By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Bob Backlund © vs The Iron Sheik 12/26/83
WWF World Heavyweight Championship Match
Before there could be a megastar pushed to the moon, there had to be an end of an era. Bob Backlund had been riding high as the WWF World Heavyweight Champion for almost five years, but with the transition from Vince McMahon Sr. to Jr. and a reluctance to alter his character, his days were numbered at the top of the card. With Jr. picking up Hulk Hogan from the AWA and seeing him – quite correctly – as the future of the business, Backlund had to be moved to the side to allow for the younger, stronger and more exciting prospect to rise to the top of the pile. However, due to the time period, the idea of a face challenging a face for the World Championship wouldn’t ever be considered.
In previous years, the WWF had utilised makeshift heel champions to shift the belts from one face to another. Ivan Koloff would defeat Bruno Sammartino before losing the gold to Pedro Morales twenty one days later. Stan Stasiak was the man who helped move the belt off of Morales and back onto Sammartino just under three years later with a title reign that only lasted nine days. The only heel champion who had been given any real run with the top title was Superstar Billy Graham, who almost held it for a whole year after a victory over Sammartino. This was the way the WWF had been booked as a territory for years: a strong face wrestler leading the pack. What the WWF needed was someone to bridge the gap between Backlund and Hogan.
Enter The Iron Sheik.
Backlund and Sheik had fought off against each other both for the AWA and the WWF, with several titles matches going Backlund’s way in 1979. However, after a title loss in the Spectrum a month before this contest in Madison Square Garden, the Iron Sheik would finally come out victorious against his foe, though not without some additional shenanigans in the lead up to the contest to give the man from Iran a significant advantage.
Akin to the Cobra Clutch style challenge that Sergeant Slaughter and other wrestlers have used over the years, the Iron Sheik had begun a Persian Clubs challenge that would see whether any wrestler was capable of wielding the heavy and awkward clubs in the manner they were supposed to be used. Many lesser wrestlers had failed, but Backlund seemed like a feasible contender for the challenge. So much so that as he successfully began to gather momentum in his movement of the clubs, Backlund would be jumped from behind by the Iron Sheik. With the taping of the attack shown on television two days before the big match at the Garden, it was clear that the champion had sustained an injury to his neck and shoulders making him a target for the Sheik’s Camel Clutch.
Selling the injury, Backlund was already on the defensive from the opening bell, and for the majority of the title match at MSG, Sheik took control, working over the injured neck. The match was dull; in some ways, it perfectly encapsulates why Hogan was needed to enliven what had become a stagnant main event scene. Backlund had very little success, each comeback cut off by a focused attack on the injury.
The ending is understandably the main thing that is remembered from the match as it truly signalled the end of an era. With Backlund locked in the clutch, Arnold Skaaland would throw in the towel for his charge as a means to save him from any unnecessary damage or longterm injury. In doing so, Skaaland would halt Backlund’s reign at just under five years and usher in a new champion: The Iron Sheik.
The Iron Sheik would do the job the following year by laying down for Hogan, with rumours swirling around about a potential bounty placed on the soon to be new champion’s head. It perhaps explains why McMahon has been so kind to the Iron Sheik over the years. As for Backlund, this loss precipitated a substantial decline down the card. Amazingly, the man who had held the main title in the promotion for so long wouldn’t even last a year in the company after he lost the belt; his last match for the company until 1994 a defeat of Salvatore Bellomo in August.