Subscribe to the podcast via: iTunes | Spotify | Google | Youtube
Bob Backlund had no right to be a headliner for the WWF in 1994. Even if the company was going through a period of identity searching after the depature of Hogan, even if Bret Hart wasn't doing the job the company quite wanted him to do. Shoehorning a 45-year-old into your top program just months after the company had proclaimed this to be the "The New Generation" would've looked really silly had they not headlined a show with Jerry Lawler and Roddy Piper. To begin with, you were perplexed by the very notion that Backlund could be in title program in 1994, by the end you were perplexed his reign was so short.
You'd be forgiven for forgetting that Backlund even existed on such a scale in 1994. While he had appeared at Wrestlemania IX in a three minute defeat to Razor Ramon, he was all but gone from a company that arced very sharply into a generation post Hogan. Lead by Bret Hart after the failure of Lex Luger, and flanked by the likes of Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, The 123 Kid, Owen Hart and more. Backlund was gone and all but forgotten.
His return, a match on WWF Superstars at the end of July 1994 you could be forgiven for overlooking. Not really mentioned or referenced on Raw, and airing in the immeadiate aftermath of the steroid trial and shortly before Summerslam, Backlund's match with Bret Hart almost went unnoticed, even if it was a very good showcase for both men. Bret won decisively with a roll up, seconds after Backlund thought he had the match and the title won with a roll up of his own. That, in theory, was that as Bret returned his focus to his brother Owen, and their match inside the steel cage at Summerslam, and Backlund went away again.
Backlund would be back after Summerslam though, now fully as a heel cutting largely incomprehensible promos about morality and the state of society. Backlund's ace in the hole was his submission move - The Cross Face Chicken Wing - and to their credit the company did an excellent job building the move. Backlund invited anyone to try and break it, and the challenge was accepted by WWF Magazine writer Lou Gianfriddo. What followed could easily stake a claim as being the best WWF segment of the year.
Backlund locked in the chicken wing and predictably Gianfriddo passed out. Backlund then refused to release the hold and Vince McMahon who was interviewing Backlund really go over the idea of there was geniune panic and concern. The cameraman in the ring downing his camera to help out, the camera on the outside cutting to Randy Savage (on commentary), who whipped off his headset and stormed the ring like he'd just left the oven on. We panned out and we saw Savage and numerous WWF referees and officials storm the ring. The visual was awesome, the impact on Backlund's credentials just as significant. (You can watch the segment on the September 19th 1994 edition of Raw – about 35 minutes in).
Backlund looked and felt like a guy who was cryogenically frozen when he last appeared properly in the company in the early 80s. He didn't look like a star, he didn't particularly sound like one either – his incomprehensible promos worked more because of what they implied more than what they said. He was the last guy I would've picked to headline Survivor Series with Bret Hart, yet when we get there it felt so right. When he won the title, it felt so right.
And what a shame that Backlund never really got the chance to have a run with the title this time around. His run was cut to just three days, being run over by Diesel in under ten seconds. The best way I can put over how good a job the company did with him is to tell you that in a hotline poll during Survivor Series – 79% of fans voted the chicken wing over the sharpshooter as the better submission hold. Given Backlund was the heel, Bret the babyface – it's an illustration of how good Backlund was.
In August I laughed at the idea of Backlund even challenging for the title, let alone winning it. Yet having watched the proceeding four months I'm highly disappointed Backlund didn't get a run on top. We'll see how it plays out, but it seems like once his house show run with Diesel concludes, Backlund's role as a major name in the company comes to an end. Such a shame.