Bob Backlund gets a bad rap these days. Most fans either remember him as the nutty heel who turned on Bret Hart in 1994 and briefly won the WWF Title before losing it to Diesel (better known as Kevin Nash), or worse, they remember his tenure acting as a kook for TNA Wrestling.
But for those of us who grew up watching pro wrestling in the early 1980s, Backlund was one of the biggest stars. He won the WWF belt in February 1978 from Superstar Billy Graham and finally lost it to the Iron Sheik in December 1983. In the midst of that near six-year reign, he had a quick-switch title exchange with Antonio Inoki in Japan.
What I remember most about Backlund is that he headlined many shows at the old Boston Garden (and probably every other major Northeast arena) when the WWF held near-monthly cards there. And it wasn’t like today’s WWE, where the top stars just recycle their matches over and over. How many times have we seen Randy Orton fight John Cena, and how many more times will they face off in the future?
No, Backlund wrestled a considerably bigger roster of challengers. For example, here’s a quick rundown of the stars Backlund fought at the 11 cards in the Boston Garden in 1982 alone: Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Adrian Adonis, Cowboy Bob Orton (Randy Orton’s father), Blackjack Mulligan, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Playboy Buddy Rose, Ray “The Crippler” Stevens, and Graham.
Backlund’s runs with various challengers lasted at most three months, which was the standard “big feud” length for house shows. You’d have the first match on month one, a rematch on month two, and the blow-off on month three. But that was only for really good opponents. Backlund dispatched of others with just one match.
Don’t get me wrong, not all of his matches were good. His bout with Stevens in December 1982 in Boston was terrible. Somehow Stevens got counted while standing on the ring apron tangling with Backlund, and that was after a snoozefest of headlocks. However, other wrestlers, like Snuka and Adonis, gave us good action with Backlund.