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Bob Backlund: Really?

Hey Scott,

Was listening to a Billy Graham interview where he kinda buries Backlund and I was wondering: How the hell did Backlund get the belt? I mean, I like BB as much as the next guy but, the dude was basically a cruiserweight with hardly any charisma. I mean, you had Snuka right there!
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Plus, business couldn't have been as good as when Graham was champ. Was Vince really that enamored by his background?

​Vince Sr. certainly was.  And he had the whole thing planned super-far in advance, to the point where Billy Graham knew that he was getting the title from Bruno and then losing it a year later.  Hindsight says that they should have kept the belt on him because he was still drawing big, but they had a plan.  Backlund was still a good draw in MSG, so it's not like he was the WORST idea for champion or anything.  Although if you really want to read some epic burials of Backlund as champion, you should read young snarky Meltzer's early Observers from that time.  ​

Comments

  1. I thought it was a great moment that the years of Abeyance's hard work finally paid off.

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  2. With 8 years now, can we the wrestling community still not give that match the credit it deserves or is the Benoit stain just forever impossible to get rid of?

    The second one.

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  3. The story of Benoit single handedly throwing out every big lug in the match is a damn good one.

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  4. What's with the Backlund hate? He was a legitimate amateur wrestling star, a reliable draw, and did the best business overall besides Bruno Sammartino up until that era. Backlund wouldn't have been champion for so long if he wasn't a draw and popular with the fans. He schtick only really got old in the last year or so of his run because a new era was clearly on the horizon.

    Backlund was far more reflective of his era and what fans wanted than Graham was. Graham was well ahead of his time

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  5. Always seemed like Backlund was the last of the old-school types to make it big: great athlete, really solid in the ring, kinda meh personality.


    But that wasn't as big a part of the game back then--in fact, that really didn't seem to come to the front until Vince the Younger.

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  6. Zbysko said "all the Backlund fans kept showing up to the arenas dressed as empty seats" lol.

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  7. With the exception of Benoit's death, has there been another death that affected you when watching their matches? With me, it took me years to not only watch a Owen match again, but to actually enjoy it as his death affected me a lot.

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  8. I agree that the match was great, but hard to watch. Can't consider a match an all-time classic anymore if you can't even watch it.

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  9. Just as long as you are comfortable with being such a mark for wrestling that you can ignore what Benoit did (and come to terms with the fact that wrestling was probably 99% responsible for it)....keep on keeping on.

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  10. This is actually a really strange pick, but for me it was Test because of how recent of a star he was and the strange crossroads his career had.




    Most of the other deaths always felt like they were from a different era. Even people like Eddie I remember from the mid 90s.

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  11. I just can't understand the Benoit people's crusade to get fans to continuously shine a light on his work. It's like they're offended that alone fans aren't willing to overlook him being a child-murdering savage because he had "five starz matches!!!"

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  12. it's always tough when your the guy before The Guy (meaning Hogan).

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  13. Exactly. Backlund was the torchbearer between the Sammartino era and the Hogan era. Obviously those two overshadow him, but that's like saying the guy who wins the Bronze medal in the Olympics is a total failure.

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  14. Considering Zbysko's run as a promotion's top guy (AWA) helped lead the company to bankruptcy, he shouldn't be talking.

    Backlund's drew 18,000+ to the monthly MSG shows more often than not. If he was as bad of a draw as Zbysko says, why would Vince Sr. keep the belt on him for all those years?

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  15. I guess it's an unpopular opinion, but I have never been a particular fan of Jimmy Snuka.

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  16. If Test didn't return in 2006 all juiced to the gills then his death would have been a lot more shocking.

    But yeah, Test's death didn't affect, but I remember watching a small interview clip after his death where Test talked about the early deaths in wrestling and a year after the interview was filmed he ended up dead, which was pretty sad.

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  17. and I've seen footage of some of his matches with Patterson, Graham, Snuka and Valentine ... MSG was on fire for him.

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  18. If Backlund was a cruiserweight, so were Bret Hart and Randy Savage.

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  19. Earth to Chris Benoit fans: your favorite wrestler murdered his wife and young son. Enough already.

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  20. I've never been a proponent of erasing Benoit - he existed. I think that if you want to watch his matches, then you shouldn't be prevented from doing so. I can and have watched his matches without having an episode.
    But the general tone of "ok, can we FINALLY set aside the child murder, and consider how good he was at something that doesn't matter at all?" is 100% grease.
    No. Child murderer is going to be his lot in history. He will never, ever be mentioned without that. Murdering a kid is something that matters. Telling a great story in the ring is something that does not matter.

