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Bob Backlund

Bob Backlund

Real Name: Robert Louis Backlund
Born: August 14, 1949
Billed height: 6’1”
Billed weight: 234 pounds

Major Titles Held

2-Time WWF Championship
WWF Tag Team Championship
NWA Missouri Championship
NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship- (1) with Jerry Brisco
NWA Florida Tag Team Championship - (1) with Steve Keirn
2013 WWE Hall of Fame
Headlined 65 Madison Square Garden Shows pre-PPV era

Life Before Wrestling

Bob Backlund wrestled for Princeton State High School where he placed where he was a state finalist. He was an All-American in football and wrestling in his freshman year at Waldorf College. He won the Division II NCAA Championship as an amateur wrestler at North Dakota State University in 1971. In 1972, he finished fifth at the NCAA DII Nationals. 

1973-1977: Early Career

Bob Backlund started his career in the AWA in 1973. He went to work for the Funks in the Western States promotion in Amarillo, TX in January of 1974. In May, he won the Western States title from Karl von Steiger. He lost it to Killer Kark Kox in September. He then went to Eddie Graham’s Florida Championship wrestling in October-December. He wrestled for All-Japan from January to March of 1975. He returned to Florida from March-August. From there, Backlund went to Georgia Championship Wrestling from September to December. In October, he teamed with Jerry Brisco to win the Georgia Tag Team Titles from Mr. Fuji and Toru Tanka. They lost them to Tony Charles and Les Thornton in December. Backlund wrestled for Mid-Atlantic from October through December. In December of 1975, Backlund returned to the AWA and stayed until March of 1976. In April, he went to work for Sam Muchnick in St. Louis where he defeated Harley Race for the NWA Missouri Championship while also working in Georgia. In May, Backlund was working for Florida while still holding the Missouri Title. Backlund teamed with Steve Keirn to win the NWA Florida Tag Team Titles from Bob Orton Jr and Bob Roop in June. They lost the titles to the Hollywood Blondes (Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown) in September. Backlund then lost the Missouri title to Jack Brisco in November. Backlund returned to Georgia in January of 1977 and stayed there until March, He went to the AWA from April until October, although he wrestled a number of matches during that time period for the WWWF as well. 

1977-1984: WWWF/WWF

In October of 1977, Bob Backlund started wrestling full-time for the WWWF (then known as World Wide Wrestling Federation). The story that has been told about Bob Backlund is that Vince McMahon Sr, who was the owner of the WWWF at the time, wanted a “real” wrestler to be the successor to Bruno Sammartino. One of the reasons for this decision was that a lot of people regarded the NWA Champion Jack Brisco to be the best in the world. Not only did Brisco have a legitimate wrestling background, but the NWA covered the majority of the country, whereas the WWWF at the time was one of the biggest territories, but only covered the Northeast. Vince Sr. had his eye on Backlund, an All-American babyface who can legitimately wrestle. Vince Sr was friends with Eddie Graham whom Jack Brisco wrestled for. Backlund was sent to Florida to learn under Eddie Graham. As the story goes, Vince Sr promised Backlund the title on February 20, 1978 and told him he would hold it for at least 5 years. In the meantime, Superstar Billy Graham had beaten Bruno Sammartino for the WWF Title on April 30, 1977. Billy Graham became a great drawing card as a heel, selling out the Garden in the nine months he was champion. Many felt they should have stuck with Graham due to his incredible charisma. Vince Sr kept his word, and Backlund beat Graham for the title. This caused bad feelings from Graham toward Vince Sr for many years.

Backlund’s title reign is a very interesting one when you look at the business end of it. First of all, today’s story of the WWE bringing wrestling out of smokey bingo halls couldn’t be further from the truth. The WWWF was selling out Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, and Philadelphia Spectrum just to bring up three of their biggest buildings on a monthly basis for over ten years under Bruno’s title reign. Keep in mind that a lot of these shows were also being shown on the local stations in the area as well. So for example, Boston Garden was drawing 10-15,000 on a monthly basis and half of the shows were being shown on Boston’s NESN channel. Philadelphia was drawing between 12-18,000 per month and being shown in Philadelphia on the Prism Network. Madison Square Garden was not only drawing 20,000 per month, but they were also selling out the 4,000 seat Felt Forum attached to it on closed circuit, as well as being televised on the MSG cable station. As far as smoke filled rooms, well, smoking in buildings and events was legal back then so those that smoked, smoked at all sporting events. When smoking got banned in buildings, that’s when smoking at wrestling went away.

