Bob Backlund’s autobiography, Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling’s World Champion is an inspirational story of how one man’s journey of hard work, dedication, desire, and a strong moral compass propelled Backlund to be one of the most successful pro wrestlers in WWE history.
I am not sure how to do this book justice with any kind of a review. It is arguably one of the most comprehensive autobiographies written by anyone who had the kind of success Bob had during his era. I’d put it up there with Bret Hart’s book in regards to the level of detail Bob provided about his life, specifically to his reign as WWE world champion from 1978-1983.
There is more to this book than just pro wrestling, and, believe me, there is plenty of it to fill your appetite. The book provides inspiration, shows the power of hard work and a positive mental attitude, and provides life lessons for any reader, wrestling fan or not. It’s a book as Bob says that adults can read and then share with their children.
The book provides a solid foundation for Bob Backlund WWF world champion. Bob wasn’t just a guy on a roster that got a push. Bob worked hard at everything to get there, taking plenty of lessons he learned in and out of the wrestling ring with him. It’s very easy to understand how a guy like Bob didn’t succumb to all of the temptations that came with being a celebrity in New York in the 1980s when you read about the lessons he learned going back to the eighth grade through his junior college year when he believed his own hype and didn’t work hard enough to become a champion.
I had the honor of speaking to Bob for an extensive interview here on the site. You can listen or watch the interview here. When I talked to Bob prior to the interview, he asked me what I thought of the book. I told him that if there is one thing I can say, it is that I had no idea how much hard work he put in along the way to becoming WWE world champion. It wasn’t by accident that Bob arguably grew to be the top pro wrestling attraction as WWE champion, becoming a bigger draw by the year in the territory.
I read the book Outliers: The Story of Success from Malcolm Caldwell over the summer and Bob’s story should have been in his book. Caldwell chronicles success stories like Bill Gates and elite professional athletes and believes a big reason for their successes is opportunities and what they did with it, along with great timing. If Bill Gates had not had been born in 1955 nor attended Lakeside, he may not have had the opportunities to develop his innate talents, just as elite hockey players who were born in certain months of the year would wind up playing with smaller kids early on, standing out, thus getting extra practice time with coaches that a kid just making the age cut that season would have. This is Bob’s story!
Bob’s story is that of a guy that was not just in all of the right places at the right times but took advantage of every opportunity by working hard and listening to his coaches and mentors. The luck starts before Bob even steps into a pro wrestling ring by working out at a gym and being spotted by Eddie Sharkey, a pro wrestling trainer. Of course, Bob works his tail off, but what if that chance meeting never happened?
The luck continues, again before Bob has his first match. Once ready to turn pro, Bob calls up Stu Hart to try and get his first bookings. Stu winds up taking too long to get his words out that the pay phone disconnects and Bob has no change left to call Stu back. What happens? Bob winds up working for Leroy McGuirk and while with McGurik, receives a booking in Amarillo for Terry Funk that broke his career wide open. What would have happened if Bob went to work for Stu? He probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to Amarillo and learn from mentors like the Funks and Dick Murdoch, he wouldn’t have been in that NWA territory loop, and thus his career would have taken a completely different path.
The opportunities and hard work continue throughout the book. While this sounds like a lot of dumb luck, Bob also made the most of every chance he got by working hard and paying attention to his mentors. Bob recalls throughout the book the different lessons he learned by working with the Funks and Dick Murdoch that he would take with him as WWF champion. The philosophies he learned in those territories would wind up making Bob a lot of money later in New York.
And then there is the timing! What if Bob had been born in a different year or started wrestling in a different era? When Bob got into the business he was told that he wouldn’t make it because he was too vanilla and needed to be a character. Yet it was Vince McMahon Sr.’s desire to have an “All-American Boy” world champion that offered Bob the perfect spot to fill. It was almost as if it was his destiny when you really think back on the timing of it all. It’s fascinating in retrospect because the role probably wouldn’t have worked at any other time period nor was there anyone as perfect for the role as Bob. It was as if he entered the sport from day one destined for that role.
Nothing epitomizes this theme more than a squash match Bob had with Harley Race in Omaha, Nebraska. In between territories, Bob goes home and takes some bookings with Verne Gagne. Knowing that Backlund is passing through, Gagne uses Bob mainly as an enhancement guy. Bob winds up working a one-off match with Harley that unknowingly would benefit his career. Race would remember that match and years later would become a big advocate for Bob in the NWA, in addition to being a great opponent for Bob when the two had a series of title vs. title matches.
This is just the territories! There are over 300 pages dedicated to Bob’s run as WWF champion, starting with the background of the decision in 1977. Bob goes through every year as champion and chronicles his challengers, breaks down some of the matches and the psychology, what he was thinking as both a businessman and champion, leaving no story or challenger out of the book. It’s fascinating to hear the stories behind the classic matches I watched as a kid and later on tape and YouTube.
I think something that Bob doesn’t get a lot of credit for is the way he completely changed WWE booking at the time. Bob points out the difference in talent rosters when he transitioned from St. Louis to the WWWF. Bob then recounts that as he entered the 80s, the company recognized the need to hire challengers that were better workers, going from guys like the Golden Terror to Adrian Adonis and Greg Valentine. Bob also pontificates how his role as WWF champion was different than most in that he was used to getting his challengers over for future programs as opposed to past WWWF champions like Bruno Sammartino who would squash his challengers and send them out of the territory shortly thereafter.
Bob also addresses all of the rumors surrounding his WWF championship loss to the Iron Sheik in 1983 along with the transition to Hulk Hogan on top. While much has been written about Bob’s refusal to go heel in 1984 and feud with Hogan, Bob has never given his side of the story. It’s a very honest and heartfelt account of the transition which puts a lot of those circumstances into better perspective. I won’t ruin it for future readers, but it clears up a lot of rumors as well as confirms some speculation about those events and circumstances.
In retrospect, Bob would have been over huge, and a program with him and Hulk Hogan would have been big. They could have easily done three matches in Madison Square Garden and then did big business throughout the country. Bob would have had no shortage of great opponents after Hulk. Bob would have had ready-made feuds against Jimmy Snuka and Sgt. Slaughter, now facing his past rivals as a heel. He could have had a tremendous series against Tito Santana for the I-C title, in addition to the incoming Ricky Steamboat. Going deeper, there could have been a potential showdown of champions against Bruno Sammartino when he returned to the ring in 1985. The reason I say this is that Bob is a businessman and he knows how much money he left on the table by saying “no.” Bob passed up big money in order to protect his daughter and support the strong moral values he was promoting in his kid amateur wrestling tournaments. It’s impossible not to respect anyone for putting the people he loves and his morals over business, especially in the pro wrestling business.
I can’t say enough great things about this book. Maybe I am partial as a big Backlund fan but I think the book would appeal to anyone who enjoys reading about the history of pro wrestling, especially the psychology and inner workings of what was a closed business at the time. It’s a great story from start to finish, a roller coaster ride of choices, morality, hard work, and success, and in the end the good guy always win…just like a classic Bob Backlund match.
To order Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling’s World Champion, visit BacklundEnergy.com. Bob will even sign it for you.
Bob is also selling his 67′ Corvette. Visit http://backlundenergy.com/vette2.html. Check out the page to view images of Bob and his Vette’.