NWA Title: Through Hell & Back
July 29, 2006 Andrew Webber
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NCAA amateur wrestling champion, WWF Champion, and dominated the heavyweight division. Who is this man" Brock Lesnar" Absolutely not it's Mr. Bob Backlund.
I'm writing this column in celebration of one of the greatest wrestling champions of all time. Unfortunately he is also one of the most unappreciated champions of all time. I hope this column will entertain you and shed a little more light on an individual who truly deserves it.
Bob Backlund is arguably in the top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time when it comes to being a wrestler. I think the biggest reason he is often forgotten is because he did lack charisma. I think Chris Benoit (who is probably the least charismatic World Champion in the last 20 years) even had more charisma, but that shouldn't take anything away from his greatness. Bob Backlund was one of those few wrestlers who could entertain you more by wrestling then talking.
Bob Backlund became the WWWF Champion when he defeated "Superstar" Billy Graham on February 20, 1978. Backlund was the polar opposite of Graham.
Whereas Graham was big and charismatic, Backlund was average sized and just plain out maneuvered you in the ring. Bob Backlund was seen as a return to the old style of wrestling before Graham. Vince McMahon Sr. wanted a return to just plain wrestling instead of a sideshow like Graham performed. Bob Backlund did embody pure wrestling from the past and he showcased it as the WWWF Champion.
Bob Backlund's WWWF title reign started like most championship reigns do.
He worked with the former champion Billy Graham. They wrestled all across the Northeast and every time they did wrestled Backlund came out on top.
Solidifying he was a legitimate champion. After all, when he defeated Billy Graham for the title, Graham actually had his foot on the rope and the referee still counted. It seemed that the fans bought in to Backlund being the champion and when the fans believed it his career took off.
Bob Backlund had tons of successful title defenses. He defeated the likes of Ken Patera, Billy Graham, The Islanders, and Hulk Hogan night after night. Backlund was gaining the respect of fans outside the Northeast. The people began reading about him. They were just amazed by his defenses and the reviews he received in the magazines, but still he didn't seem like a great one. He needed a memorable feud and he got that with Jimmy Snuka.
Backlund and Snuka began a feud that finally climaxed in a steel cage match at Madison Square Garden. Bob Backlund escaped the cage after Snuka missed his famous leap from the top rope. Jimmy Snuka wasn't the only man who tried to dethrone Bob. The Grand Wizard of wrestling had his entire stable go after Backlund. Especially Ken Patera and Don Murraco. Backlund also feuded extensively with Greg Valentine. Night after night Backlund walked out still the World Champion of the WWWF.
It's obvious that Bob Backlund dominated the WWWF/WWF (The name changes later on that's another story), but I think we remember the champions that fought around the world. Bob Backlund doesn't really have to many memorable international bouts, but there is one match that Bob Backlund will forever be apart of. It is one of the WWE's biggest denials to this day. That being the night Bob Backlund travelled to Japan to face Antonio Inoki.
Antonio Inoki actually defeated Bob Backlund in Japan. Inoki put on the belt after the match and the celebration began. The match did have a little bit of controversy though. When Inoki pinned Backlund, it also appeared that Backlund had him pinned. Inoki hit a back suplex on Backlund and got his shoulder up before the three count. Bob Backlund of course protested the result. Backlund got a rematch and defeated Inoki in another controversial decision. I have not seen the rematch, so I'm not really sure how it ended. I have read it ended in another controversial finish.
Backlund and the WWF kept this event a secret. They were able to keep it a secret due to the lack of media coverage from wrestling magazines and the fact that the Internet didn't exist. WWE has never acknowledged Antonio Inoki's victory over Backlund. This is huge in terms of histological terms.
Antonio Inoki is to Japan like Ric Flair is to the United States. He's defiantly in the top 3 greatest of all time in Japan. I tend to think that if Edge or Rey Misterio Jr. lost to a top Japanese star it would be huge news, but that wasn't the case because the news never got out. Bob and the WWF kept this all a secret. It worked they fooled the wrestling fans by just not reporting it.
I have also read that Backlund actually had the title stripped from him in incidents involving Bobby Duncum and Greg Valentine. I'm not aware of this at all. I do not actually remember the WWF commenting on the changes, nor do I remember PWI magazine commenting on the situations. That's not to say that it didn't happen because I'm sure it did. It should be pointed out that when it did happen Backlund won it back the same night. What does this mean" I think the thing to remember is back then we had to go by what we saw or read in magazines. With that said, Bob Backlund's title reign that began on February 20th, 1978 never had a break until he lost the belt. That is what wrestling fans back then believed and the fact is the winners often write history. WWE never wanted us to believe he lost the title during that time.
I can accept that only because of the era. I never found out about Inoki defeating Backlund for the belt until many years after. Even though, it happened, it doesn't change my opinion of how great he was. I tend to want to remember his reign the way the WWE wanted us to believe. The WWF champion who held the belt for over 5 years.
On December 26, 1983 Bob Backlund's reign as WWF Champion ended. The Iron Sheik a week prior injured Backlund's back with a club. Backlund, who had already had a back injury, found himself locked in the camel clutch. The Sheik pulled on his chin putting pressure on the lower back that was injured just a week prior to the match, but Backlund refused to give up. It wasn't until Arnold Skaland threw in the towel to stop the match that Backlund finally got relief from the Camel Clutch. The Iron Sheik ended Backlund's reign as champion and ended an era of true wrestling.
Bob Backlund didn't fade just yet. He had one final mission to do. Bob introduced Hulk Hogan. A man, who he defeated before, was the guy to dethrone The Iron Sheik. Backlund did tag with Hogan in a few house shows, but disappeared from the TV and soon disappeared from wrestling altogether.
