Robert Lee Backlund
August 14, 1950
The Golden Boy
Mr. Bob Backlund
Cross Face Chicken Wing
Belly-to-back Rolling Bridge
Larry Zbyszko (AWA)
NCAA Amateur champion;
NWA (Georgia) Tag Team titles w/Jerry Brisco defeating Toru Tanaka & Mr. Fuji (October 1975);
NWA (Missouri) Heavyweight title defeating Harley Race (April 23, 1976);
NWA (Florida) Tag Team titles w/Steve Keirn defeating Bob Orton Sr. & Bob Roop (1976);
WWWF World Heavyweight title defeating “Superstar” Billy Graham (February 20, 1978);
WWWF Tag Team titles w/Pedro Morales defeating The Wild Samoans (August 9, 1980);
WWF Federation title defeating Bret “Hitman” Hart (November 23, 1994);
In 1969, during his freshman year, Backlund was an All-American in both football and wrestling (191 lbs finishing 3rd) while at Waldorf Junior College in Forest City, IA. During his sophomore campaign, Backlund focused on wrestling and once again earned All American Honors (190 lbs and National Runner Up). Backlund was an amateur wrestler at North Dakota State University, winning the Division II NCAA Championship at 190 pounds in 1971. In 1972 Backlund moved up to the Heavyweight class and finished 5th at the NCAA DII Nationals. Graduate of Princeton, MN High School where he was a state finalist in wrestling. He graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in physical education.
Backlund was trained for professional wrestling by renowned trainer Eddie Sharkey and made his debut for the American Wrestling Association in 1973. Backlund's clean cut look and technical approach made him a natural face, and he quickly got over with the fans. After leaving the AWA, Backlund traveled the United States, working for the National Wrestling Alliance in its various territories. In 1974, Backlund wrestled in Texas, for Dory Funk, Jr. and Terry Funk's Amarillo promotion. In March, he defeated Terry Funk for the NWA Western States Heavyweight Championship (the promotion's top title). Backlund held it for two months, before losing it to Karl Von Steiger in May.
In mid-1975, Backlund started working for Georgia Championship Wrestling. He teamed with Jerry Brisco to win the NWA Georgia Tag Team Championship from Toru Tanaka & Mr. Fuji in October 1975. They held the belts for two months before losing to Les Thornton and Tony Charles. In 1976, Backlund left Georgia for Championship Wrestling from Florida (NWA Florida). Here he teamed with Steve Keirn to defeat Bob Orton, Jr. and Bob Roop for the NWA Florida Tag Team Championship. Backlund and Keirn lost the title to The Hollywood Blonds (Buddy Roberts and Jerry Brown) in October 1976. While working for NWA Florida, Backlund also wrestled in St. Louis, Missouri, for Sam Muchnick’s St. Louis Wrestling Club. He defeated Harley Race to win the NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship on April 23, 1976. He lost the title to Jack Brisco on November 26.
World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation
Road to the title and early successes (1977-1978)
In early 1977, Backlund joined Vincent J. McMahon’s World Wide Wrestling Federation. He was managed by “The Golden Boy” Arnold Skaaland. Less than 4 months into his WWWF run, Backlund received his first shot at the WWWF Heavyweight Championship against "Superstar" Billy Graham. He lost by countout. Through 1977, Backlund received additional shots at the champion, and his fortunes started to change; the two went to a double countout in one match, then Backlund defeated Graham, but by countout (the title can only change hands via pinfall or submission). On February 20, 1978, at Madison Square Garden, Backlund finally scored a pinfall victory over Graham and won the title, despite Graham’s leg being on the rope during the pinfall.
Backlund's early challengers for the title included Spiros Arion, Mr. Fuji, Ivan Koloff, George "the Animal" Steele and Ken Patera, and had his first high-profile title match in Japan, defending against Antonio Inoki. He also won a series of rematches against Graham, including an April 1978 steel cage match at Madison Square Garden.
Three days after winning the WWWF title, Backlund clashed with the NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race in a rare “WWWF vs. NWA” title match. Both titles were on the line, but neither changed hands as the two fought to a 60-minute time limit draw. Defending against other champions became a recurring theme in Backlund’s run with the title. He faced the AWA World Heavyweight Champion (Nick Bockwinkel) and two NWA World Heavyweight Champions (Harley Race four times and Ric Flair once) in highly publicized matches. He engaged in a series of scientific matches against NWF World Champion Antonio Inoki. He defeated the Florida Champion Don Muraco. In 1982, he battled "International Champion" Billy Robinson to a 63-minute curfew draw in Montreal.
