As a two-time WWE World heavyweight champion with various collegiate honors to his name, the All-American Boy Bob Backlund has the accolades to be included in halls of fame nationwide. But when asked three years ago if he would like to be inducted in the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa, he said he didn’t deserve it.
“I said I don’t deserve to be in the same hall of fame as Dan Hodge and Dan Gable,” said Backlund, one of two living inductees in the class of 2016. “They asked a couple other times and finally talked me into doing it. And I said the same thing again.”
“They were Olympic champions, and I didn’t get anyplace close to that in my career as an amateur wrestler,” Backlund said.
He earned All-American honors at Iowa’s Waldorf College and became the second person in North Dakota State University history to earn a national wrestling championship. In 1971, he brought home the NCAA Division II title in the 190-pound division.
Despite his hesitation, Backlund joins The Iron Sheik, Joe Blanchard, and four other honorees in Waterloo, Iowa, July 22-24, for the annual event. But Backlund and Sheik crossed paths years prior to their respective squared-circle journeys — in Minnesota when Sheik helped Alan Rice coach the Greco-Roman team in Minnesota.
“A few years later (we’re in) Madison Square Garden (with) 21,000 people there, (and he’s) going to get WWF championship from me,” Backlund said. “That was a very memorable happening for me and him also.”
It was that night in 1983 that Sheik defeated Backlund for the World Heavyweight Championship, ending a six-year reign.
Also in Backlund’s hall of fame class is former MMA competitor and current Global Force Wrestling expert analyst Chael Sonnen.
Had Sonnen’s sport of choice existed around the time of Backlund’s amateur career, the All-American Boy said it might have been something he considered. But in today’s realm, he wouldn’t go down that road, despite the fact that he respects everybody in the sport.
“To be a young man wrestling somebody and have them down on the mat and they let them hit him in the face, and two years after that, he can’t do a promo anymore … I don’t think (you should be able) to destroy somebody’s life in two years,” Backlund said.
The All-American Boy said he doesn’t know how people can “make a living destroying the person making the money for you.”
“I just don’t care for that at all,” Backlund said.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Two years after relinquishing the championship, Backlund left WWE (then known as WWF).
“I didn’t think anything more could top that in my life,” Backlund said. “I concentrated on the past rather than the future, (and then I) found this book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. That book got me thinking about the future rather than the past.”
He said he has read Hill’s work “probably 200 times” and read its chapter summaries each night to “indoctrinate” himself on the ways of the book. And just last year, the All-American Boy released a book of his own — Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling’s World Champion.
“One of my prayers is I hope this Backlund book can do the same thing for people,” said Backlund, who co-wrote the biography with Rob Miller.
Though he initially had a book written in 1985, Backlund said the publishing company refused to publish it. Over the years, Backlund said, people have approached him about writing his memoirs, but he wasn’t comfortable with those who sought him out. At 60 years old, he thought his story would never be told. But in 2009, he received a letter from Miller, who explained that he attended Yale, earned a law degree in Philadelphia and had written two other books — and Backlund was Miller’s “childhood hero.” About three weeks after receiving the letter, Backlund called Miller, who happened to be driving.
“I said, ‘This is Bob Backlund calling,’ and he almost went in the ditch,” Backlund recalled.
When they met, Miller had a portfolio documenting every match in Backlund’s career.
“He knew me better than I did. I thought, ‘This man is the right guy to write the book,'” Backlund said.
Outside of the squared circle, Backlund’s activities have run the gamut of All-American activities — From an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2000 to being designated as the Connecticut governor’s council for physical fitness in the 1980s. His occupations also have ranged from bail bondsman to owner of oil and sheetrock businesses. But he hated the oil business and eventually sold it. Now, he tries to “motivate people of all ages.” Backlund currently is involved in public speaking engagements and book signings.
However, before that, Backlund spent part of 2007 with Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling to “see what it was all about.”
“I wasn’t there very long,” Backlund said. “I found out, I think they had the wrong people running the business.”
FROM WWF CHAMPION TO MR. BACKLUND
Backlund’s career prior to WWE took him from the Funks in Texas to Florida’s Eddie Graham to St. Louis with Sam Muchnick. Muchnick was instrumental in how Backlund’s career ultimately progressed, according to Wrestling at the Chase commentator Larry Matysik, who has said that Muchnick “certainly touted” Backlund to Vincent J. McMahon.
“(Sam Muchnick) found out what I was all about, and I think he liked my ways and the things that I was doing in the business, and was very close to Vince and Vince Sr. at the time when they were considering me and Jack Brisco or Harley Race to be the next NWA champ,” Backlund said.
But, according to Backlund, they were worried about him because he “couldn’t be a heel, and you had to be both when you were in the NWA.”
“Vince McMahon came down to St. Louis and there was a three-way tie between Harley Race, Jack Brisco and myself,” Backlund said. “Vince McMahon voted for Harley Race, (and) took me to New York City to be WWF champion.”
When Backlund returned to the company in the 1990s, he was introduced to a new era of fans. He came back to be “Mom and dad and apple pie,” took on the “Mr. Backlund” moniker and required fans to recite the U.S. presidents obtain an autograph. At the time, role models “never walked the walk,” according to Backlund, and the good guys were “lying, cheating and swearing.”
“Society dropped down and people didn’t want to hear about the All-American Boy,” Backlund said.
Once when Backlund tried to cut a promo, he said “the noise got so loud you couldn’t hear yourself.”
“I did a promo for five minutes and never said a word because people hated me so much,” Backlund said.
Lately, however, the tone has changed for Backlund and the fans. He has returned for a third stint with the company to take on the role of WWE star Darren Young’s life coach to make Young “great again.”
The angle, though, was all Young’s idea. While Backlund said he hasn’t been out in the business much at this point, he has started making appearances, working out and aiming to increase Young’s strength and “mental toughness.”
Most recently, Backlund has appeared on RAW and Smackdown with Young, who secured a shot at The Miz’s Intercontinental Championship at WWE Battleground on July 24 in Washington, DC. Chances are, The All-American Boy will be there after his induction in Waterloo too.
For more information on the Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame, or to purchase tickets, visit www.nwhof.org/waterloo.
TRAGOS/THESZ CLASS OF 2016 STORIES
- July 23, 2016: Backlund & Iron Sheik headline Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame
- July 19, 2016: Melby Award for Meltzer proper recognition for pioneering work
- July 18, 2016: Backlund says he ‘doesn’t deserve’ Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame induction
- July 2, 2016: Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame has a ‘family reunion atmosphere’
- Feb. 8, 2016: Chael Sonnen perfect for George Tragos Award – just ask him
- Jan. 27, 2016: JJ Dillon ‘humbled’ by Thesz Award
BOB BACKLUND STORIES
- July 23, 2016: Backlund & Iron Sheik headline Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame
- July 19, 2016: Backlund says he ‘doesn’t deserve’ Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame induction
- Feb. 3, 2016: Backlund’s book is not for everyone
- Sep. 1, 2004: For Backlund, it’s still about motivation
- Aug. 29, 2004: World champs still reign supreme at fanfest
- Bob Backlund on Twitter: @AskMrBacklund
- National Wrestling Hall of Fame/Dan Gable Museum Facebook
- Twitter: @wrestlingmuseum