WRESTLING THROUGH THE AGES: BOB BACKLUND
Prior to his WWF return in the early 90s, the Fed had virtually erased Bob Backlund from its history. He didn’t no-show a house show or hold Vince up for money. There were no rumors of Backlund having relations with underage members of the McMahon family. He didn’t tragically kill his family before taking his own life. But, oddly, once Hulk Hogan defeated The Iron Shiek on January 23, 1984, it was almost as if Backlund’s nearly six-year reign as champion never happened.
Even as a youth, based on the little pieces I could gather on my own about Backlund, the initial choice to make Backlund champion was confusing and and the sheer length (even for that time) of his reign was especially baffling. For a kid raised on the Rock n’ Wrestling Connection and the increasingly cartoonish years that followed it, Bob Backlund seemed to me more like a Saturday morning WRESTLING CHALLENGE jobber than a World champion.
Backlund’s return to the big time in 1992 picking up where he left off as the vanilla babyface he had portrayed during his 1978-1983 title run did little to illuminate my curiosity as to how the bland Backlund became the top guy in the largest territory in the nation—the World Wide Wrestling Federation—a promotion which, even pre-cartoon era, boasted a roster of colorful and large (literally) characters.
My lack of knowledge of Backlund made me especially excited to read the book, BACKLUND: FROM ALL-AMERICAN BOY TO WRESTLING’S WORLD CHAMPION written by Backlund and Rob Miller. Should you read this book? Before I answer that, you must consider that there are books for people that read, there are books for people that like wrestling and there are books for people that read and like wrestling. I happen to be a regular reader that is also a tremendous fan. This isn’t a particularly well-written book so if you require that sort of thing out of your reading material, you might want to skip this one. This is not only a book for people that like wrestling, in order to enjoy it, you have to REALLY like wrestling. Backlund essentially breaks down every program (and damned near every match) he ever worked. It was especially interesting to find out more about names I’ve heard or even read but didn’t know much about. There’s some interesting dirt; Backlund didn’t like working with Stan Hansen, Mil Mascaras was a prima donna pain in the ass, Backlund once refused to ride with Jack Brisco because he was smoking a joint in the car.
One thing I found particularly interesting is how weakly Backlund was booked during his title reign. Folks who think Seth Rollins is booked to look like a chump would take solace in the way Backlund’s opponents were often booked. In fact, the reason why the WWF-style cage matches ended when the winner escaped the cage was so Backlund could win the blow off to a feud without pinning his opponent. Granted, Flair was booked as the lucky champion that seemed beatable and would narrowly escape with the title as well, but at least Flair was a heel. Based on the way Backlund describes himself in the book, he lived the gimmick as the clean-cut, earnestly wholesome, righteous regular Joe. He’s like the anti-Flair. Flair, too, lived his gimmick 24/7 and has the alimonies to show for it.
After reading the book, Backlund’s title reign remains a mystery to me. If you consider yourself a student of the game and want to learn more about a place and time that is often overlooked in books, shoot interviews, etc., check this out. If you want a fun read told in an interesting voice with some great backstage stories, read Flair’s book or better yet listen to his weekly WOO! NATION podcast.
Tags: backlund book, Bob Backlund, Jack Brisco, Madison Square Garden, Mil Mascaras, old school wrestling, rob miller, sr., VInce McMahon, wrestling challenge, WWE Network, WWF, WWWF