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The Backlund Years – Wrestlers Who Should Have Been WWF Champion

Magnificent MuracoThe Bob Backlund era of WWF wrestling saw arguably the greatest collection of 80s wrestling talent come through the northeast. There was only one WWF world championship then and it wasn’t going to be passed around. Unfortunately that meant some great pro wrestlers were never going to get their opportunity.

WWF world titles are booked much different today than at any other time in wrestling history. Today, it is a given that anyone on top will get a run with the belt. Years ago, that was not the case. Many great pro wrestlers were passed over for WWF title reigns simply due to bad timing.

The Bob Backlund years of 1978-1983 saw a lot of great pro wrestlers cheated out of WWF title reigns. The WWF relied on a simple formula of the cookie-cutter babyface world champion being challenged by angry, colorful heels. But what if it were a colorful heel on top being challenged by a series of babyfaces for those five years? Which pro wrestlers would have been ideal to cash in and become that champion or was there a better babyface around to carry the WWF?

I want to look specifically at the Bob Backlund period of 1978-1983 and the great ones who missed their opportunity. Today, I look back at six WWF wrestlers who should have been WWF (or WWWF) world champion. If not for Vince McMahon Sr.’s formula, their unwillingness to hang around in one territory, or just bad timing, here are six wrestlers that should have been WWF champion.

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Magnificent Muraco – While this entire list isn’t in any specific order, the Magnificent Muraco is my unequivocal number one choice. Muraco proved as WWF Intercontinental champion that he could be a successful champion in a scenario where babyface challengers chased the champion. Muraco’s promos along with managers the Grand Wizard and Cpt. Lou Albano were arguably the best in the business during this time period. A winner of 1981 Wrestling Observer’s Best Heel of the Year and and every bit deservedly so. In addition to his tremendous promos, he was a hell of a wrestler in the ring. Muraco could have a great match with anyone. Whether it was a grueling 60 minute  draw or a brutal Texas Death Match, Muraco always delivered.

In all fairness to the WWF, Magnificent Muraco has stated in interviews that he liked to take an extended period of time off every year to vacation in Hawaii. Obviously this would have disqualified him from a lengthy WWF title run. But imagine how hot the WWF could have been if not for just six months of Muraco on top as WWF champion?

Ken Patera – A lot of fans remember Ken Patera from his post-prison WWF run. The only thing that this Ken Patera had in common with the old Ken Patera during that run was his name. Ken Patera was a super over heel in the WWF during the late 70s, early 80s. He had great main-events with WWWF and WWF champions Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund. Someone that arrogant who actually did beat Backlund for the WWF title would have made for a great heel champion. Patera cut great promos, but he was a much better worker than he gets credit for. His Texas Death Match vs. Bob Backlund won the 1980 Wrestling Observer Match of the Year. His Olympic background would have played well for a world champion. I don’t think Ken Patera would have worked for a long title reign (although he went from April-December 1980 as WWF Intercontinental champion) but would have been gold for a two-five month WWF championship reign.

Dusty Rhodes – Dusty Rhodes is the only babyface on this list of wrestlers who should have been WWF champion. Ironically, Dusty writes in his autobiography that Vince McMahon Sr. asked him to take the spot later occupied by Hulk Hogan when the WWF went national, yet it never happened. As great as WWF wrestling was during this era, there weren’t any babyfaces other than Backlund and Rhodes that could have been a successful WWF champion. Dusty Rhodes was a rock star in New York and was always super over in Madison Square Garden, the Boston Garden, and the Philadelphia Spectrum (the Big Three).

It is a bit ironic that Dusty Rhodes got the nod for the NWA championship since they seemed to pride themselves on having great wrestling champions, yet he never had the chance in New York. Rhodes as WWF champion could have turned the WWF into the WWE years before Hulk Hogan arrived. I think he would have been exciting, I think he would have drawn well, and I think he is the only babyface other than Backlund that could have been a successful WWF champion during this time period.

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Jimmy Snuka – I went back and forth on this one. I don’t think Jimmy Snuka would have made a great babyface WWF champion. His in-ring skills as a babyface were real limited as opposed to Backlund or Dusty Rhodes. As a heel, I think Snuka could have had an interesting short run with the WWF title. I started watching pro wrestling during the Snuka vs. Backlund feud. Years later I watched a ton of their promos and house show matches (a lot of which are now on You Tube). These guys had a tremendous amount of chemistry and I think would have sold out arenas along the northeast in title rematches with Backlund challenging. If not for the legendary Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid match, these two probably would have stolen the 1982 Wrestling Observer Match of the Year, (it did win PWI Match of the Year that year). I just think the idea of a savage like Snuka actually beating Backlund and parading around cities with the world title would have been box office gold, for a very short term period of one-three months.

Adrian Adonis – Unfortunately most wrestling fans remember a blonde haired, overweight, cross dressing Adrian Adonis from WrestleMania III. However, there was a lighter Adrian Adonis who wore a leather jacket to the ring that tore the house down with Bob Backlund and Pedro Morales in 1982. Adonis was arguably the best worker in the WWF in 1982 and had legendary matches with Bob Backlund for the WWF title in Philadelphia, New York, and Landover, MD. Adonis had great matches with just about everyone and could have carried some of the weaker babyfaces to credible main-events. Adonis hailing from New York had tremendous potential as a world champion.

The New York fans hated him and would have rioted seeing one of their own gone bad defeat Bob Backlund in Madison Square Garden. At the same time, a later babyface turn could have made Adonis into a huge star in the WWF. Adonis was in and out of the WWF and was something of a journeyman wrestler like Ken Patera, so the chances of him sticking around long enough for consideration were probably slim. However, I think Adrian Adonis 1982 could have been one of the greatest world champions (AWA, NWA, and WWF) of that era.

Hulk Hogan – I am not talking Hulkamania, I am talking about the Incredible Hulk Hogan who arrived in the WWF in 1980. Hogan didn’t show the charisma during that era that he would later channel into Hulkamania. But if he did? Watch Rocky III and his Thunderlips character and imagine Thunderlips aka: Hulk Hogan as WWF champion in 1981? It could have worked. Ironically Hogan never drew well during his run challenging Bob Backlund for the WWF title. It was so bad, that Vince McMahon Sr. never even booked the match in Madison Square Garden after months of buildup on television.

Of course Hogan was still finding himself in pro wrestling and never fully became the Thunderlips he became in the movies. But, Hogan accepted the part in Rocky III while in the WWF (and claims Vince McMahon Sr. fired him for it). Imagine how huge he would have been in 1982 if he came back as that character, defeating Bob Backlund, and fending off challengers from the WWF’s biggest babyfaces? I think he would have been big, and an eventual babyface turn may have made him an even bigger star than he became when he returned in 1984

Did I leave anyone off of the list? Leave a comment and let me know.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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