Hall of Fame Profile, Part II: Bob Backlund
Jay Shannon continues his profiles of the WWE Hall of Fame, Class of 2013. This time he looks at the second longest reigning champion in WWE history, Bob Backlund.
Welcome back to my look at the Hall of Famers. Yesterday, we went Extreme with Mick Foley. This time we look at one of the best scientific wrestlers in all of wrestling history.
Robert Lee Backlund was born, in Minnesota, on Aigist 14, 1949. Backlund excelled at both football and wrestling in high school. That success would continue into Backlund’s college career. Backlund was a two-time All American. He also captured the Division II NCAA Wrestling Championship at 190 pounds, in 1971. Backlund graduated from North Dakota State University, in 1972, with a degree in Physical Education
Becoming a Pro
Backlund was scouted by the American Wrstling Association (AWA). Verne Gagne assigned legendary trainer, Eddie Sharkey, to mold Backlund into a professional wrestler. In the same training class with Backlund was Hossein Khosrow Ali-Vaziri (The Iron Sheik). Ironically, Backlund’s fellow classmate and sparring partner would end Backlund’s legendary WWF title reign (more on that later).
In 1974, Backlund left the AWA and began touring the country through the National Wrestling Alliance’s territorial system. He won his first title, the NWA Western States Championship, by defeating Terry Funk in the Funk’s Amarillo, TX promotion. Over the next two years, Backlund would capture numerous singles and tag belts in the NWA organization.
The (W)WWF Years
Backlund accepted an offer from Vincent J. McMahon (Vince’s father) to join his organization in 1977. He was immediately set with manager Arnold Skaaland. Skaaland had successfully managed Bruno Sammartino for some time. Backlund was thrust into a series against then-champion “Superstar” Billy Graham. After several count-out wins and losses to Graham, Backlund would take the title from Graham, at Madison Square Garden, on February 20, 1978.
Backlund went into a vicious feud with Peter Maivia, after Maivia turned on Backlund during a World Tag Team Title challenge match. Backlund broke with accepted interview procedure when he screamed that he was going to “Kill that Son of a B*tch”. Backlund also faced NWA World Champion Harley Race in a Title vs Title Match on February 23,1978 (3 days after taking the WWWF title from Graham). Neither title switched hands, that night. Backlund would face Race three more times. He would also face the AWA World Champion Nick Bockwinkle and NWA World Champ Ric Flair. Never did a title switch hands but the fans got to see some of the best wrestling of that era. There were two times between 1978 and 1983 that Backlund “lost” the title. Neither loss was officially recognized by the WWE. In 1980, Backlund dropped the title to Antonio Inoki, in Japan. The WWE refused to accept the loss and the belt was put back on Backlund, after just a few days. In 1981, a “dazed referee” accidentally gave the title to Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. That loss was nullified by the WWF.
Changing of the Guard
In the fall of 1983, Backlund’s back was injured. Despite the injury, Bcklund agreed to a match against The Iron Sheik. On December 26, 1983, the two squared off. Iron Sheik trapped Backlund in the deadly Camel Clutch. Backlund refused to submit. Suddenly, Arnold Skaaland “threw in the towel” thus costing Backlund his title. There was a short-lived storyline that Skaaland was paid off to give Iron Sheik the title. The huge negative backlash of that storyline led to the WWF coming out with an adjusted story where Freddie Blassie was lying when he made the claim. Backlund never got a rematch against Iron Sheik. Less than a month later (January 24, 1984), Iron Sheik dropped the title to Hulk Hogan. Backlund never faced Hogan for the title.
After the loss, Backlund basically fell off the map. Backlund last competed on August 4, 1984. He would defeat Salvatore Bellomo and go into semi-retirement. He would not compete for the next 8 years.
The Missing Years
Over the next 8 years (1984-92), Backlund made a few appearance in the ring. He took part in the Pro Wrestling USA organization. The Combo NWA/AWA group floundered and eventually failed. Backlund then moved to the West Coast UWF group. His stay there was minimal. Backlund then did a few international shows wile taking time to be with his family and let years of injuries finally heal.
The creation of Mr. Backlund
Backlund’s return was far from exciting. Backlund ended up stuck in Mid-Card Hell for several months. His first real break came when he lasted over an hour at the 1993 Royal Rumble. Later that year, Backlund would lose to Razor Ramon at Backlund’s first Wrestlemania match.
On July 28, 1994, Backlund got a title shot against then-champ, Bret Hart. Backlund thought he had won the match but hadn’t. Hart took advantage of Backlund’s confusion and defeated the former champion. Backlund was so irate at the way the match ended that he attacked Hart. Backlund screamed at Hart as he applied the Crossface Chicken Wing. Backlund would “Snap” during many of his matches that followed. He would seem to be shocked by his behavior. Backlund also began a campaign to be recognized as the WWF Champion. As Backlund explained, he was neither pinned nor did he personally submit to the Camel Clutch, in 1983. Owen Hart saw a great potential to screw over his big brother, with whom he had been feuding. Owen agreed to be in Backlund’s corner as he faced Bret Hart at Survivor Series’94. Backlund trapped Bret in the Crossface Chicken Wing and Owen rushed over to his mother, Bret’s second, and urged him to throw in the towel so that Bret was not permanently injured. Despite Stu Hart’s attempt to stop her, Helen Hart tossed in the towel and Mr. Backlund (as he had recently begun calling himself) won his second WWF championship, 16 years after winning his first title.
Baclund’s title reign would last only a few days. It trned into the shortest WWF/E title match in history. Diesel (Kevin Nash) kicked Backlund in the mid-section and took him out with the Jackknife Powerbomb. The match lasted…8 seconds! For the next year or so, Backlund returned to the mid-card level, other than a few matches against Bret Hart. In fact, Backlund’s last high-profile match was a loss against Hart in an “I Quit” match at Wretlemania XI.
Backlund left the WWF/E in 1995 and started preparing for a career in politics. He failed in his bid for Congress in 2000. He would have been representing the state of Connecticut. He later opened and operated a Bail Bonds Company. Backlund did make a brief run, back in the WWE, in 2000. He competed in that year’s Royal Rumble and also spent a brief time managing Kurt Angle. Kurt would eventually turn on Backlund, after learning it was Backlund that put Angle in the Triple Threat, Double Title Match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. Angle actually put Backlund in the Crossface Chicken Wing, the move that Backlund had taught Angle.
After another lengthy sabbatical, Kevin Nash brought Backlund into TNA, in 2007. Backlund had a small series of feuds inside TNA’s X-Division. He feuded with Austin Starr (later Austin Aries) after Starr thought Backlund had cost him the Paparazzi Championship Series. Backlund would defeat Alex Shelley at the 2007 Slammiversary. He would lose with tag partner, Jerry Lynn, at Victory Road. They faced off against Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley. Backlund quietly left TNA shortly after the loss.
In December, 2007, Backlund was involved in the 15th anniversary episode of Raw. He participated in the huge Battle Royal, being tossed out by Skinner (Steve Keirn).
Five years later, Backlund would return to attack Heath Slater as part of Slater’s Challenge Series. He put Heath in the Crossface Chicken Wing.
Robert Lee Backlund has spent over 35 years as part of the wrestling community. His loss of the WWF title, in 1983 is often listed as a turning point in moving wrestling into the modern era. It is only fitting that on the 35th anniversary of his winning his first World title, Backlund finally gets his overly-deserved position in the WWE Hall of Fame.
I’ll be back with you all on Wednesday for another profile. Next time, it’s time to head to the ladies’ wing as I take a look at the lovely Trish Stratus.