Real Name: Bob Backlund
Stats: 6' 1" 234 lbs.
Born: August 14, 1950
By Steve Slagle
Although it says "Wrestling" on the marquee, it seems that more often than not, pro wrestlers have limited knowledge of the amateur, or "pure" aspect of wrestling. In days gone by, the wrestlers who were the most capable and well-schooled grapplers were the ones who rose to the top in the pro ranks. Although pro wrestling in the 20th century has pretty much always been a "work,"men like Frank Gotch, Ed "Strangler" Lewis, Lou Thesz, and other pro champions knew the value of amateur wrestling. In fact, it was their actual wrestling skill and knowledge of holds that made them so hard to defeat -- even when their opponent would occasionally stray from "the script" and actually try to win a match (and title) that had been predetermined they were to lose. To the champions, promoters, and fans of the early 20th century, wrestling skill was what were important...not entrance music or wild gimmicks. In this sense, Bob Backlund was like a throwback to a lost era...the champion who, with very little fanfare, went to the ring and incorporated the "fake" aspect of pro wrestling with the very real skill of Greco-Roman wrestling. With no gimmick other than being "The All-American Boy", the highly skilled (and very plain) Bob Backlund dominated all comers in the World (Wide) Wrestling Federation for over 5 consecutive years.
Backlund was a native of Princeton, MN. and a wrestling champion from his earliest teens. Excelling in the sport throughout high school, Backlund's skill was honed even more once he entered college at North Dakota State. The young and highly talented Backlund went on to become the NCAA Division II Amateur Wrestling champion in the heavyweight division. His natural talent caught the eye of many within the pro wrestling ranks, and Bob eventually chose a career inside the squared circle. Once he had made the decision to turn pro, Backlund was trained by some of the sports' all-time legends, such as the Funks and Verne Gagne.
Backlund made a quick, although characteristically quiet, impact soon after entering professional wrestling. He made his way onto the territorial circuit, wrestling mainly in Florida, Georgia, and Minnesota. His red hair, athletic build, and polite mannerisms endeared him quickly as a classic "babyface" to many fans of the day. Bob won one of his first titles with Jerry Brisco in 1975 when they defeated the powerful and devious team on Fuji & Tanaka for the Georgia Tag Team title. Backlund also teamed with Steve Keirn (later known in the WWF as the alligator-wrestling Skinner) to win the NWA Florida Tag Team title in 1976 by defeating Bob Roop & Bob Orton, Jr. He slowly built a following as a "good guy", gaining experience and confidence along the way. Although his lack of interview ability was often a hindrance, teaming Backlund with Brisco, and to a greater degree, Keirn, allowed the focus to be on Backlund's considerable skill -- not his somewhat weak interviews. Again, much like champions from the past, Backlund did his talking in the ring...
"Superstar" Billy Graham, on the other hand, was about as flamboyant, colorful, and brash as you could get when he was The Grand Wizard's WWWF champion back in 1977, at the time Backlund (with Arnold Skaaland as his manager) first entered the World Wide Wrestling Federation. While the charismatic champion defended his title against the likes of Sammartino, Putski, Mascaras, Strongbow, Monsoon and the rest of the top WWWF contenders, Backlund slowly but surely defeated opponent after opponent, until there was no question he was the #1 contender.
Graham seemed unimpressed by Backlund, and began referring to Backlund as "Howdy Doody" during his interviews. Having survived the best the WWWF had to offer, and still remaining champion for nearly a full year, the boastful Graham appeared supremely confident in his interviews leading into his matchup with Backlund. However, that confidence may have been just a mask for Graham, who likely realized that his days as champion might be over with the emergence of Backlund in the WWWF...
Then, on February 20, 1978 in front of over 22,000 pumped-up Madison Square Garden fans, Graham and Backlund finally met head to head. Graham, perhaps knowing that it would be his last match as WWWF champion, appeared far less cocky once in the ring, and Backlund dominated much of the match. After nailing his patented "Atomic Drop" finisher, Bob Backlund pinned Billy Graham (who had intentionally draped his leg over the bottom rope, making him the only man to both win and lose the WWF title with a foot on the rope) to become the new WWWF Heavyweight champion. An "enraged" Graham protested bitterly, but it was to no avail...Backlund was the winner. The two combatants would then engage in a classic series, with Graham winning the rematch due to Backlund's profuse bleeding. The final encounter was held inside of a steel cage, and, after coming within a hair of regaining his title, Graham missed a running knee into the corner, entangling his foot in the wire mesh of the cage. He watched helplessly as the bloody and disoriented Backlund regained his composure enough to walk out of the cage...
