Pulse Wrestling’s Top 100 Wrestlers of the Modern Era: #39 – Bob Backlund

Features, Top 100, Top Story

Meet a man who held the WWF title twice, with a decade between his reigns.


HometownPrinceton, Minnesota
Titles HeldNWA Florida Tag Team (with Steve Keirn); NWA Georgia Tag Team (with Jack Brisco); NWA Western States Heavyweight (3x); NWA Missouri Heavyweight; WAR World Six Man Tag Team (with Scott Putski and the Warlord); WWF Tag Team (with Pedro Morales); WWWF/WWF World Heavyweight Championship; WWF World Championship
Other AccomplishmentsWon Division II NCAA Championship in 1971 (191 pound weight class); World champion when WWWF was renamed WWF; Pro Wrestling Illustrated Rookie of the Year in 1976; Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Inspirational Wrestler in 1977; Winner of Pro Wrestling Match of the Year Award (vs. Billy Graham); Pro Wrestling Illustrated Wrestler of the Year in 1980; Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Inspirational Wrestler in 1981; Winner of Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year Award in 1982 (vs. Jimmy Snuka); Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Hated Wrestler of the Year in 1994; Ranked #7 of the Top 500 Singles of the PWI Years by Pro Wrestling Illustrated; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Best Technical Wrestler Award in 1980; Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Match of the Year Award in 1980 (vs. Ken Patera); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic Award in 1982 (regarding his title reign); Winner of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Most Overrated Wrestler Award in 1983; Member of Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame (inducted in 2004); Member of Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame (inducted in 2008)

Bob Backlund’s career has been one of twists and turns. After graduating from North Dakota State University, Backlund began training as a wrestler under Eddie Sharkey. He made his pro-wrestling debut in 1973.

After touring various NWA affiliated promotions for the first four years of his career, he signed with the WWWF in 1977. Paired with Arnold Skaaland as a manager, it was clear that Vince McMahon Sr. saw great potential in Backlund. Less than four months into his tenure with the company Backlund was already receiving title shots against Superstar Billy Graham. In February of 1978 Backlund captured the WWWF World Heavyweight title after pinning Billy Graham (who had his feet on the ropes – ironically, the same way he’d won the belt).

Within days Backlund found himself facing NWA World Champion Harley Race in a title vs. title match. The match went to a 60-minute draw.

Backlund spent a large part of his time not only defending his title against WWWF wrestlers, but also against the respective NWA and AWA World Champions. Backlund remained the champion in 1979 as the company changed its name to the more familiar WWF.

Backlund won double gold on August 9, 1980 as he and Pedro Morales defeated the Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika). The title was immediately vacated since Backlund was the World champion, and the Samoans would regain the belts in the subsequent tournament to crown new champions.

1982 saw the winds of change begin blowing throughout the WWF. Vince McMahon Jr. purchased the company from his father and soon began working on a program of nationwide expansion.

The winds of change had become a hurricane by the end of 1983. McMahon had signed a star of the future named Hulk Hogan from the AWA and wanted the world title on him. McMahon planned to have Backlund turn heel and drop the belt to Hogan. Backlund refused, sending McMahon to Plan B.

On December 26, Backlund (who had earlier been injured by the Iron Sheik in an attack with the Sheik’s Persian clubs) defended his title against the Sheik in a match that would prove to be a precursor to another title defense in Montreal nearly fourteen years later. Finally the Sheik locked Backlund in his dreaded Camel Clutch. Skaaland threw in a towel and the referee awarded the match (and the title) to the Iron Sheik who, coincidentally, would lose the title to Hogan on January 24, 1984.

After the title loss, Backlund continued to work for the WWF for several more months, although he never again got close to a title. His final match saw him defeat Salvatore Bellomo on August 4, 1984.

Backlund’s next appearance was for Pro Wrestling USA – where the AWA and various NWA promotions (including Jim Crockett Productions) joined forces to try and fight back against the rapidly-growing WWF. The peak of Backlund’s run here was an unsuccessful title shot against Rick Martel’s AWA World title.

After Pro Wrestling USA folded, Backlund vanished for years and was believed to be retired. In 1991, however, Backlund returned to action – this time in Herb Abrams’s UWF.

By 1992, Backlund had returned to the WWF. He was once again relegated to the midcard as he avoided a cartoonish gimmick. He also competed in the 1993 Royal Rumble, where he lasted over an hour – a feat few WWF wrestlers have managed.