There is the theory that Backlund was able to continue to have these big crowds during his reign because they loaded up some of the shows with special attractions such as Andre the Giant. While true, Backlund still drew shows without Andre. No doubt that once 1983 began and Backlund stopped training with weights, wore a singlet, and was doing terrible interviews, it was time for a change as crowds were starting to boo Backlund in the last six months of his reign which was unheard of in that time period for babyfaces to be booed.

As far as the “formula” of WWWF booking went, it stayed the same under Backlund as it did with Bruno. Not many angles were run in the WWF during that time period. Wrestlers in the territory days came in for about nine months before going on to the next one. In the WWWF, the heel would come in and destroy the enhancement talent for the first few months, beat some name talent the next couple months, and receive their shot at Bruno/Backlund, so a new heel challenger was constantly being made. If business was good with the heel, it would lead to a count out or DQ in the first match which went around the territory on a nightly basis. This would lead to a rematch which usually led to a win by Bruno/Backlund. If the angle was still hot, they would find a way to not have a winner again in the second match that would lead to a third match with a stipulation thrown in such as a cage match. The formula worked for many years before the national expansion. But one does wonder what if Billy Graham would have kept the title instead of giving it to Backlund. Fans were starting to cheer Graham. Fans cheering for heels did not happen in those days. Would Graham have been turned babyface and had a Hulk Hogan like run starting in 1978? We don’t know, but Backlund ended up with the second longest title reign in WWWF/WWF/WWE history at 2135 days.

Here are some interesting results during his title reign:

2/23/78: WWWF Champion went to a time limit draw with NWA World Champion Harley Race in a 2 out of 3 falls match.

3/25/79: Bob Backlund (WWWF Champion) went to a Double Count Out with AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkle

3/30/79: WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) changes their name to WWF (World Wrestling Federation)

7/15/79: WWF Champion Bob Backlund defeated NWA United States Champion Ric Flair

July-October 1979: Pat Patterson is the only person to headline 4 straight Madison Square Garden shows against Bob Backlund as Patterson was one of the top heels at the time.

11/30/79: Antonio Inoki defeats Bob Backlund for the WWF Title. This is only acknowledged in Japan.

8/9/80: WWF Champion Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales defeated The Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika) to win the WWF Tag Team Championship 2 falls to none in a two out of three falls match. Backlund and Morales were stripped of the titles because Backlund was already the WWF Champion.

11/7/80: NWA World Champion Harley Race defeated WWF Champion Bob Backlund in 2 out of 3 falls match

5/1/81: WWF Champion Bob Backlund went to a draw with NWF Champion Antonio Inoki

6/28/82: WWF Champion Bob Backlund defeats Jimmy Snuka in a steel cage when Snuka leaped off the top of the cage to spash Backlund but Backlund rolled out of the way. Many remember the legendary jump off the cage Snuka did on Muraco after Snuka was turned face, but this jump by Snuka off the cage as a heel was the first time he had done it in the WWF. Many fans cheered Snuka in this feud and this is also where a percentage of the fans started booing Backlund going forward.

In September of 1982, Billy Graham, who had returned for the first time to the WWF since losing the title to Backlund, attacked Backlund and destroyed the WWF Title Belt. When Backlund picked up the belt and cried on TV, that cemented the percentage of fans who were booing Backlund to continue to do so for the remainder of his title run.

7/4/82: WWF Champion Bob Backlund went to a double count out with NWA World Champion Ric Flair

Sheik came back to the WWF managed by Freddie Blassie in October of 1983. He challenged Bob Backlund for the WWF Title. Weeks before the match, Backlund accepted Sheik’s open challenge to swing his Persian clubs. As Backlund was swinging them, Sheik attacked Backlund, injuring Backlund’s neck. Backlund went into the title match “injured”, and on December 26, 1983, Sheik applied the camel clutch to Backlund. Backlund wouldn’t give up, but after appearing that he was not going to be able to escape the hold due to being injured, Backlund’s manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel, and with that, The Iron Sheik ended the six year reign of Backlund . Backlund continued to wrestle mostly house shows until August of 1984 when he left the WWF

Backlund was offered a run with Hulk Hogan if he turned heel and bleached his hair. Backlund did not want to do that, and he left the WWF.

