By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Bob Backlund © vs Diesel 11/26/94
WWF World Heavyweight Championship Match
Bob Backlund was once undisputedly ‘the guy’ for the WWF. Holding the WWF World Championship for over two thousand days in a row (if you ignore a brief gap where Antonio Inoki laid claim to the belt), he very much fit the mould of the type of wrestler the WWF wanted to push at the top of this card. A face with either a legitimate background or ethnic popularity – or hopefully both – were the foundations upon which the promotion had built itself up over the previous two decades.
This was WWF under the auspices of Vince McMahon Sr. though. The younger McMahon didn’t have the same affinity for Backlund, didn’t see him as the man to spearhead the revolutionary changes that McMahon Jr. sought to implement on his road to the top of the wrestling industry. At a time when the promotion was about to be taken into the mainstream through the Rock and Wrestling connection, Backlund just didn’t fit the bill. Famously, the Iron Sheik would force Arnold Skaaland to throw the towel in and cost Backlund the title; Hulk Hogan picked up the belt less than a month later.
Eight months after losing the belt, Backlund left the promotion. Stints in Pro Wrestling USA, UWF and UWFi spoke of a man whose stock was low and whose interest in professional wrestling was waning. Indeed, he would spend a lot of the interim period training amateur wrestlers rather than lacing up the boots himself. It would be eight years before Backlund once again set foot in a WWF ring.
What made McMahon decide that Backlund was the right man at this time is open for debate. His arrival at a time when the steroid scandal was still ongoing possibly shines the brightest light on the decision, but for the initial stages of his second run, he did very little. A record breaking run in the Royal Rumble notwithstanding, Backlund was just another guy for the first year and a half of his return. It was his happiness to turn heel, something he had refused to do back in 84, that would rocket his career back into a position that no-one could have truly seen coming.
The debut of the Mr Backlund version of Backlund’s character stemmed from him snapping after losing a title match to Bret Hart on Superstars in July of this year. Though Backlund’s in-ring action was still fairly dated and not exactly going to set the world on fire, the unhinged heel character was a stroke of genius. Wearing suits and using big words often wrongly in interviews gave Backlund something tangible for fans to latch onto, rather than his tired babyface performances.
Turning against the world champion also thrust Backlund into a feud with him, right at the time that the seeds were being sown for an Owen Hart heel turn. The planets aligned for Backlund, putting him once more in a position to win the gold. A match that is most remembered for the longest chickenwing in history, Backlund defeated Bret Hart for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship after Owen convinced Helen Hart to throw the towel in to ‘protect’ his older brother. One throw of a towel had cost Backlund the gold a decade previously; this one crowned him once more.
Backlund would hold the title for three days.
Backlund’s title victory, whilst mindblowing in many ways, allowed the promotion to do two things. The Diesel era was about to take off, with Backlund losing the title at a house show in Madison Square Garden – the last time (at time of writing) the title has changed hands at a house show. Eight seconds was all it took for Diesel to hit a boot to the stomach, the Jacknife powerbomb and win the title. According to Nash, Backlund would crawl his way back up the aisle to sell the effects of the finish.
Most importantly from a creative standpoint, Backlund’s win sparked into life the Owen and Bret feud, an angle that offered excellent action inside the ring with a compelling angle outside of it. In echoes of his past title loss, it was through Backlund dropping the belt that the promotion was able to shift gears in an effort to revitalise a flagging promotion. The first time it worked; anyone who was around for the Diesel reign knows it wasn’t as successful the second time round.