1994 saw a change in Backlund. He was scheduled to face Bret Hart in a match for the WWF championship. After Bret won the match Backlund slapped him and began laughing crazily as he locked Hart in his crossface chicken wing submission hold. Finally Backlund released him and stared at his hands, shocked at his own actions.

Not long after, Backlund came out on Raw and claimed that he had never lost the WWF title. This was a different Backlund than we’d seen before. He wore a business suit and threw large words out in his promos. He also extolled his own superiority to any wrestler on the WWF roster at that time.

Needless to say, this got Bret Hart’s attention. Hart and Backlund faced off again for the belt at the 1994 Survivor Series in a “Throw in the Towel” submission match. The idea was drawn from Backlund’s world title loss in 1983. Davey Boy Smith stood in Hart’s corner and renegade Hart brother Owen stood in Backlund’s. Both men had a towel. When they thought their man had had enough, they would throw in the towel to signify their submission.

As the action went in the ring, Owen Hart and Davey Boy got into a scuffle at ringside that ended with Davey Boy getting knocked out. At about the same time, Backlund locked Hart in the Crossface Chicken Wing. A remorseful Owen picked up Smith’s towel and turned to Stu and Helen Hart who were seated at ringside. They crossed the rail and joined their son’s corner.

Owen tearfully appealed to Stu and Helen to convince them to throw in the towel. Helen was ready to do so until Stu ripped it out of her hands. This continued for over eight minutes, while Bret was trapped in the hold the entire time. Finally Helen threw in the towel. Owen’s tears vanished and he grabbed the towel before heading to the back to celebrate.

Backlund’s reign didn’t last long. Three days later, Diesel powerbombed Backlund and pinned him at a Madison Square Garden house show in a title match that only lasted eight seconds. After the match, Backlund crawled up the ramp to the back.

Backlund never again came close to a title shot. He began appearing less and less until he finally lost an I Quit match to Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XI.

After Wrestlemania, Backlund announced that he was running for President. This angle was odd because the actual election was a year and a half away. Backlund was shown campaigning for a time until the entire angle was dropped.

Next Backlund joined the Iron Sheik in managing the Sultan. By the end of 1997, the Sultan, Sheik, and Backlund were gone.

Backlund returned again in 2000 at the Royal Rumble. After the Rumble, he began managing Kurt Angle. This continued until Angle discovered that Backlund had arranged for him to meet Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in a two falls match with both his titles on the line. Angle locked Backlund in his own Crossface Chicken Wing and he was gone again.

It was about this time that Backlund legitimately ran for a Congressional seat. He was unsuccessful.

In 2007, Backlund’s name began appearing during TNA’s Paparazzi Championship Series when Kevin Nash would inspect dubious pieces of equipment and pronounce them “Bob Backlund Approved.” Backlund himself appeared at the Final Resolution PPV, where he joined judges Simoleon Joe and the Fat Oily Naked Guy as judges for the final match in the series. After he lost, Austin Starr attacked the judges and shoved Backlund down. Backlund immediately went after Starr and locked him in the Crossface Chicken Wing.

After the Series, Backlund continued to appear on TNA programming as he feuded with Austin Starr. After Starr’s release, he battled Alex Shelly and Chris Sabin for a couple of weeks before he vanished again.

Backlund returned to the WWE in December of 2007. On the fifteenth anniversary show of Raw, Backlund competed in a Legends’ Battle Royal. He was eliminated by Skinner.

Bob Backlund is an interesting character, to say the least. He’s an extremely talented ring technician, and has been able to reinvent himself time and time again to stay relevant.

Yet, throughout it all, Backlund still clings to kayfabe in a way that is rarely seen today. He still lives his gimmick – including a refusal to sign autographs unless the person requesting the signature can recite all the Presidents of the United States (in order).

Backlund has also managed to keep himself in fighting trim despite his advancing age. When Backlund came out for the Legends’ Battle Royal, he appeared to be in the same physical condition he’d been in during his feud with Bret Hart more than a decade before.

Whether he’s known as All American Bob Backlund, Mr. Backlund, Presidential candidate, or even Bob Backlund, PCS judge, Bob Backlund is a name that is well-known to almost every wrestling fan. For all of his achievements, Backlund has certainly earned his place on this list of the top 100 wrestlers of the modern era.

The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.