Wrestling With Myself Pits Old School WWWF Babyface Bob Backlund Against Strict Disciplinarian Alter Ego Mr. Backlund

Written by: Keven Undergaro – April 22nd, 2020 12:28pm pst


Mick Foley wrestled as Cactus Jack, Mankind, Dude Love and also as Mick Foley. The Undertaker wrestled as the Dead Man and then as the American Bad Ass.  We have Bray Wyatt and we have the Fiend.  How many times have we seen our favorite wrestlers go through many different character incarnations throughout their careers?  In search of their true voices, some traded in weaker gimmicks and characters in favor of stronger ones. Others simply evolved with the times, enjoying equal success in various different personas.  It got us at AfterBuzz TV Wrestling thinking. What if these personas were pitted against one another? Which persona would come out the winner?  Would Cody Rhodes beat Stardust?  Would Hollywood Hogan defeat Hulk Hogan? Would Diesel beat Kevin Nash and so one?  Welcome to AfterBuzz TV’s ‘Wrestling with Myself’, a recurring series where we answer those questions.  This week’s Wrestling with Myself pits WWWF Champion ‘Bob Backlund’ against WWF Champion ‘Mr. Backlund.’

Credit: Topps/WWWF

We begin with some background and tales of the tape for each of our contenders, beginning with Bob Backlund or ‘Bob.’  Bob was the WWWF champion from 1978 to 1983.  To give context as to the enormity of the feat, no one since has had a consecutive title reign for that long.  In fact, the only other wrestler to hold the title longer was the great Bruno Sammartino. Like Bruno, Bob was a ‘baby face’ or good guy.  Though critics later mocked what they perceived as a Howdy Doody bland persona, those that did failed to acknowledge many of Bob Backlund’s extraordinary feats and attributes. As far as being ‘worthy’ of holding the title, Bob was an NCAA Champion amateur wrestler with the greatest level of conditioning in‘the history of our great sport (wink to Tony S.).’  

Bob traded evenings at the bars with fellow wrestlers for working out in his motel room with the heat’s thermostat cranked to maximum no less. He refrained from steroids and tanning beds. There were many nights when he wrestled Don Muraco for a full hour, only to take a three hour drive to another arena and wrestle for another full hour. If other wrestlers got ‘ideas’ to go into business for themselves such as attempting to sneak in a pin and steal the belt, as many did back then, they would be hard pressed. Like Bruno before him, WWWF promoter Vince McMahon Sr could count on Bob to legit defend the title. No one in any locker room, from any promotion, could physically get by Bob. This inevitably helped the elderly Vince Sr. sleep better.  

Credit:  WWE

If that’s not enough for detractors, then consider the record setting streak of Madison Square garden sellouts under Bob’s title reign. Cynics will argue that the sellouts came from the undercard matches.  But that truly is being cynical. Bob, as champion, certainly had a more than significant hand in setting the record. In addition, in a time before sports entertainment, when wrestling was thought to be real, Bob was the epitome of a role model. He was a health advocate, dedicated family man, volunteer and community do-gooder.  In fact, he epitomized it so much that when he was asked to turn heel or become a bad guy, he refused, forgoing millions of dollars in so doing.  Falling on his sword for his beliefs, Bob Backlund went off to hang drywall in the bitter cold and brutal heat of Connecticut.  Those same detractors labelled him dumb, failing to see his vast integrity, along with his dsicpline.  Little did they, or other less evolved beings, know that they were fueling the fire and laying the groundwork for a new incarnation of Bob Backlund.  Hanging sheetrock by day, pumping iron by night, each day he heard their words.  Each day those words grew louder. Ten years passed.

Credit:  WWE

A decade after his exile, Bob Backlund attempted a wrestling comeback, only to receive a lukewarm reception. Bob noted to himself that the fans, like society, had changed drastically.  Thus, he pitched Vince McMahon Jr. the concept of expressing this notion to fans. ‘Expressing’ was an understatement.  Snapping on good guy Bret Hart after losing their ‘scientific’ match, Bob put Brett in a familiar hold he had begun to employ at the end of his title reign, his ‘Cross Faced Chicken Wing.’ Bob applied the hold, screaming maniacally and refusing to let go in the process. Half a dozen or more men fled into the ring attempting to pry him off.  They failed.  He simply let go.  When he finally did, he stared at his hands with an utterly dramatic yet psychotic grin of realization. Fans were outraged. Nights later Bob shaved his head, donned a red bow tie, suit and horn rim glasses, took the microphone to address them.  He said something to the effect, “I wasn’t the one to change, YOU DID!’  Oh, and when Vince referred to him as Bob, he replied ‘That’s Mr. Backlund to you!’   And that he was…. 