Early in his run, Backlund and Peter Maivia formed a successful tag team and challenged for the WWF (World) Tag Team Championship, then held by The Yukon Lumberjacks. During a television taping in October 1978, Maivia turned on and attacked him and Skaaland. In the immediate aftermath, fans for the first time got to see another side of Backlund's personality: that of a raving, ranting maniac when angered or pushed hard enough; in the post-match interview, Backlund screamed to interviewer Vince McMahon that he was going to "kill that son of a bitch!". Backlund eventually won a series of matches against Maivia, including a steel cage match in January 1979 at Madison Square Garden.
On August 9, 1980, Backlund teamed with Pedro Morales to capture the WWF (World) Tag Team Championship from The Wild Samoans at Showdown at Shea. Backlund and Morales were forced to vacate the title due to a then-extant WWF rule stating that no one can hold two championships at the same time. Backlund had more tag team success when he (along with Antonio Inoki) won the "1980 MSG Tag Team League Tournament", last defeating Hulk Hogan and Stan Hansen on December 10 in Osaka, Japan. Backlund and Inoki finished the tournament with seven wins and two double-countout decisions.
Also during 1980, Backlund and Hogan met in a series of highly-publicized matches; although he scored several countout victories over Hogan, Backlund never was able to score a decisive victory over his charismatic, young challenge, and Hogan – showing flashes of his future superstardom – proved to be one of Backlund's toughest opponents. Backlund was also able to overcome a challenge from Ken Patera, with whom he feuded on-and-off from 1978 until early 1981, including during Patera's reign as Intercontinental Champion.
The early 1980s: continued success
It is claimed by some[who?] that when Backlund’s WWF title was held up after a match in New York City against Greg Valentine on October 19, 1981, after a dazed referee "accidentally" gave the title belt to Valentine (storyline), it constituted an interruption of Backlund’s title reign. However, Backlund was billed as the WWF Heavyweight Champion in other cities in the days following the controversy. In the early part of the 1980s, when no promotion held nationally televised events, it was not uncommon practice to “hold up” the title in one area (to build interest in a rematch the "former" champion would win) while ignoring the situation in other parts of the territory. On November 23, Backlund pinned Valentine for the "Vacant in New York Only" WWF title. A rematch for the title, held inside a steel cage at the Philadelphia Spectrum in January 1982, also saw Backlund emerge the winner, securing the victory when he piledrove Valentine into the mat.
Backlund continued to be successful into 1982 and 1983, successfully defending against a variety of contenders, ranging from Adrian Adonis, "Cowboy" Bob Orton, Big John Studd, Ivan Koloff, Magnificent Muraco and Sgt. Slaughter. One of his most memorable encounters came in mid-1982, when he won a steel cage match against "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka; in that match, at Madison Square Garden, Snuka scaled the top of the cage, intending to perform his "Superfly" splash onto a prone Backlund to incapacitate him, but Backlund moved after Snuka began to fly through the air and went on to escape the cage. He also turned back a challenge from Superstar Billy Graham, who returned to the WWF in late 1982 wanting to reclaim the championship.
End of an era
After having been popular with the fans from early on, in the final months of his title reign, Backlund changed his image, cutting his moppish hair into a crewcut, wearing amateur wrestling singlets and losing muscle mass and definition. Fans seemingly grew weary of this "Howdy Doody" character (as The Grand Wizard had dubbed him). In 1983, he was voted The Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Most Overrated Wrestler. Vincent K. McMahon (who had bought the WWF from his father), wanted to put the title on the more charismatic and muscular Hulk Hogan. McMahon initially suggested Backlund turn heel and lose to Hogan, but when Backlund refused, a transitional champion became necessary between Backlund and Hogan. On December 26, 1983, Backlund (recently "injured" in a TV angle in which The Iron Sheik assaulted him with his Persian clubs) lost the title to The Iron Sheik. Backlund's manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel while Backlund was locked in the Camel Clutch.
Because Backlund was declared "injured", he was denied an automatic rematch. Instead, Hulk Hogan was given a title shot, and became the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion. However, this was a television storyline only; Backlund wrestled the Iron Sheik at least three times for the title, all at non-televised house shows (including once at the Boston Garden, winning by disqualification), and also wrestled The Magnificent Muraco for the Intercontinental Championship, also at a non-televised house show.
