Exploring the legacy of Ernie Roth, the gay wrestling manager in the WWF Hall of Fame

Noted for his flamboyant outfits with colourful turbans and jewels, Ernie Roth became one of the most iconic managers in the wrestling industry.

Wrestling manager Ernie Roth and a wrestler winning a prize.
Image: Via Twitter - @KliqThisPodcast

A former DJ and weatherman from Canton, Ohio, Irwin “Ernie” Roth first got his start in the wrestling business in the 1950s. One of his first big breaks came in 1967 when “The Sheik”, then owner of Big Time Wrestling, was looking for someone new to accompany him to the ring.

Despite being American-born and having served the US in the Second World War, The Sheik had fans believing he didn’t speak a word of English, which made Ernie Roth, dubbed Abdullah Farouk, the perfect partner as he was a tremendous talker. Roth used his gift of the gab to run down opponents and fans while hiding behind his wrestling champions.

As Abdullah Farouk, his gimmick was that he was sent by The Sheik’s family in Syria to handle his affairs. He dressed in garish suits, dark glasses and a fez. By 1968, Roth had become an intracule part of The Sheik’s presentation and would taunt The Sheik’s adversaries and fans wearing a cackling villainous expression.

He added even more heat to The Sheik and was becoming known as one of wrestling’s greatest talkers. It was late in 1968 that Roth would accompany The Sheik to his future place of employment, the WWWF – later WWF and WWE – where his charge would headline venues like Madison Square Garden in New York City against the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion, the legendary Bruno Sammartino.

Roth was well-liked by the then-owner of the WWWF, Vince McMahon Sr, who saw his talent and used him without The Sheik in 1971. In 1973, McMahon was looking for new managers and offered promotional control of several WWWF Massachusetts venues, including the Boston Garden, to Roth and his business and real-life partner, wrestler “Beautiful” Bobby Harnon.


Roth would change his look slightly, donning a turban instead of his fez and adding colourful scarves, becoming “The Grand Wizard of Wrestling”. The name was Roth, a Jew as well as gay, taking a stab at the Ku Klux Klan and their own Grand Wizards. He eventually became one of the “Three Wise Men of the East”, a trio of heel managers that included former wrestlers Lou Albano and Classy Freddie Blassie.

Roth’s first major success in that role was on December 1, 1973, when he lead Stan Stasiak to victory over Pedro Morales and the WWWF Championship. However, Stasiak lost the title to Bruno Sammartino nine days later. The Wizard would get his revenge, though, as his protégé, the flamboyant “Superstar” Billy Graham, would end Bruno’s second title reign at 1,237 days in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1977. Graham’s reign would surpass Stasiak’s but would end under a year later when he was beaten by Bob Backlund.

The Wizard swore revenge and brought in various wrestlers to take on Backlund. This included probably the most famous gay wrestler ever, Pat Patterson, who had an unprecedented four-match run against Backlund.


It was during this time that Paterson became the inaugural WWF Intercontinental Champion, and so, the Wizard has the distinction of being the first manager to lead a protégé to that championship. Ironically, it would be another one of his protégés that would unseat Patterson. The Wizard “sold” Patterson’s contract to Lou Albano. The Wizard would continue to send heels after WWWF/WWF champion Bob Backlund including legends like Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, the Masked Superstar and Sgt. Slaughter.

The career in wrestling that Roth had built in all these years would not last much longer. One of his last protégés was Don Muraco, a newcomer to the WWF who ended up leaving by the end of the year. When Muraco returned in late 1982, his manager was suddenly Captain Lou Albano, and not the Wizard.


The Wizard, at this point in his late 50s and increasingly fragile, was unable to take the bumps the younger McMahon expected of his managers. Roth died suddenly of a heart attack in 1983 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tributes ensued, including Sgt Slaughter saluting an empty corner of the ring during a match.

After his death, it was revealed that he was gay, though many in the wrestling business claimed to be aware of his sexuality when he was alive. He certainly did play up the possibility of being gay during his WWWF/WWF run. The WWE recently added episodes of WWF Championship Wrestling from 1980 to their Network and a match where The Wizard manages Ken Patera is a prime example of this, with the commentary questioning their “relationship”.

Ernie Roth was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1995, with his friend and protégé Sgt Slaughter giving the induction speech.

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