One of the longest reigning champions in WWWF/WWF history will be entering the WWE 2013 Hall of Fame this year. Bob Backlund will be returning to Madison Square Garden to accept his long awaited honor.
Backlund will join another former WWF champion, Mick Foley for the high World Wrestling Entertainment honors. It is only appropriate that Backlund would go into the Hall in the building he headlined for four years. Backlund is the second longest reigning WWF champion behind Bruno Sammartino.
Bob Backlund defeated Superstar Graham for the WWWF championship in 1978. Backlund was picked two years earlier by Vince McMahon, SR. to be the next world champion. According to several stories, McMahon wanted someone just like Jack Brisco, the NWA world champion. NWA promoter Eddie Graham and Sam Muchnick recommended Backlund to McMahon and the rest is history…although there is some debate as to whether that history would have been written differently.
Superstar Graham was doing big business as world champion. Superstar wrestled Bruno Sammartino in a Steel Cage match in Philadelphia the night before losing to Backlund. According to the Superstar, Bruno suggested that Graham fake a knee injury to get out of his scheduled match with Backlund since business was good with Billy on top. The idea came from Bruno’s own problem with Buddy Rogers who claimed he had a heart attack before he was scheduled to drop the title to Bruno. I asked Bruno about that and while he doesn’t confirm that, he doesn’t deny it.
“Boy, either I am losing my memory or what. I don’t remember that. I did not know Backlund well. I am not going to lie to you, when I saw Backlund a couple of times, I am not going to tell you that I was over-impressed with him in the ring. Bob seemed like an all right guy, but in the ring I was not sure that the fans would flip over him. ”
I also had the opportunity to ask his greatest rival, Cpt. Lou Albano about what it was like to work with Backlund.
“Bobby was a great amateur wrestler, of course he was a little off the wall, like you said, that’s part of the showmanship in wrestling. Bob is a pretty smart individual and he would probably make a good State Senator or something like that.””
Backlund’s predecessor Superstar Graham had mixed feelings on the new champion.
“I know once I passed the torch over to Bob Backlund that many, many matches Bruno and I were on the same cards in a supportive role of Backlund and his defense of his belt at that time and it was obvious that Bruno was the one that really drew the house. It was a ploy of Vince Sr. to really load the cards up when Backlund took over to make sure there were people in that building, because there was a lot of disappointment when the kid took it, you know?”
Speaking as a fan, I think Backlund was highly underrated in the ring. What I find impressive about long reigning champions like Backlund and Bruno were the variety of opponents they wrestled over those long years as champion, unlike today where you have the same handful of guys at the top of the main-events.
It is hard to fault the WWE for waiting so long to induct Backlund. Jim Ross has said in the past that the WWE tried to induct him several years ago but Backlund declined, telling them he had one more run left in him.
Congratulations to my favorite WWF champion of all time, Bob Backlund.