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  21. I don't think people get how physically huge Hogan was in the late-70s/early-80s. Aside from Andre the Giant there was no one bigger. Even men like John Studd, who was about the same height, didn't have the same mass.

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  24. A guy in my office has the last name Benoit, and he introduced it (only after being asked by another coworker for his last name) as "Benoit, like, you know, the wrestler that killed his family."


    My barely out-of-college coworker didn't get the reference, probably a good thing.

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  25. "You don't really understand how big Hulk Hogan is until you see him in person!" - 1980s Michael Cole

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  26. Really? He chose that instead of "like the guy who performed well in the 2004 Royal Rumble"?
    Some people pick the weirdest things to focus on.

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  27. I'm mad that he didn't say "Like the guy that won the 1994 Super J Cup tournament!"

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  28. Rumor has it that backlund kept the belt for so long because vinnie jr (who was slowly starting to gain power in the office) wanted to stick it to bruno.

    I can not cite the shoot right now.

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  29. As the resident Hogan mark around here (well, when I am around, which isn't much these days), take it from me: Backlund was a fine champion who did solid business. Anyone who thinks Backlund couldn't sell tickets is buying into Vince and Hogan's "wrestling was in smoke-filled minor league basketball arenas before Hulkamania" mythology.

    Backlund's time was absolutely over by 1983, but from 1978-1982 he was the best choice for the company's champion. He doesn't get the credit he deserves for setting up Hulkamania.

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  30. That doesn't make much sense though -- if Vince Jr. didn't like Bruno that much, why did he keep him on the payroll until March 1988?

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  31. Yeah when a murderer wins the Rumble it kind of gets taken off my list.

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  32. I'd be making BenWa Balls references.

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  33. He beats the Big Show with the same choke he used to kill his son.

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  34. And as popular as he was, he was not the kind of guy they were going to rely on, even before the business where his girlfriend ended up dead.

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  35. This description always makes me laugh when I look at the crowds Lawler could draw in Memphis.

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  36. To the poster's point, I would agree - simply because there's 30 people telling this particular story. It's different watching Benoit vs. Jericho TLC with Benoit taking a ton of chairshots....its a 30-man Royal Rumble. I'd say the same thing (to a lesser degree) about the Wrestlemania 20 main event (though I always stop before the celebration after the match). Let's keep in mind also that Vince McMahon was a guy who wanted to run a storyline where got his daughter pregnant, by the way, which - according to the logic here - means if it happened we should stop watching WWE altogether. Nobody is celebrating Benoit (nobody SHOULD - he killed his kid), but appreciating a great match for what it is is different

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  37. "Make A huge profit just doing Simple Tasks"
    This could describe being a high class hooker.

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  38. Backlund drew money and was *reliable*. Seems like Vince Sr could count on him to make every show and make his opponents look credible. WWF was a place where the good guy held the belt for long stretches - that's how the shows were booked. All of those factors were important in the territory days, even if they aren't as relevant in today's environment.

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  39. Stranger in the AlpsMay 13, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    You have just been......*gulp* Benoit'd.

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  40. I'm gonna take credit for this e-mail. My point wasn't that Backlund couldn't sell tickets. I'm sure he was fine in his role. But convention wisdom is that Graham was a MONSTER, when it came to ticket sales, which I assume was the only metric that mattered then.


    Basically, if we did a basic chart graphing ticket sales from Bruno to Billy to Bob (Hey, look at that!) I imagine we'd see extremely high numbers during Bruno's time with Billy's numbers, I don't know, staying comparable. What happened when Bob got the belt? I assume numbers dropped from Billy to Bob. Did they? If so, why would Vince Sr has such a man-crush on Backlund?

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  41. So practice DOES make perfect?

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  42. They left a ton of money on the table by not giving Backlund the HBK gimmick before Shawn

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  43. I concur but I think that's because I grew up seeing Snuka as the guy who put over The Undertaker at WM7. I wasn't around for the flying off the cage at MSG days.

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  44. Little to no air conditioning + audience chain smoking cigs/cigars = smoke filled arenas.

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  45. I'm all for any idea that brings Styles back once in a while in his one man ECW form. That seems like a really fun idea and I'd definitely but the Network again if they did that.

    Here's a wild, impossible idea...make a little side world with guys like Ryder, Miz, Ziggler, and whoever else they have no ideas for. Have their own angles and stuff and have Styles announce it. Kinda like what Heat was back when Raven was booking it.

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  46. No, I get that, it's just that the description of those old arenas are ALWAYS "smoke-filled". Aren't there other adjectives?

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  47. AverageJoeEverymanMay 13, 2015 at 8:08 AM

    Its funny that they and others ignore it but they use the same exact finish (or a play off of it) often in battle royals with Big Show including this year at WM with Sandow.

