YouTube interview: https://youtu.be/ekBi_8Fizt4
BOB BACKLUND Transcript
Donald Wood: You recently released your autobiography BACKLUND: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling's World Champion. The book is a great mixture of your life growing up, your career in the ring and your personal philosophies. Why did you feel like now was the right time to release the book and what are you hoping to accomplish?
Bob Backlund: I have been working on this project ever since I stopped wrestling. I actually didn’t think anything was going to happen with it. I was turning 60 years old and didn’t think I was going to find the right person to write the book. Somebody wrote me a letter back in 2009, he said I was his childhood hero and his name was Rob Miller. He wanted to write a book about me. When we met in Glastonbury, CT in a library to discuss the book, I found out he was the man I wanted to write the book. He had a lot of compassion for the business and he respected the things I went through. He wanted to meet with me to see if I was really that person he was idolizing when he was a boy. He saw there wasn’t much difference between what I was doing in the WWE at that time and my real life. We have been working on it for five years and now the story of my life is in a book and I am very proud of it. I am very excited and every day I am enthusiastic to get out there in the world and meet more kids and meet more parents. Our goal is to have mom and dad want to have their children read the book.
Mike Chiari: The professional wrestling landscape changed significantly when Vince McMahon took over WWF from his father and launched a national and global expansion. You were front and center when that transition takes place, so looking back, what are some of the positives that came from the change, and also what are some of the things that were better in WWF and wrestling in general prior to that transition?
Bob Backlund: The business changed completely back then. One of the bigger things was when they brought the pay-per-view into the picture. That was very lucrative to the Company and the wrestlers. If you wrestled in the Spectrum that holds about 19 thousand people. With PPV that gave you the opportunity to get a 1,000,000 more people watching and that really changed the income of the wrestlers and promotion tremendously.
Brandon Galvin: Mike and I were there at Madison Square Garden to see you inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and I was curious what you felt was the most memorable moment for you from that weekend.
Bob Backlund: I was so excited to be inducted into the Hall of Fame because they had asked me to go in before but I wouldn’t do it because of something they did to me negatively back in the 80’s. They did fix that problem now so I went in. I thought they never were going to fix it as I was coming up on my 60’s and thought I would be gone by the time they do but they did fix it. There was a lot of things that happened that were tiny miracles at the time thankfully. I was really psyched up to give my speech, I was excited to be there, and it was a wonderful day for me.
Donald Wood: One of the interesting notes from your book was that Roddy Piper wrote the foreword. With the news about his untimely passing, what was your relationship like with Piper and what does his involvement with the book mean to you now?
Bob Backlund: I met Mr. Piper when he was a young person getting in the business in the Olympic theater in Los Angeles. He was just starting and I had the championship for a while. I was over in Japan and they had asked me to go over and have a match with Roddy for 59 minutes and 30 seconds. He says some great things about the match and my goal was to put him over and make him look like a champion. It was a pleasure to wrestle with him and he was very advanced for how little time he had in the business. He credits me for helping him launch his career in the business and I was really proud of him to say that. He left a message on my phone about three weeks ago saying it was ok to use him as the forward for the book. I listened to the message, the next day I deleted it, and the next day he passed. I liked him a lot and had a lot of respect for him. I thought he would never leave this earth.
Mike Chiari: You’re one of the longest-reigning WWF world champions of all time, and your reign famously came to an end when you lost to The Iron Sheik. It’s long been said that the original plan was for you to turn heel and drop the title to Hulk Hogan. What do you remember about the plans regarding your title loss, and why were you reluctant to change your persona then?
Bob Backlund: This is explained pretty well in the book, but I had a daughter that was six years old about to start school. I went around the country talking about amateur wrestlers, hosting Bob Backlund kids wrestling tournaments, and I always talked to them about things I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t turn because I made a lot of promises to a lot of kids and with my daughter starting school I didn’t want her to have problems in school.
Brandon Galvin: What do you feel has been the most rewarding part of your wrestling career?
Bob Backlund: I think the biggest thing for me was to find out that Vince McMahon Senior had more honor, dignity, pride, and honesty than any other man I have ever met. He was like a dad to me. He told me some things way ahead of time and he did those things right on time and right on the money. He was a wonderful person and I was very saddened when he passed in 1984.
Donald Wood: During your career, you wrestled against some of the greatest Superstars in history. Of all your legendary matches and feuds, who do you view as your favorite opponent and which wrestler had the biggest impact on your career?
Bob Backlund: Billy Superstar Graham dropped the WWF title to me, and that had the biggest influence because it changed my life. I know he actually didn’t want to do that, and in the book I explain that a lot. A lot of people were trying to talk Vince McMahon Sr. out of doing that with me because I was new and I wasn’t a proven commodity yet. Vince McMahan gave his word and he stuck with it. I loved wrestling. I couldn’t wait to get in the arena and get in the ring. I love the arena and I love the people. I didn’t love the dressing room and I didn’t care for the activity in the dressing room back then. I’d go in there, get dressed, and go out and do the Harvard step test and the wheel for an hour. I enjoyed the time in the ring because I was trying to entertain people and give them a show for their hard earned money they spent to come to the show. I worked as hard as I could in the ring to make the matches enjoyable as much as I could.
Mike Chiari: I think one of the most entertaining and underrated runs of your career was your stint as a heel when you won the world title from Bret Hart. Who came up with the idea for that character and why were you willing to make such a significant change at that point in your career?
Bob Backlund: I didn’t do that in that 80’s because I refused to be bad. In the 90’s I went back and our world had changed a lot. People weren’t interested in all-American boy hero. They were more interested in people that would disrespect their boss. I asked to be bad, but I was being bad by being good. I built up a luminous vocabulary so I could educate the masses. I was preaching being responsible for your own actions. Don’t throw your garbage out the window of your car anymore because you’re defacing our country. I had a policy that you had to recite the presidents of the USA to me before you could get my signature. They hated me for that. That is what was driving me to be so intense. They all thought I was going to fall on my face, but I believe in every word that came out of my mouth and sometimes the truth hurts.
Donald Wood: In that sense, do you feel the comparisons to John Cena are justified?
Bob Backlund: There probably is a little bit because he talks about never giving up and I talk about never capitulating so they are basically the same thing. I understand that, sometimes people don’t want to hear about discipline, hard work, and going the extra mile.
Brandon Galvin: Is there a story you could share with us from your book to serve as an appetizer before fans have a chance to read it?
Bob Backlund: In 1973, I was ready to go to an engagement for a match I had in Baton Rouge, LA. I had a 1967 Chevy Impala that was green and had an aluminous trunk it. I had that and $20 in my pocket when I left Princeton, MN. My parents gave me a hug goodbye and told me to do my best. When I got to Baton Rouge, I had .29 cents in my pocket for the night I wrestled. I made a reservation at the Sheraton that night. After my match I was paid with an envelope, and when I opened it there was $5 in there. I had to go five days before I was going to have another match. I cancelled the reservation at the Sheraton, and I went to the grocery store and bought tuna fish and a can opener. That can opener became the most important tool in those days. I actually slept in the trunk of my car since it had that aluminous trunk. I was broke, homeless, and didn’t know a soul in the area. I was about 1200 miles away from home and couldn’t get there. So I went to the local YMCA and worked out every day. It made me get through the hard times of sleeping in my trunk, being hungry, and being lonely. When I got done working out, I felt good again, I felt positive, and it kept me alive and motivated. I was able to slowly climb to the top of the wrestling business thanks to the principles I learned in junior high and high school. From that point, everything was up hill and couldn’t get any worse, but I never gave up.
Donald Wood Jr.
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