Former WWE Champion and current manager Bob Backlund spoke to Ring Rust Radio recently. You can check out highlights below, and the full interview above.
You were an amateur wrestling star at North Dakota State University. As someone who made the successful jump from the amateur ranks to pro wrestling, what are your thoughts on a Superstar like Brock Lesnar who made a similar jump?
“It’s not a hard thing to do more as it’s a mental thing to do. In amateur wrestling, you are always wanting to win matches and win matches and win matches. I changed my goal when I got into professional wrestling and I said I wanted to go out there and entertain at the highest level I could. I didn’t have any problem whether I won or lost as long as I had as good as a match as I could. Guys like Brock Lesnar that come from amateur wrestling love the business just as much as they loved the athletics in amateur wrestling.”
In much the same vein as Brock, Kurt Angle is a guy who was an Olympic gold medalist as an amateur wrestler before going on to become one of the all-time greats in professional wrestling. I always really enjoyed the work you did with him in 2000. How do you regard your time with Kurt looking back and what are your overall impressions of him and what he ultimately became in the wrestling business?
“I have a lot of respect for his in-ring skills. To go and win a gold medal in the Olympics, not too many people get a chance to do that and it is such a great accomplishment. He really is such a fantastic amateur wrestler. When we worked together, I was using the cross-face chicken wing and we were wanting to pass it on to him. He got it on me one time but then I am not sure if he used it much after that. I still use it and think it’s pretty good. I was with Heath Slater and put him in the chicken wing and everybody in the building was roaring. Maybe it just didn’t fit with him. I was the first one to use the cross-face chicken wing at the time. The chicken wing and the cross-face were in the business but I was the first one to clasp my hands when I had both of them on. So I was sort-of the inventor of it. I heard lately a female wrestler was using it but not sure who she is. When I go to the signings like at WrestleMania and people have the options of what they want me to do with them, and more often than not they want me to put them in the cross-face chicken wing.”
Do you still have the itch to wrestle and do you recall the last time you spoke with WWE about having a match?
“When I got put into the Hall of Fame in 2013, I told Triple H I would like to get back in the business and put a little bit more w in it and I was serious about it. I don’t know if he is ever going to take me up on the offer. I do think about it every now and then. I would like to get back in there and have a war. I am 66 years old but I feel like a spring rooster. I work out every day and my pulse was 42 the other day. The Harvard Step Test really makes your heart rate go down. I do that a few times a day and a high number of squats with other stretching and weight routines.”
You have seen top stars come and go in WWF, but one name making news lately for all the wrong reasons has been Hulk Hogan. What was your perception of Hogan and how did he stack up against legends like yourself and Bruno Sammartino?
“I know Bruno is a great man and has a lot of integrity and honor. He was very concerned at the time with what type of guy was going to replace him and take his spot. He didn’t know me very well and I didn’t know him, but about two or three years later we found out we were on the same page. We got along very well but didn’t talk very much. Hogan was a great person in the ring but we didn’t like his outside activities. We thought he wasn’t a very good representation of the business or a model for young people to look up to. He didn’t walk the walk.”
You had a chance to work for some of the biggest and most legendary promoters of all time, most notably Verne Gagne, Vincent J. McMahon and Vincent K. McMahon. Based on your experiences, which did you most enjoy working for and what set them apart from the others?
“Vince Sr. became like a dad to me. He told me four months ahead of time that he was going to give me the belt. At the time there were people like Billy Graham and others who were trying to talk him out of it. I didn’t know Vince very well at the time so I didn’t know if he was going to go back on what he said. He had some good reasons not to give it to me. I wasn’t a proven commodity as far as buying or selling out buildings at the time while Billy Graham was a proven success with the title in territory at the time. He told them all that he promised it to me and he was going to give it to me and it didn’t matter what they thought. He became like a father to me after that and a role model for me to look up to. I enjoyed wrestling for him and working with him. He would come and ask if you wanted to do something, instead of coming to you and telling you what they are going to do. He was such a nice guy to work for and with and nothing could ever top my time with him as my boss.”