American dominance. “Russia, Number One! Iran, Number One! U.S.A.? Hawk tuah!” the Iron Sheik would shout into the ring mic before emphatically spitting on the mat. It sent crowds from Madison Square Garden to high-school gymnasiums into high dudgeon.

But when Hailey Welch summoned that exaggerated hocking-up-a-loogie sound last month in an on-the-street interview in Nashville, it made her as beloved as the Sheik was hated. “You gotta give ’em that ‘hawk tuah’ and spit on that thang!” Welch answered when asked on camera to describe a sex move that makes a man lose his mind. In that instant, an inescapable pop-culture moment was born that continues to ripple like a body slam in the ring.


In the nearly three weeks since the interview posted, Welch has begun selling merch with a Tennessee apparel company (at least $65,000 worth so far, they claim), made a cameo onstage at Zach Bryan’s Nashville stadium show that garnered more headlines than an appearance by actual singer Kacey Musgraves, and has been offered hundreds of dollars to spit into a jar. “I was like, ‘Should I do it?’ And I was like, ‘Nah, don’t do that,’” Welch told Brianna LaPaglia on an episode of the Plan Bri podcast, the first “real” interview she’s done.

So far, Welch — who was born well after the Iron Sheik’s heyday — hasn’t said if the wrestler’s own use of the phrase may have somehow found its way into her brain. But whoever continues to run the Sheik’s Twitter hasn’t stayed silent. On June 22, the account posted a video of the Iron Sheik dropping his signature phlegm bomb with the caption, “The Original Hawk Tuah.” Only a jabroni would disagree.

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Articles: 2027

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