Bob Backlund remains true to his All-American roots
Outspoken. Opinionated. Political and a great American.
Donald Trump? No, rather another person who has graced the WWWF/WWE ring, takes pride in his country — and has run for office — former champion Bob Backlund.
His political beliefs and staunch opinions came to the front toward the end of his wrestling career, when he went from Bob Backlund to Mr. Backlund. A character that wasn’t as much heel as it was himself.
"It was a good thing for me to do because it brought me out of my shyness," Backlund said last week by phone from Connecticut as his autobiography "Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling’s World Champion" was to be released. "Everybody said that I couldn’t do a promo. When I was Bob Backlund, because Vince wanted me to do an All-American Boy promo, and I don’t know if they were good or not but that’s what they were. Some people in the business made fun of me because of those promos. I was just doing my job."
That job changed drastically with the heel turn.
As Mr. Backlund, I truly believed in what I was saying. I believed in every word that I said. I believed that society had fallen off a cliff morally compared to the ’80s.
"When I became Mr. Backlund, those laughs were silenced because people found out that I could do a promo," said Backlund, who reigned from 1978-83. "As Mr. Backlund, I truly believed in what I was saying. I believed in every word that I said. I believed that society had fallen off a cliff morally compared to the ’80s.
"I believed that people should be held responsible for their own actions. And I believed that hard work and dedication paid off. I also felt that it was all right to have people have to recite the Presidents of the United States to me because it would encourage them to study and to remember important things."
The in-ring character soon became Backlund’s persona.
"I was intense because I believed every word that came out of my mouth" Backlund, 66, said. "It may have come out in a weird way but I was honestly trying to help society.
"When I got out of my hometown of Glastonbury, Connecticut, I became ‘Mr. Backlund’ and if someone did not call me Mr. Backlund I just kept walking. I demanded respect because I believe that in life that respect is so important, especially for kids to respect others. That’s why I say "Sir" a lot because I believe it’s important to respect your fellow man. And when you give respect you might get it back."
Backlund deserved more respect from some within the wrestling business than he received. Some at WWE felt he had little charisma and was miscast. Some of his peers were jealous of Backlund’s near six-year run as the "leading man" — aka the top babyface — in the most lucrative pro wrestling territory in the world, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment.
Immense pressure came with being the "top guy," when it came to selling tickets to live events and generating profits for one’s company in the days before pay per view and mass merchandising.
"Sometimes when a guy is on top he isn’t given the credit when the houses are good. When the houses aren’t good the top guy gets all the blame," Backlund said. "I think Bruno Sammartino put it the best when he said if the top guy gets the blame when the houses are down then he should get the credit when the houses (ticket sales) are up. Bruno also said if Bob Backlund hadn’t been drawing he wouldn’t have been there. When Vince Sr. told me how long I was going to have the title, if I hadn’t sold tickets I would have went to him and said that I don’t deserve this (the title belt) and given it back to him."
As for losing the WWWF title, which he did to the Iron Sheik in 1983, Backlund has no regrets but wishes it could have been handled differently.
"I wish I had been better informed on how things were going to end but Vince Sr. was battling cancer and the communication wasn’t as good for me as when he was there," he remembered. "No one came to me and explained what was going to happen in just a few words. I just did not know what was happening whereas before I always knew what was happening with every promoter that I had worked for.
"But overall I have no regrets."
The number of times an individual has been "world champion"’ is often used in storylines. For my money, the number of title reigns a wrestler has pales in comparison to the number of years a talent carries the title. Bruno Sammartino held the WWWF Championship for an amazing eight years during his first reign; Backlund held the coveted title almost six years, feats that will likely never be approached again.
Backlund wrestled the best wrestlers in the world, many with unique styles, guys of all sizes and skill sets, but there is one name active today who has certainly caught the attention of the former All-American defensive end and national wrestling champion at North Dakota State University — titles that Backlund won within an amazing five-week span — and that’s fellow Minnesotan Brock Lesnar.
"Geez, he’s a great performer and I would have loved to have gotten in the ring and do a battle with him some way or another," Backlund said almost with glee. "He’s an amazing person and he’s got a look that is a gift from God. The power that he has, the strength that he has and his facial expressions, he’s really a natural for the business. A match with him would have been pretty awesome."
"I would have loved to have seen who would have been able to pick up who in a short arm scissors during our match," Backlund added with a legit competitive tone in his voice. "I would have loved to have wrestled Brock to just see how strong that he really is. He’s at the top of the list of the men that I never got to wrestle."
Another icon Backlund reveres is the legendary Danny Hodge.
"Well, I met Danny Hodge when I first got started down in Oklahoma. … You can’t really put anyone ahead of him. He had that grip strength and hand power that he could make most men submit by simply grabbing them around the wrist. He was unbelievable."
With Backlund, as opposed to the Mr. Backlund persona, it all comes back to the good.
"I read a book in 2005 called ‘Think and Grow Rich’ that changed my life," he said "In my book, I list my 18 principles to success which are the keys to my life. I hope that my book helps people get geared for the future and the future is where it’s at. I truly want to help people live happier lives, especially young people."
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