Backlund continued to work for the WWF for a while after the title change, but did not receive another shot at the belt after Hogan's victory. On August 4, 1984, Backlund defeated Salvatore Bellomo in his last WWF match for 8 years.
After the WWF and semi-retirement (1984–1992)
After leaving the WWF, Backlund had a run in the short-lived Pro Wrestling USA, a joint promotion of the NWA and the American Wrestling Association (AWA), meant to combat the national expansion of the WWF. In Pro Wrestling USA, Backlund unsuccessfully challenged AWA Champion Rick Martel. He soon dropped out of the pro wrestling scene. He made a surprise return in 1991 for Herb Abrams' short-lived UWF. At "Beach Brawl" (the UWF’s only pay-per-view event), he defeated Ivan Koloff. Backlund also wrestled for Newborn UWF and UWF International in Japan, in a series of matches with Nobuhiko Takada. During his time away from the ring, he coached amateur wrestling at Bacon Academy and Rocky Hill High School in Connecticut.
Return to WWF (1992–1997)
In 1992, Backlund returned to the WWF. During his absence, the WWF had expanded into an international wrestling promotion, due in part to the colorful characters of the "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection Era", which Hulk Hogan helped to kickstart eight years prior. Backlund, whose persona remained the same as it was in his heyday, seemed to be out of step with the evolution of the WWF. Many fans did not remember him, as he had left just prior to Vince McMahon's national expansion. His initial period in the WWF was largely uneventful and he mainly wrestled mid-card matches. However, at the 1993 Royal Rumble, he lasted sixty-one minutes and ten seconds, a duration record that stood until 2004, when Chris Benoit broke it. Backlund first appeared at a WrestleMania at WrestleMania IX, where he was quickly pinned by Razor Ramon.
On the July 30, 1994 episode of Superstars, Backlund wrestled what was billed as an "Old Generation vs. New Generation" match with Bret Hart, with Hart's WWF World Heavyweight Championship on the line. Over the preceding weeks, the WWF aired vignettes of Backlund training for this match. Hart won the match, capitalizing after Backlund mistakenly believed he had won and helped Hart to his feet. Backlund "snapped" after Hart repeatedly tried to offer a sportsmanlike handshake following the match. He slapped Hart in the face and locked him in the crossface chickenwing submission hold, while screaming hysterically. After finally releasing the hold, Backlund stared at his hands in apparent shock. Backlund then started to regularly "snap" in similar fashion during his matches, viciously attacking his opponent with the crossface chickenwing and refusing to release it after the opponent submitted. He would then seemingly snap back to normal and appear horrified by what he had done.
On an episode of Monday Night Raw shortly after his match with Hart, Backlund claimed that he should still be considered the legitimate WWF World Heavyweight Champion, as he had not been pinned by The Iron Sheik, nor submitted to the camel clutch. Backlund continued wrestling under the new gimmick of an out of touch and highly volatile eccentric, out to teach "The New Generation" a lesson. He dressed in business suits (complete with a bow tie), had a hyperactive personality and used (and often misused, for comic effect) large words during his interviews. He demanded that he be addressed as Mr. Backlund. He would only sign autographs for wrestling fans if they could recite the names of all of the U.S. Presidents in chronological order. On several instances, he assaulted wrestlers and other WWF employees and placed them in the crossface chickenwing. These victims include Jim Ross, Duke "The Dumpster" Droese, WWF Magazine writer Lou Gianfriddo, and his former manager Arnold Skaaland, who he blamed for costing him the WWF title in 1983.
On November 23, 1994, at the Survivor Series pay-per-view in San Antonio, Texas, Backlund faced Bret Hart in a "Throw in the Towel" submission match for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Bret's brother Owen Hart in Backlund's corner (carrying what Backlund claimed to be the same towel Skaaland threw into the ring in 1983) and Davey Boy Smith in Hart's. The object of the match was to place the opponent in a submission hold and make his cornerman throw in the towel. Late in the match, Smith chased Owen (who had interfered behind the referee's back to break a submission), but missed him and hit the ringside stairs head first. When Bret turned around to argue with his brother, Backlund took advantage and locked the crossface chickenwing on the champion. Hart fought the hold for an unprecedented eight-and-a-half minutes, but refused to give up. With Bulldog incapacitated, Owen, feigning concern for his brother, walked over to his parents (Stu and Helen) seated at ringside and pleaded with them to throw the towel in to save Bret from injury. He handed the towel to his mother. After several minutes (during which Stu Hart argued with Helen against Owen's plea, and ripped the towel from her hands), Helen Hart threw in the towel, giving the 35-minute match and the WWF Championship to Backlund.
