Bob Backlund is a four-time former WWF World Heavyweight Champion and a
legendary mat artist. He was trained by the legendary Verne Gagne in Minnesota.
Backlund was the last WWF Champion to defend his claim throughout the World in a
sport divided by territories. He traveled through many NWA regions and battled the rival
champions of both the Alliance and the AWA. For five years he reigned at the top of the
WWF. He might have gone on for another five if Hulk Hogan hadn’t returned to the
organization, although he dropped the belt to a heel, the Iron Sheik.
Backlund was born in Princeton, Minnesota and made his professional debut in 1974
after a successful collegiate career, which saw him capture an NCAA Title for North
Dakota State. Backlund learned from Dory Funk Jr., Terry Funk and Danny Hodge. It’s
safe to say that he learned from some of the best. Early in his career, Backlund toured
through many National Wrestling Alliance territories including Florida and Oklahoma
before settling in the northeast in early 1977.
During those years of growth, he won both the NWA Missouri Title and co-held the NWA
Florida Tag Championship. Once in the northeast, Backlund was ready to make history.
The wrestling world applauded when they learned that he beat “Superstar” Billy Graham
on February 22, 1978 to capture the WWWF Heavyweight Title. Backlund’s victory came
after 14:51 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Graham had his foot across the
bottom rope, which would have stopped the pin attempt if the referee had seen it. An
estimated 23,000 fans were in attendance. WWWF audiences were excited to have a
champion they could cheer for. Bob would later adopt Arnold Skaaland as his manager.
Backlund quickly assumed Graham’s schedule and three days later he was in
Jacksonville, Florida to meet the NWA World Champion, Harley Race, in a title vs. title
bout. The two wrestled to a 60-minute draw in a match which some pundits say propelled
Backlund into a new spotlight. A higher level of respect was immediately gained. If
Backlund would have beaten Race and unified the two championships, his
accomplishment would have been perhaps the greatest since Lou Thesz’s World Title
Unifications of the 1950s. Promoters scrambled to rematch Backlund and Race, but it
didn’t immediately happen. Instead, legendary organizer Frank Tunney pit the WWWF
Champion against the AWA World Champion, Nick Bockwinkel at Toronto’s Maple Leaf
Gardens on March 25, 1979. The highly anticipated unification match ended in a double-
countout after 37-minutes of action.
Former West Coast Superstar Pat Patterson beat Backlund during the fall of 1979 at
Madison Square Garden in a controversial fashion. The assigned official stopped their
match because of Bob’s extreme blood loss. Patterson immediately claimed the WWF
Title, although officials continued to recognize Backlund.
He traveled to the Orient as part of a tour of New Japan and lost the WWF Title to
Antonio Inoki in Tokushima on November 30th. The title change was not recognized in
the United States. Backlund received a rematch on December 6th and won by
disqualification after Tiger Jeet Singh interfered. Inoki retained the belt, but decided to
vacate the championship because of the way he won their rematch. Promoters in the
United States scheduled a vacant title match between Backlund and Bobby Duncum Sr.
on December 12, 1979 at Madison Square Garden. Backlund won the match and
captured his second WWF Title.
A young athlete from Florida joined the WWF for a short period of time. The man’s
name was Hulk Hogan. Backlund wrestled him in defense of his World Title and
successfully retained it. Backlund was a part of a huge card sponsored by the WWF at
Shea Stadium in Flushing on August 9, 1980. Although he was recognized as the
heavyweight champion, Bob was not in the main event. An estimated 36,000 fans in the
audience witnessed Bruno Sammartino end his feud with Larry Zbyszko in the final match
of the night. But Backlund did make himself known in the match prior. He teamed with
former WWWF Champion, Pedro Morales to beat the Wild Samoans and won the WWF
World Tag Team Title. Bob Backlund became the first man since Buddy Rogers to have
held both the WWF Heavyweight and co-held the number one tag team title in the
northeast, at the same time.
