Bob Backlund, the man with an in-ring career that has spanned over 30 years, he’s got a few accomplishments tucked under his belt. He is a two time WWE (WWWF/WWF) Champion, in which one of those reigns propelled him to hold the records for 8th longest single title reign of the title and the 3rd longest combined reign. But now the master of the Crossface Chicken Wing has achieved a new high in his long and lustrous life in Wrestling, on the 6th April in Madison Square Garden, New York, Bob Backlund will gain (what some would say is overdue) Hall of Fame status.
This is a look back at the career of Mr. Backlund.
Before the days of Championship fame, back in 1969 Backlund was an accomplished Football player and Amateur Wrestler reaching the All-American status with Waldorf Junior College in Forest City, Iowa. Then moving on to North Dakota State University, he won the Division II NCAA Championship before changing to the Heavyweight division and finished 5th at the NCAA DII Nationals.
Following University, Backlund took to training from a major player in the Wrestling world Eddie Sharkey (trainer for the Steiner Brothers, Sean Waltman and Jerry Lynn). He made his Professional Wrestling debut for the American Wrestling Association in 1973 taking on the gimmick of a baby face with a clean cut look and excellent technical skill. In 1974 Bob joined the National Wrestling Alliance, traveling though its various territories including Texas, where he won the NWA Western States Heavyweight Championship after beating Terry Funk. Whilst traveling around the NWA shows Backlund also gained the NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship (teaming with Jerry Brisco), the NWA Florida Tag Team Championship (with Steve Keirn) and the NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship.
In 1977 Bob Backlund made his biggest move in Professional Wrestling, he came to the World Wide Wrestling Federation. Managed by ‘The Golden Boy‘ Arnold Skaaland, it wasn’t long (four months in fact), before Backlund earned the opportunity to challenge for the WWWF Championship against ‘Superstar‘ Billy Graham, though to a losing effort via countout. This fueled the two into rivalry that consisted of trading wins, losses and draws that eventually culminated into a match on the 20th February 1978 at Madison Square Garden, in which a pinfall win for Backlund would capture the title for the first of two times in his career.
Just three days after winning the WWWF Championship, Bob Backland landed in one of the biggest (and rarest) matches in Wrestling history when he took on the NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race in a cross-brand Championship Vs. Championship match. After the match was over (having hit its 60 minute time limit), neither Wrestler managed to take the opponent’s title back to their respective brand. Fighting other Champions became somewhat of a regular practice for Backlund after facing Race, as he had multiple matches against title holders from the NWA, AWA and NWF World Title holders which included; Nick Bockwinkel and now Hall of Fame alumni Don Muraco, Antonio Inoki and the ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. In 1982, he also battled then International Champion Billy Robinson to a 63 minute curfew draw.
During his time as WWWF Champion, Bob Backlund joined forces with HoF’er Pedro Morales to face The Wild Samoans Afa & Sika for the WWF World Tag Team Championship, which they would win in 1980 and then be forced to vacate due to a now retired rule that no Wrestler could hold more than one title at a time. In the same year however, Backlund would see tag team success outside of the WWF by competing in and winning 1980 MSG Tag Team League Tournament along-side his partner Antonio Inoki.
On the 26th December1983, Bob Backlund engaged in a new feud with HoF’er the Iron Sheik, which resulted in a Championship match in where Backlund had to compete while injured (after an assault in a club that had been orchestrated by the Sheik). The match resulted in a lose to Backlund and the title changing hands (after Skaaland threw in the towel for Backlund), with no automatic rematch for the former Champion. Following his loss, Backland stayed with the WWF but had never received another Championship match and on the 4th August 1984, he had a match against Salvatore Bellomo before leaving the WWF.
During his 8 years away from the World Wrestling Federation, had a short lived run in Pro Wrestling USA where he unsuccessfully challenged Rich Martel for the AWA Championship before taking a break from Pro Wrestling that would last him until 1991. When Backlund returned to the Wrestling scene he wrestled for UWF, appearing on the companies only pay-per-view, Newborn UWF and UWF International in Japan where he engaged in a rivalry with Nobuhiko Takada.