Bob Backlund was no ordinary champion. He wrestled Ric Flair and Harley Race who both at the time of their bouts was the NWA World Champion. That is huge, that Backlund wrestled them and beat Race by DQ and drew with Flair.
The NWA world Title was a lot more prestigious at this time in history, so for Backlund to win and get a draw with the NWA champion is amazing. It would be on the same scale as the NWA Champion today defeating the WWE Champion or getting a draw with the WWE Champion.
Bob Backlund did return to the ring at the Royal Rumble of 1993. Backlund lasted a long time in the Royal Rumble match. Lasting well over 45 minutes, Bob proved he still was a great wrestler, but you could tell he just wasn't the same. Then he snapped.
Bob was jealous of Bret Hart getting accolades and went crazy on Hart. Bob actually believed he never lost the belt and Hart had his belt! The result of his craziness resulted in a match at Survivor Series of 1994. In my opinion, this was Backlund's last great match. It gives testament to his legacy and also testament to just how great Bret Hart was for putting him over. It was a classic and ended with Backlund coming out on top. Backlund became WWF Champions for the 2nd time. 11 years after losing it, and this time it was Bret Hart who lost the belt without actually giving up. It was a towel match and Owen convinced Helen to throw in the towel when Backlund had Hart trapped in the cross face chicken wing.
Bob Backlund would lose the belt 3 days later to Diesel, but none to less winning the belt after losing it and being away from wrestling for over a decade was amazing. Bob Backlund, however, did remain a thorn in Bret Hart's side. They finished their feud in a horrible match at WrestleMania XI. Somehow after putting on a great match they managed to put on a match that was just god-awful. I strongly recommend to not watching the match. It is a waste of time and so is WrestleMania XI for that matter.
Bob soon became a sideshow. He "ran for President", Managed the Sultan, and appeared on TV acting nuts on RAW, but even with all that crap he is still incredible. Bob Backlund has yet to be inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Most people do not name him as a top World Champion, or a top wrestler for that matter. The people couldn't be more wrong. People who watched during the Hulkamania Era, Stone Cold Era, or The Current Era we are in now often determine wrestling opinion. These people usually don't give credit to people like Backlund because they just don't know. They never saw how great he was in his prime and because he didn't really change the face of wrestling he is often forgotten or dismissed easily. This is not to say that his era was just as important as the Hulk's or Austin's because it's not. It just means that he was great and deserves respect and recognition for his accomplishments. I hope this column just showed really how amazing he was and shed some light on the era that he dominated.
by Andrew Webber..
I couldn't agree more. I have some Backlund matches on tape, and the Bloodbath DVD with two of his cage matches, and they left me wanting to see more of Backlund in action. I really wish, since WWE is releasing retrospective DVDs on just about everybody, that Backlund would get his own three-disc DVD set. I think the man deserves it. You'd have a lot of matches to go through: the win over Graham and the rematches from '78 and '82 (hopefully with the memorable incident where Graham destroyed the belt and Backlund's Nancy Kerrigan-ish reaction to it on the DVD as an extra), the Valentine matches, the Slaughter matches, his match with Bret Hart, etc. It'd be a fitting tribute to a fine champion.
Bob Backlund is underrated, under appreciated, and overall, forgotten in wrestling. I'm glad you took the time to educate people on how important this man is.
Jon Rosaler wrote:
If you were comparing him to Lesnar, they were both a three time WWE Champion, just to let you know and my frind, who is looking for a job in Professional Wrestling does a better Chick Wing, than Backlund ever did and it hurts <:-/
Joseph Nicolino wrote:
Good article. I don't remember Bob Backland prior to his 1992 comeback but your article was very insightful. The story behind Backland and Greg Valentine was that in a match they had at the Garden at around 1980-81, the ref was bumped very rare for the time. When the ref came to Backland had Valentine pinned and the ref counted Valentine down for three, but the ref raised Greg's hand. So the belt was held up and Bob beat Greg on the next MSG show, WWE nor PWI recognized this title change. The thing with Inoki, I heard a few stories, one is that Inoki beat Backland in Japan and Inoki won the rematch due to someone interfering but I don't remember who. Inoki gave up the belt not wanting to win it under the circumstances so the belt was held up. At the next MSG show, some New Japan official who was the first to play the 'president/commissioner' role, don't remember his name, was in the ring with a new design of the world title. Bob Backland beat Bobby Duncum to regain his title, WWE doesn't acknowledge this title reign but PWI does. His 1994 heel turn was great because nobody thought he could get over as a heel but he became one of the most interesting heel characters in years, he should have gotten a longer title reign instead of losing to "Big Lazy: The Workrate Killer" three days later. He should have held it from Survivor Series 94 and lost it back to Bret at WM XI. Who knows" Maybe if it was a title match it wouldn't of sucked so much. But I think when people view Bob Backland as a champion they view him the same way as they do Bret Hart. Whereas Bret was the bridge between Hulk Hogan and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Bob was the bridge between Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan. He didn't lead the business into a boom period, but he did a great job at holding down the fort.
Kenneth Borgen (Denmark) wrote:
Well if itīs hurts, your friend wonīt be able to find too much work in prowrestling ;) Much less surpass a great champion like Backlund. Truly a wrestlerīs wrestler and a real champion.
Great Article. You may have been pushing it by saying that Chris Benoit has more charisma than Backlund. While Backlund was quiet he was better at getting his point across than Benoit. Superstar Billy Graham often talks about how making Backlund the champion was the wrong decision, and Backlund had no charisma, but Backlund was a big draw. He sold out the Garden many times, and all you have to do is watch one of his title defenses in his prime, and listen to the ovations he got to know he was over. Backlund should be in the debate for greatest technical wrestler of all time. He gave Jimmy Snuka, Billy Graham, Hulk Hogan and many other some of the best matches of their careers.
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