Post WWF

Backlund went to New Japan in August and September of 1984. In October, he started working for Pro Wrestling USA, which were combined shows between AWA, Mid-Atlantic, and Memphis. The promotions could not work together and this alliance did not last long. He wrestled a few shots for Herb Abrams UWF in 1991. Backlund returned to normal life after this by once again becoming an amateur wrestling coach.

1992-1996: Bob Backlund returns, wins WWF Championship

Bob Backlund made his return to the WWF in July of 1992. He lasted almost an hour in the 1993 Royal Rumble before being eliminated. At WrestleMania IX, he lost to Razor Ramon. In July of 1994, Bret Hart successfully defended the title against Backlund. After the match, Backlund snapped and locked Hart in the crossface chickenwing, turning heel in the process. He claimed he should still be the champion as he never submitted to The Iron Sheik. He wanted to be called Mr. Backlund going forward. When his former manager, Arnold Skaaland, tried to talk some sense into him, Backlund put him in the chickenwing as well. At the Survivor Series in 1994, Backlund again faced Bret Hart for the title, this time in a submission match. Backlund’s corner man was Owen Hart who had turned on Bret earlier in the year. Bret had Davey Boy Smith as his corner man. The corner man had to throw in the towel in order for the match to be stopped. When Davey went after Owen outside the ring, Davey hit his head on the ring steps. Backlund locked the crossface chickenwing on Bret, but Bret did not want to give up. Over eight minutes went by and Bret still had not given up. During this time, Owen pretended to feel sorry for Bret and begged their parents, Stu and Helen, who had been sitting ringside watching the match, to throw in the towel for Bret. Finally, Helen threw in the towel, and after 10 years, Backlund was once again the WWF Champion. Of course, this was a swerve on Owen’s part as he celebrated with Backlund. Backlund lost the title three days later to Diesel. At WrestleMania XI, Backlund lost an “I Quit” match to Bret Hart. Backlund continued to wrestle on the bottom half of the card until finishing up his run in May of 1996.

After 1996

He returned in 2000 to manage Kurt Angle for a brief period of time. He appeared in TNA as a manager for Austin Aries in 2007 and defeated Alex Shelley at Slammiversary. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013 by Maria Menounos. In May of 2016, Backlund appeared as Darren Young’s life coach. When Young got injured a few months later, the Backlund storyline was dropped.

WWWF/WWF Title Defenses

Harley Race, Mr. Fuji, Ken Patera, Spiros Arion, Professor Toru Tanaka, Billy Graham, Luke Graham, The Golden Terror, Ivan Koloff, Stan Stasiak, Strong Kobayashi, George Steele, Antonio Inoki, Roddy Piper, Gorilla Monsoon, Victor Rivera, Ernie Ladd, Crusher Blackwell, Peter Maivia, Greg Valentine, Bulldog Brower, Lou Albano, Nick Bockwinkle, Moose Morowski, Hussain Arab (Iron Sheik), Jerry Valiant, Jimmy Valiant, Johnny Valiant, Nikolai Volkoff, The Sheik, Baron Von Raschke, Don Kent, Bobby Duncum, Swede Hanson, Kevin Sullivan, The Destroyer, Tommy Rich, Hulk Hogan, Afa, Dick Murdoch, Sika, Bob Brown, Larry Zbyszko, Roger Kirby, Dusty Rhodes, Stan Hansen, Ron Starr, Lord Alfred Hayes, Tor Kamata, The Hangman, Don Muraco, Buzz Tyler, Sgt. Slaughter, Bob Sweetan, Killer Khan, Hiro Matsuda, Moondog Rex, Angelo Mosca, Raymond Rougeau, Jesse Ventura, Tatsumi Fujinami, Hans Schroeder, Adrian Adonis, Blackjack Mulligan, Mr. Saito, Bob Orton, Jimmy Snuka, Billy Robinson, Buddy Rose, King Kong Tonga, Jim Garvin, Ray Stevens, Big John Studd, Mike Sharp, Samula, Ron Bass, Kareem Muhammad, The Masked Superstar, The Iron Sheik, Diesel.