Bob Backlund was king of the WWE for five years as WWF world champion and has recently published an autobiography chronicling his career. Backlund is doing media to promote his book and is offering harsh words on several of his former colleagues.
I am a little partial to Backlund as I grew up in the Backlund era and was a big fan of his work. I find Bob’s contributions to be highly under appreciated in regards to his body work over his first title reign. Backlund has remained rather silent about his career up to this point but his new book is providing an outlet for Bob to give his side of the story in regards to several situations and former colleagues.
Backlund was asked about his relationship with Superstar Billy Graham, the man he won his first WWE title from. In the book Backlund documents how he met Billy before he was in the business and Superstar tried to recruit him to be a pro wrestler. Backlund talks about how that irony came full circle in Madison Square Garden.
“A bunch of years later I am standing in Madison Square Garden looking across the ring at the guy I met in Fargo, North Dakota and he’s got the belt and I’m going to get it from him on February 20, 1979. It was a pretty big miracle because back then he asked me if I was thinking of getting in the business and I said “I hadn’t really thought about it”. But then when those years go by and in Madison Square Garden that night he was trying to talk Vince McMahon, Sr. out of giving the WWF belt to me. But Vince said, “I gave him my word and that’s what’s going to happen. I don’t go back on my word no matter what you say”, and that is why Vince McMahon Sr. became like a dad to me because he kept his word and I was really worried because I knew there were people trying to talk him out of it but he didn’t listen, he did what he told me he was going to do.”
Billy has been very outspoken of Bob over the last several years. Billy has admitted, even to me in an interview back in 2007 on my Pro Wrestling Radio show that he indeed did try to talk Vince out of making the switch. Billy even allegedly considered faking a knee injury the previous night in Philadelphia to get out of the match.
I can tell you that as a kid watching WWF wrestling in 1983, I was shocked when Bob lost the belt to the Iron Sheik. Bob was originally booked on the next MSG show to rematch with Sheik and there are plenty of promos floating around YouTube supporting that. Bob was pulled from the match a couple of weeks before in favour of Hulk Hogan. Bob was asked about the switch and whether that was the plan all along.
“As far as I know the plan was for me to get the championship back from the Iron Sheik and two weeks before the match I was taken out and Hogan was put in. If you watched it two weeks before the match they took me out and put Hogan in.“
On being stabbed in the back – “There’s not much I could do about it. But it was an eye opener for me.“
Bob never went into detail as to what the plan was but from what I understand he goes into it in his book. It had to be devastating to Bob who worked hard as champion for five years to be swerved like that.
Bob was asked about leaving the WWF in 1984 and getting out on his own – “When Vince Sr. passed away I should have just stopped. He was the one that was his character, he picked me and I was sort of his “All American Boy” and when he was gone it was basically that the “All American Boy” was gone. I wasn’t close to hardly anybody. I understand the saying “it’s lonely at the top”.”
Many have confirmed that the split from WWF was over Vince McMahon JR.’s insistence to turn Bob heel in 1984. Bob confirmed that Vince did indeed want to turn him heel and he had no intentions on fulfilling that request.
“Yeah, I said no. I said no because I had a daughter that was six years old at the time and I didn’t want her to have problems in school. I had heard a lot from the Savoldis, Mario Savoldi said he had a lot of problems when his dad was a bad guy and I didn’t want to do the same thing to our daughter. I also used to sponsor Bob Backlund kids tournaments so I made a lot of promises to kids that I wasn’t going to be doing this or that and I was going to be doing good things you could be proud of and I didn’t want to let them down either.”
Bob was also asked about his thoughts when Hulk Hogan got the WWF belt from the Iron Sheik. If you recall, Bob was instrumental in getting Hulk over when he returned. It was Backlund who gave Hulk his endorsement and told the fans that Hogan had changed, etc.
“I thought that he didn’t meet the standards. I know Bruno if I would have been doing all this goofy stuff that he (Hulk) was doing he wouldn’t have liked me being champion. I think Bruno feels the same way, that he didn’t meet the standards outside of the ring to represent the WWF. I would have fired him thirty years ago. He was saying one thing and doing another.”
Sour grapes? Maybe, but if you look at it from Bob’s point of view, those standards he set were much different than Hulk’s.
Bob was also asked about his legendary rivalry with Jimmy Snuka in 1982. Bob was a fan of Snuka in the ring, out of the ring not so much.
“In the ring he was a genius. But out of the ring he was an embarrassment to society. I didn’t know him outside of the ring at all, I just knew him in the ring. I didn’t hang around and wasn’t out there with him but I know he was very good in the ring and as good as it gets. If he would have been a decent person then he would have been the WWF Champion but he didn’t have the qualifications and didn’t meet the standards or else he would have been. Vince McMahon Sr. would have made him the WWF Champion if he would have been an honorable person. I didn’t hang around the guys and I didn’t ride in the cars with him. I had an instance riding in a car with him in Georgia and I never rode with him again. I don’t know what was going on at all and I didn’t want to know. My business was wrestling and I wanted to be ready to go in the ring and do my best and I didn’t have time to worry about what was going on behind the scenes and I didn’t want to know.”
That is fairly consistent with many stories that have been told about Snuka outside of the ring. Bob is also consistent with many feeling that he would have been next in line for the WWF title if he kept himself out of trouble.
Overall, I’d highly recommend the interview as Backlund comes across as a total straight-shooter. Backlund talks more about his run as champion, classic matches against Ken Patera, his relationship with Bruno Sammartino, and much more on the podcast.