Mr Backlund would continue to place anyone in his Cross Face Chicken Wing who didn’t refer to him as “Mr. Backlund”.  He also put three quarters of the roster in the hold during matches – from which no one ever escaped. After a ten year absence, this ‘unworthy’ champion had completely reinvented himself. At 42 years of age (considered old in the early 90’s), Mr. Backlund defeated every competitor in his path and was voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s number one heel that year.  On the promo front, Mr. Backlund’s tirade videos on public education and literacy were the most hilarious and creative in all of wrestling.  He had no writers, either.  Just like in the old days, it was just a wrestler, a microphone, and the audience. Mr. Backlund would regain his championship in one of the greatest comebacks in wrestling history (if not THE greatest). 

Though Mr. Backlund would lose the title days later to a green Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash, it was a move promoters of the day now regret. Mr. Backlund was so loathed by fans that keeping the belt on him would have been far more profitable.    

We’ve delivered the hype on our two contenders. Now let’s talk about the match and who, at peak levels, comes out on top.  

Credit: WWE

Bob Backlund employs the Atomic Knee drop as his finishing move to finish off opponents and pin them. Mr. Backlund applies the aforementioned Crossface Chicken Wing submission move. 

Though Mr. Backlund is in top condition, Bob Backlund is younger and more muscular.  If you watch old Youtube videos of Bob Backlund, you see fans cheering wildly in a manner rarely seen today. However, was Bob more loved than Mr. Backlund was hated?  This is a narrow call, but it appears to be the latter. Mr. Backlund has the edge here. 

In terms of in-ring styles, the two are very similar. Bob Backlund wrestled scientifically.  He relied on traditional wrestling maneuvers.  Though Mr. Backlund was technically a heel, he never considered himself to be so.  Rather, he was just being honest in his views about the demise of society and the need for discipline to save it.  He was not looking for friends, but instead to deliver that message. This sentiment translated to his work in the ring. He rarely engaged in cheap shots, if it all. 

The biggest difference was the finishing maneuvers.  The Atomic Knee Drop, though potent in its day, would never finish off an opponent today.  The Chicken Wing, on the other hand, remains as devastating today as it ever was.  Backlund astutely noted in an interview that the only real defense for the Chicken Wing is to not be placed in it. 

In terms of time periods, Mr. Backlund competed in a far more competitive era.  Wrestling was national by this time, even global, making Mr. Backlund’s feats more poignant. Bob Backlund was a locker room leader and surrogate son to Vince McMahon Sr. Mr. Backlund was, on the contrary, an outcast. Most of the new generation of wrestlers mocked him for doing push ups and reading books in the locker room. They did so behind his back of course.  They were ‘cool’ but not stupid. Nevertheless, he did not have the political behind the scenes clout of Bob Backlund which made Mr. Backlund’s achievements, even greater.

It’s a close match, perhaps one of the closest in Wrestling With Myself History.  The match could easily go 60 minutes, but one Backlund would prevail. 

Winner: Mr. Backlund 

For both Bob Backlund and Mr. Backlund, modern day critics and the newest generation of wrestlers, have grown to recognize him as truly one of the all time greats. Today, he is ‘Mr. Bob Backlund’, in perhaps his latest incarnation.  Mr. Bob alternates between quiet and bombastic, while continuing his intense, two a day, workout regimen and volunteering for the community.  Oh, and just when I think 70 something Mr. Bob Backlund wouldn’t give Mr. Backlund or Bob Backlund a run for their money, I’m not so sure.  Mr. Bob Backlund is the only person I’ve ever seen do multiple push ups while in a headstand position.  

Credit: @BobBacklund on Twitter

If you’re a fan of classic pro wrestling, Bob Backlund, Mr. Backlund and/or Wrestling with Myself, please help by sharing this article.  Also, if there’s a wrestler with dual or more personas that you want to see wrestle against themselves, let us know. Keep tuning in to Afterbuzz TV articles and aftershows for the latest news and info on wrestling, pop culture, and entertainment.

About The Author:

Keven Undergaro is a the Founder and Chief Content Officer of AfterBuzz TV. Known as “The Hollywood Career Coach,” he is a brand builder, entrepreneur, award winning filmmaker, and New York Times bestselling author.

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