Backlund's second reign as WWF World Heavyweight Champion was brief. He lost the title three days later to Diesel at a non-televised show in Madison Square Garden, the site of many of Backlund's victories in the 1970s and 1980s. Diesel kicked Backlund in the stomach, hit him with a Jackknife Powerbomb and pinned him in eight seconds. For weeks afterwards, fans jeered Backlund with chants of "Eight seconds! Eight seconds!" In a 2005 interview for the Pro Wrestling Torch, Kevin Nash (AKA Diesel) recalled how Backlund sold his Jackknife Powerbomb by crawling up the aisleway, back to the dressing room area of the Garden. Nash said, "He couldn't have put me over any stronger". This match was the last time the WWF World Heavyweight Championship changed hands at a non-televised event. For nearly 19 years, this match was also the shortest WWF title match ever; it would be tied by Randy Orton cashing in his Money in the Bank contract on Daniel Bryan at the 2013 SummerSlam.
After the title loss, Backlund wrestled progressively less often, never again reaching main event status. One of his final WWF matches was an "I Quit" match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania XI on April 2, 1995. He lost, though he never actually said "I quit", instead screaming unintelligibly into the microphone, which special guest referee Roddy Piper seemed to interpret as "I quit."
Following WrestleMania, the WWF ran an angle in which Backlund declared his candidacy for President of the United States. Several vignettes aired, featuring Backlund preaching socially conservative values. One showed him campaigning at a beach. Backlund also confronted a Bill Clinton impersonator who was seated at ringside at the 1995 Survivor Series. This angle was quietly dropped before it reached a conclusion.
From late 1996 to early 1997, Backlund joined forces with his old nemesis, The Iron Sheik, to manage The Sultan in the WWF. He left the WWF shortly after In Your House 14: Revenge of the 'Taker on April 20, where he managed The Sultan in his win over Flash Funk.
Second return to WWF (2000)
Backlund in September 1998.
He returned to the WWF in the 2000 Royal Rumble. After that, he briefly managed Intercontinental and European Champion Kurt Angle. He taught his crossface chickenwing submission hold to Angle. Later on, Angle fired Backlund and locked him in that move, after discovering Backlund had booked him in a two-fall Triple Threat match against Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho (with both of his titles on the line) at WrestleMania 2000.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2007)
After many references to Bob Backlund were made by Kevin Nash, he officially debuted in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in January 2007, at the Final Resolution pay-per-view, judging the finals of the Paparazzi Championship Series (PCS) between Alex Shelley and Austin Starr. Given the tie breaking vote, Backlund launched a long explanation before declaring his decision a draw, and the match was restarted by PCS director Kevin Nash. After Shelley won the match, Starr pie-faced Backlund because he believed Backlund had cost him the match. Backlund responded by putting Starr in the crossface chickenwing.
Backlund then began to make regular appearances on TNA Impact! During this time, he was described as crazy and weird by commentators Don West and Mike Tenay, somewhat similar to the "Mr. Backlund" gimmick of his second WWF tenure.
Backlund made his in-ring return at Slammiversary, defeating Alex Shelley. He then teamed with Jerry Lynn to lose to Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin (managed by Kevin Nash) at Victory Road. When TNA redesigned their website, Backlund's profile was removed, signaling the end of his run with the company.
Third return to WWE (2007, 2012–present)
On the 15th Anniversary episode of Raw on December 10, 2007, Backlund participated in the "15th Anniversary Battle Royal", along with 14 other wrestlers from Raw's 15 year history. Backlund was eliminated from the match by Skinner.
On the July 9, 2012 episode of WWE Raw, Backlund attacked Heath Slater after Slater's match with Sin Cara as part of a weekly series of Legend appearances. He later appeared at Raw 1000 with all of the other Legends who had faced Slater over the weeks, helping chase Slater back into the ring when he tried to run away from Lita and the APA.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame on April 6, 2013 by his friend Maria Menounos, and was acknowledged onstage with the year's other inductees at WrestleMania 29.
He made an appearance on the October 7, 2013 episode of WWE Raw, unsuccessfully attempting to canvass votes in order to become the special guest referee for the WWE Championship match at Hell In A Cell. Shawn Michaels later won a public vote and was named as the special guest referee. However, Backlund did appear in a segment at Hell In A Cell together with Darren Young and Titus O'Neil, where they played WWE 2K14.