In 1978, Bob Backlund defeated Superstar Billy Graham for the WWWF World Title. Soon after, Graham left the federation.
When he returned in 1982, he had shaved off his trademark bleached-blond hair, grown a mustache, and assumed a martial arts gimmick. But his return was big enough that even five years later, he immediately was put into the WWF World Title picture to chase Backlund, who still had the belt (save for a brief title switch from Backlund to Antonio Inoki, back to Backlund in 1979).
Those of us watching pro wrestling in 1982 will remember well the angle in which Graham destroyed the WWF strap, smashing it on the ground and ripping the gold plates off. Backlund was occupied in the ring with Swede Hanson when Graham stole the belt from ringside, telling announcer Vince McMahon, “If I can’t it, nobody can have it!”
Backlund, who played a straight-laced character, got emotional when he finally reached to his damaged belt on the concrete floor, grunting and groaning on the ground as McMahon and Backlund’s manager, Arnold Skaaland, looked on.
Backlund was nearly crying as he yelled, “Why!” over and over again. It was not the Backlund many of us were used to.
The angle led to a successful series of matches between Graham and Backlund, including a steel cage bout in Boston in November 1982, which Backlund won. The most memorable matches in the series occurred in Madison Square Garden, where Graham and Backlund had a bloody feud that culminated with a lumberjack match with Hanson as special referee in December 1982. After Backlund was victorious with the crossface chickenwing, Graham and Hanson had words, which led to a match between the two in early 1983 at MSG, which Graham won.
The angle also led to the WWF commissioning a new belt design: the ugly green strap that Backlund, Iron Sheik, and Hulk Hogan all wore.