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  48. it's true...wrestling used to be in dimly-lit, smoke filled armories because promotions kept the house lights turned way down and people could smoke in arenas until most states passed laws about public smoking! I always liked the darker lighting...with no live TV broadcasts or PPVs back in the old days, companies made their money on house show revenue, so no one was even thinking about how the arena would look on TV.

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  49. But as you mentioned, you're *assuming* Graham sold more tickets than Backlund, but don't have the data to back it up. We don't really have reliable numbers to tell one way or the other. Thehistoryofwwe.com has some numbers, but not really enough to draw comparisons.

    Plus, it was a different era... the WWWF almost always had a face champion. Frankly, it's amazing Graham had as long of a run with the belt as he did considering the previous heel champions (Rogers, Koloff, Stasiak) held the belt for a month at most. That in itself is a huge boost of confidence in Graham.

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  50. Stranger in the AlpsMay 13, 2015 at 8:10 AM

    Requisite "separating Chris Benoit the wrestler from Chris Benoit the murderer" argument.


    But hey, I understand the other point of view also. You don't like him, don't watch him.


    This is like when the health nazis come by and tell you that you shouldn't eat McDonald's because that crap will kill you. I don't care, I'm hungry. Leave me alone.

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  51. Maybe I was off with the cruiserweight comment. I guess, just that, the way he looked on TV was smaller than he was. But to this point, people had fits when Bret got the title, 'cause of his size and (lack of) charisma. At least, Savage was captivating.

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  52. This comment makes me lugubrious.

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  53. Vince Sr. kept the title on Backlund because he had never eaten marijuana.

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  54. Stranger in the AlpsMay 13, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    Honestly, I have gone back and watched Over the Edge '99 since then, and when JR announces that Owen Hart has died, live on the air, I can't continue. It just cast a pallor over the whole thing and sucked the enjoyment out of it.

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  55. I like dimly lit arenas because i don't want to look at wrestling fans.

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  56. Exactly, I'm going on circumstantial evidence. But what Circumstantial Evidence! People talk about Bruno like he was the second coming. Then they talk about Billy like Hogan basically mugged him on the street to steal his gimmick. Bob? "Crickets". Then, it's the Hogan era. Here sandwiched in between, 3 of the most iconic champions of any era, you have this guys who was just ... there. It seems strange is all I'm saying.

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  57. Backlund was an awesome champion. Not every era needs a Hogan/Rock, as long as you have a popular guy who can put on a good show one way or another, even if it is with just plain ol' wrasslin'. Then when the next over-the-top cartoon guy comes along, he seems fresher than if you had a steady stream of larger-than-life sports-entertainment-leaning champions

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  58. Yeah, I'm the same timeframe but I've gone back and watched a bunch of old stuff.
    Maybe if I was there, in the moment, I'd feel differently.

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  59. Belee_Matt!_INDEED!!!May 13, 2015 at 8:17 AM

    I'm pretty sure I wasn't blowing it out of proportion with the way I mentioned it. I certainly didn't so "OMG IT'S SO DANGEROUS". All I know is that many of the guys who have been in it have complained that it really bangs them up. Last time I checked neither you or I have to be in it taking bumps, so I'll take their word for it that it may not be the safest match in the world.

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  60. Belee_Matt!_INDEED!!!May 13, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    Total neckbeard ugos. Ah, for the old days.

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  61. His hypodermic needles were the size of frying pans.

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  62. you should be more altruistic

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  63. This must be where Vince first tried out his philosophy of customer relations:


    YOU DON'T LIKE SAMMARTINO. YOU LIKE BACKLUND.

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  64. You can watch his matches all day long and it doesn't bother me at all. But surely it doesn't surprise you that for a significant number of people talking about Benoit is going to lead down the whole murder road.

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  65. Well, when you're a whitebread guy sandwiched between two of the flashiest champions ever (Graham and Hogan), of course you'll be overshadowed. But that doesn't mean he wasn't a success or good for his era.

    Don Mattingly wasn't part of the "Bronx is Burning" 1970s Yankees, nor was he part of the "Core Four" 1990s Yankees. But that doesn't mean Mattingly wasn't a solid hand and a good standard bearer for his era.

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  66. You are my only friend.

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  67. Stranger in the AlpsMay 13, 2015 at 8:32 AM

    That's what I'm saying. I can understand that his presence can upset someone. I just don't think that I'm a sociopath for wanting to watch.

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  68. I'm able to sit back and enjoy his matches in recent times, only these days I always say to myself "so much for being in HoF"

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  69. It just goes together.