Once he had disposed of Graham, Backlund found a literal army of "bad guys" lined up to take him on -- as well as take his title. Led by Albano, Blassie and The Wizard, challengers like Greg Valentine, Pat Patterson, Peter Maivia, "Big" John Studd, Blackjack Mulligan, The Masked Superstar, Jesse Ventura, Ivan Koloff, Ray Stevens, The Hangman, "Superfly" Snuka, Adrian Adonis, Stan Hansen, and dozens of others all tried, and failed, to take the fight out of "The All-American Boy". Even World Champions like Harley Race and Nick Bockwinkle wanted a piece of the wholesome WWF champion, and Backlund fought both in separate "Title vs. Title" matches. Later, in another NWA vs. WWF "unification" match, Backlund wrestled then-NWA champion Dusty Rhodes in Japan. Also, Backlund was the first WWF champion to win the World Tag team title, when he teamed with partner Pedro Morales to defeat Lou Albano's Wild Samoans on August 9, 1980 at Shea Stadium. The "dream team" was soon forced to relinquish the championship (with the Samoans eventually regaining the titles after a tournament) but Backlund's popularity and credibility only grew as a result of the win.
Other than his natural talent and superb conditioning, the real key to Backlund's success, and longevity, can perhaps be found in whom Backlund was paired against. The challengers were the ones with all of the charisma; therefore, fans were still interested in the matches. Backlund didn't need to be a fast-talker or visually intimidating, because his opponents already possessed those qualities. All Backlund needed was his skill and ability to perform, which he possessed in abundance. The large crowds that Backlund invariably drew in the allover WWF's North Eastern territory were proof of his popularity.
Unaware that he would be losing the title that night, Backlund allowed himself to be placed in the Sheik's Camel Clutch. At that point, Arnold Skoaland "threw in the towel", and Backlund -- who thought he would be winning the match -- suddenly found himself an ex-champion. A matter of a few weeks later, Hulk Hogan returned to the WWF and pinned The Sheik to become the new champion, and Hulkamania was born. Suddenly, Backlund found himself on the outside looking in...
claimed that Vince had asked him to dye his hair purple and create a new
crazed and bitter character that would challenge Hogan. McMahon later went
on record to deny Backlund's claims. In any case, Backlund was gone from
the WWF within a month of his loss to the Sheik. But surprisingly, other
than a few low-key appearances in the NWA's regional Florida promotion
and in Japan, Bob Backlund disappeared from the world of wrestling. Not
only did his leave...he stayed away, as year after year passed. It seemed
an honest, hardworking man had been railroaded out of the business.
Now on a quest to cleanse the WWF and its fans of the "encephalopathy" that Mr. Backlund found to be "caused by the infested quagmire of hedonism you pathetic souls call your lives." Mr. Backlund proudly stated that he was there to save the "New Generation" from itself by regaining the WWF championship.
After his run as top contender, transition champion, and then top challenger again, Mr. Backlund's push began to wane. Instead of wrestling, Mr. Backlund announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Presumably running on the WWF Ticket, Mr. Backlund campaigned during various WWF television programs, live events, and at other orchestrated publicity events. If there was a WWF event taking place, the fans could pretty much be assured that Candidate Backlund would be in the stands, "bringing in the vote."
But when that angle ran its course, Backlund was teamed (ironically enough) with The Iron Sheik as co-manager of The Sultan. Fans never really took to the trio, for a number of reasons, and Backlund once again began appearing less and less frequently on WWF television. However, this time there was no "comeback" as had been the case nearly two years earlier, when he made his challenge to Hart. This time, Backlund simply faded away, and was eventually written out of the WWF storylines.
is for all intents and purposes retired, Backlund still appears on various
scattered indy cards, as well as making occasional promotional appearances
for the WWF. However, as he nears the age of 50, it is unlikely that
Bob Backlund, or even Mr. Bob Backlund, will return to one of the "Big
Two". And in all honesty, he has no need to. Backlund's lofty spot within
the "history books" is secure, and there seems to be nothing left for him
to prove. Having held the World title for over 5 uninterrupted years,
gaining the World Tag title in addition to his Heavyweight championship,
and then having the necessary tools to regain the WWF title after a decade
of retirement, Backlund has been a championship player his entire career.
His place in wrestling history is well-deserved, and we at The Ring Chronicle
are proud to induct two-time WWF World Heavyweight champion Bob Backlund
into the TRC Hall of Fame........
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