Bob Backlund returned to the WWF in 1992 when the era of Rock ‘n’ Wrestling was already in full swing which had brought many colorful performers up to become the major players in the company, including the likes of ‘The Macho Man‘ Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan. This left Backlund looking in from the outside with his everyday good guy gimmick feeling stale and out of touch with the audience. Although a change was coming for Backlund, it wouldn’t happen before he set a Royal Rumble record in 93 for lasting 61 minutes before being eliminated (a duration record that would stand until 2004).
On the July 28 94, Backlund’s gimmick change would come in the form of a semi-heel turn after facing Bret Hart to a losing effort. In his matches following Bob would ‘snap’ and his denier would change to that of a violent psychotic, often screaming while locking his opponents into his Crossface Chicken Wing and refusing to release them (even after the match). Following each win he would then come back to the edge of sanity and seem horrified with his actions. This gimmick would last until his full heel turn were Bob would demand to be addressed a Mr. Backlund and claim that since he was not responsible for losing against the Iron Sheik back in 1983, that he should still be the WWF Champion. This would then kick of a campaign to regain the belt, which would take Mr. Backlund on a journey to his second title reign.
Mr. Backlund’s stage was set on November 23, 1994, at the Survivor Series pay-per-view in San Antonio, Texas. Again he would face Bret Hart for the title, but this time in a novelty ‘Throw in the towel‘ Submission match (a match suited to both competitors). Of course the main event would end with Backlund as the Champ but not before fighting a 35 minute match that would consist of interference from Owen Hart & ‘The British Bulldog‘ Davey Boy Smith on both sides and Backlund locking-in Bret for an 8 and a half minute Crossface Chickenwing, resulting in Mr. Backlund once again holding the WWF Championship.
Unfortunately for Bob Backlund his second reign as Champion would prove much shorter than his first, in fact the title run would last only 3 days in total. After facing Diesel in a non-televised event, Backlund would lose in the shortest WWF Championship. Reportedly Diesel kicked Bob in the stomach, hit him with the Jackknife Powerbomb and then scored the pin, the whole process would last just eight seconds. Following the match, Backlund would sell the effect of the Powerbomb he had taken by crawling from the ring all the way to the backstage locker room.
Following his title loss Backlund would be seen wrestling less often until his (potentially last) high-profile match. in 1995 Bob Backlund would once again face Bret Hart, but this time they would face each other in an ‘I Quit‘ match at the Grandest stage of them all, Wrestlemania. Backlund lost the match after again not officially quitting (Special Guest Referee ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper would take Backlund’s incoherent screaming as his ‘I Quit‘). Between 199-97 Bob Backlund took part in several storylines that never seemed to take form, including an attempted United States Presidential candidacy and a joint management partnership with long-time rival The Iron Sheik over The Sultan. In April 1997, Bob Backlund once again left the WWF.
Backlund would again return to the WWF in the year 2000, first appearing in the Royal Rumble match of that year and then to to manage the then European & Intercontinental Championship holder Kurt Angle. Managing Angle is perhaps one of the best known stints for Backlund in this current generation of Wrestling fans (mostly because that’s all the younger audience can remember), even though his management of Kurt would be cut short. Shortly before Wrestlemania 2000, Bob Backlund would leave the WWE, this time for a further 7 years. In 2007, Backlund would partake in a 6 month stint, resuming his Mr. Backlund gimmick before leaving once again for WWE. Bob Backlund’s more recent runs with World Wrestling Entertainment have included a Battle Royal that took place on Monday Night Raw’s 15th Anniversary show in 2007 and the Heath Slater ‘Legend attacks’ storyline that hyped the 1000th episode of Raw in 2012.
This year’s Hall of Fame ceremony will see the well deserved induction of Bob Backlund for the class of 2013 and we are very much looking forward to seeing him take his nightfall place (not to mention his acceptance speech) as an official WWE Legend.