Citing the fact that the WWF Champion had to focus only on one title, officials
immediately vacated the tag title. Backlund’s achievement was one of the most
respected in organization history. After months of wrangling, Backlund was finally
matched up against Harley Race again in a title unification match. The bout happened
on September 22, 1980 in New York City at the Garden. Backlund won the NWA World
vs. WWF Title Match by disqualification after Race attacked referee Jackie Lotz. In late
1980, Backlund took his belt into Southern California and beat Butcher Brannigan in Los
The WWF Title was held up after a match against Greg Valentine on October 19, 1981
in New York. Backlund won the rematch, capturing his third belt.
Jesse Ventura challenged Backlund for the WWF World Title on December 13, 1981 in
East Rutherford, New Jersey, and the champion lost by disqualification. One of the most
famous matches in Madison Square Garden history took place on June 28, 1982.
Backlund was in town to give former NWA U.S. Champion, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka a shot
at his belt in a special steel cage match. As he laid prone on the mat, Snuka climbed to
the top of the cage. A giant leap was executed to the excitement of the fans, but
Backlund moved at the last second. The move enabled him to win the match by climbing
the cage to the arena floor. On November 6, 1982, Ray Stevens defeated Backlund by
disqualification in East Rutherford’s Meadowlands Arena.
On December 26, 1983, Backlund was upset by the Iron Sheik in New York City, losing
the WWF World Title in controversial fashion. The Sheik had the champion in a painful
Camel Clutch when manager Arnold Skaaland threw a towel into the ring. Skaaland’s
move prompted the official to signal the timekeeper and the bell rang. The match was
over and Backlund’s reign had come to an end. His time as champion was more than
respectful, but that final loss left a few questions.
Within a matter of weeks, the Sheik lost the belt to Hulk Hogan, fresh from a stint in the
AWA. The WWF was taking on a new face and Bob Backlund was not in the picture. In
February 1985, he challenged Rick Martel for the AWA World Heavyweight Title. Martel
retained successfully. Backlund was named the number one contender to Larry Zbyszko’
s Americas Heavyweight Title in early 1985, but never could take the belt. He pinned
former AWA and USWA World Unified Champion, Jerry Lawler in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania
on January 10, 1992. The World Wrestling Alliance sponsored the event. He pinned
Paul Orndorff on a UIW Card in Tamaqua on May 2, 1992.
Backlund made his WWF return on July 1, 1992 in White Plains, New York and defeated
Skinner by pinfall. The former three-time World Champion began a full-time schedule.
On May 11, 1994, he beat Rick Martel by pinfall in Hokkaido, Japan. In the weeks and
months that followed, Bob Backlund began to unfold before the public’s eye. He would
fast become one of the most hated individuals in the organization. A feud was initiated
with Bret Hart, a man who was not only the World Champion, but one of the most popular
wrestlers around. Backlund received a World Title shot against Bret Hart on November
23, 1994 in San Antonio, Texas. After more than 35-minutes, Backlund captured the
belt. Hart’s mother tossed the towel into the ring ending the match. His fourth WWF
World Title reign began. Only one wrestler had eclipsed that record…Hulk Hogan.
Three days later, Backlund was in Madison Square Garden in New York City to defend
his belt against Diesel. After a very short match, Diesel captured the title. During the
November 27, 1995 edition of Monday Night Raw, Bret Hart was attacked by Backlund
and locked in the cross-face chicken wing in the ring during an interview segment with
Brother Love. It took a number of WWF officials to force Backlund to release his hold on
the World Champion. Promoters quickly scrambled to sign a match between the two.
The following week, Backlund again caught someone in the cross-face on Raw. It wasn’t
a wrestling champion this time, though. It was an innocent bystander. A match was
signed and announced for December 11th. The World Title was not on the line. The
match did not end as Backlund would have liked. Davey Boy Smith interfered and
attacked Hart. Backlund did secure his finisher on the champ until he was pulled away.
Many wondered if yet another World Title Reign was ahead.
Backlund received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the WWF at the 1997 Slammy
Awards in Chicago.
By Tim Hornbaker
|Bob Backlund Wrestling History
|PPV Ring Record TV Ring Record Career Record
Legends of Pro Wrestling