411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2007: Bob Backlund
Bob Backlund started in the world of wrestling as a standout at North Dakota State University where he won the 1971 National Division II amateur championship at 190 pounds. After college, he decided to enter professional wrestling and did so with the American Wrestling Association out of Minnesota in early 1974. After some early success as a baby face, he moved through the National Wrestling Alliance territories and eventually teamed with Jerry Brisco to win the NWA Georgia tag title belts in late 1975. After they lost the titles, he moved on and teamed with Steve Keirn and one year later they would grab the NWA Florida tag titles. Eventually, Bob turned to singles action, where he seemed more comfortable and wrestled throughout the Midwestern United States held the NWA Missouri championship in 1976.
Bob had seen a lot of success in the smaller territories, but now it was time to move on and up. In 1978 joined the WWWF, and continued there as a much loved baby face. Then, on February 20, 1978 Bob won the WWWF World Heavyweight Title from Superstar Billy Graham. This was a shock to a lot of WWWF fans as Bob a different style champion, as he was a legit wrestler and very quick. He wasn’t big, bulky, slow or overly muscular like Sammartino, Koloff or Graham. In 1979 he went to Japan to defend the WWWF title, but shockingly lost it to Antonio Inoki. The WWWF would never “officially” recognize the change (even though they do to add another title reign) and Backlund quickly won it back.
He held the title into 1983 minus an error when a dazed referee gave Greg Valentine the title after a match. The title was technically vacant, and when Backlund won it back, and the WWF broke from the NWA, he officially was named champion again for the 3rd-time. Eventually fans seemed to tire of him, and under refusal to turn heel, he lost the title to the Iron Sheik when his manager, Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel.
Backlund backed away from wrestling as stars like Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan took their hold on the business, along side even larger than life men as their opponents. It wasn’t until 10 years later, at the age of 43 that Bob Backlund returned to the then WWF. He participated in the Royal Rumble that year, and set a then record lasting over 1-hour. He wrestled for the next year and did well for himself, and then took time off after the 1994 Royal Rumble. To the knowledge of almost no one, Backlund had gone into training to get ready for the biggest program for the WWF, he would battle Champion Bret Hart.
The 2 had a spectacular match that summer, but after the referee made a “mistake” and Hart got the win, Backlund did the one thing he had refused in the past, he went heel. He snapped and placed Hart in his brutal “cross-faced chicken wing” and refused to let go. When he did, he looked at his hands in a demented, almost euphoric state. Backlund would snap on referees, other wrestlers and even announcer Jim Ross. He felt robbed, and let everyone know it. He got his rematch at the Survivor Series against Hart for the title, in a “Throw in the Towel Match.” Perfect, considering that was how Bob himself lost the title. Bret’s brother Owen, who had issues of his own with Bret was Backlund’s second, and Davey Boy Smith, Bret’s brother in law was Bret’s second. In the end, with Bret locked in the Cross-faced Chicken Wing and Smith knocked out, Owen pleaded and convinced his mother to throw the towel in and give Backlund the match.
Unfortunately Backlund did not enjoy a long title run, as he was jobbed in mere seconds to Diesel. He went on to compete in the 1995 Royal Rumble and faced Bret Hart again, this time at WM XI. The match wasn’t regarded as one of their better one, mainly due to Rowdy Roddy Piper as the ref not doing a good job. After this, Bob was more of a role player, including a crazy run for the President on WWF TV, and then forming an alliance with the Iron Sheik to manage “The Sultan.” After that failed, he had several small appearance on WWF TV (with Kurt Angle as some may remember), but eventually faded away.
He went back to school to gain more education, and in the year 2000 ran for office (the US Congress in Connecticut) and actually gained 30% of the popular vote. All on a small budget, no previous political experience and no press.
Why Bob Backlund was selected…
Bob Backlund more than belongs in any Hall of Fame and I am glad to see he made this one. He was a true wrestler and superior athlete that was in many ways out of place in the WWWF but was able to rise to the top. A true ring technician in a time of body building physiques, who a decade later at the age of 43 came back and was in better shape than most on the WWF roster in 1993, really needs no defense as one of the all time greats.