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  70. I think people remember Backlund at the end of his run, when he was being a total dork with the singlet, had lost some muscle & people were tired of him.


    If you watch Backlund from like 1978-1980, he's much more of the Kurt Angle (for that era) type, with a better look & more charisma that he got credit for by the time Hogan swept through.


    I think everyone agreed by 1983, he was done as a main event face - just too long on top. Remember, Vince wanted to turn him heel when he took over but Backlund passed on that.

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  71. Angle might be a great comparison (although obviously Angle had more of a personality than Backlund).

    Angle wasn't Steve Austin or The Rock in terms of popularity, but nobody will say he wasn't a good champion that people wanted to see wrestle during his runs with the belt. Likewise, Backlund wasn't Sammartino or Hogan.

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  72. Oh ok. That's not why I think you're a sociopath.

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  73. Stranger in the AlpsMay 13, 2015 at 8:42 AM

    Thank you.

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  74. Violent, drunken rednecks are better.

    I'm being completely serious. Those are the best wrestling crowds.

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  75. I have a hard time arguing that Angle isn't the best all-around talent of all time.

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  76. I'm sure he was good. Bret was "good" in his era too and Vince JUMPED at the chance to replace him 3 TIMES (Luger to Nash to HBK). Vince would've thrown Bret into a dumpster if it meant getting a Graham.


    Good is good. Great is better. If Graham was great (which I don't know, but it sure sounds that way) why replace him?

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  77. Backlund was a babyface for the era, and despite Graham's squawking, wrestling fans weren't ready for him as a long-term champion.

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  78. This whole i cant watch benoit matches is just stupid at this point. I love joe carter but if kills his whole family tomorrow im not going to stop watching his ws clinching hr every time its on tv. Or try and forget he was ever a blue jay. That's just me tho.

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  79. Not that I'm butt-slamming Backlund, but Vince did keep the title on Diesel for a year when he was a proven non-draw. Vince does what Vince wants, regardless of the numbers and facts... and back on topic, Backlund was a great draw but had the personality of a toaster, but he was all about being that plucky guy who found ways to win, no matter who the opponent was, and it worked.

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  80. I think you just kind of said it without realising it. Backlund was more relatable than monstrous guys with 23 inch arms. Sometimes people want the cartoonish superheroes, but after a while they want guys who they can identify with, and then it flips back again. Bret was a natural selection after the likes of Hogan and Warrior in that respect, but eventually, people want someone more outsized, like Austin (and yes, I know there were a bunch of guys between Bret's first title win and Austin's ascension, but how many of them stuck?). Backlund was much the same way.

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  81. You have to remember how unique Snuka was for the time period. There were few, if any, 250 pounders (in North America, anyway) who were flying off or over top ropes in the early 80s. Add in his unique charisma and look, and you had a guy who could captivate people, even if he wasn't putting on 4 star classics every week. There was no one like him.

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  82. Again, totally different era. WWWF was all about the strong face champion. Hell, Graham was the only heel to have a meaningful run with the title until Flair (I don't count Savage's first reign because he was a face for 90% of his reign).

    Plus, as said above, we don't have any hard numbers that proved Graham was a good long-term draw anyway. We're essentially making assumptions about an era we have little data on.

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  83. My point is that Angle was a big star but not Austin or Rock big. That's not to diminish Angle at all.

    As for best all-around talent of all time, it's Angle or Savage for me.

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  84. What I find weird is how everyone has this visceral reaction to watching Benoit now, but you never see it with Jimmy Snuka.


    And unlike Benoit who had severe brain damage, Snuka was healthy and literally got away with murdering his girlfriend.


    This is the same guy who WWE still regularly trots out as a legend.

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  85. I really think it says a lot that Scott, who was one of the biggest Benoit marks alive, has acknowledged how damn hard it is to watch his matches again. WWE has opened it up a bit more like in that WWE 50 book and in the History of WrestleMania one, they openly say on XX "future events would tarnish the moment" but at the time it was a great thing.
    It's really "damned if you do, damned if you don't" with Vince. Yeah, keeping quiet is bad but they mention it more and they get slammed for promoting a child klller. And fact is, I liked Benoit a lot but I find it damn hard to watch his stuff, especially when he takes those head shots with no protection.

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  86. It's worth noting that Backlund is the in-between eras guy though. Vince Sr. sold the business to Vince Jr. in 1982, a bit more than halfway through Backlund's run.

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  87. They were never going to have a heel champion at that point and I don't think the stories about the fans clamoring for him to face are all that true. Plus Graham was a total mess. Backlund was incredibly reliable.

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  88. I can think of a certain emailer that is in desperate need of a crossface chicken wing... young man!

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  89. That clip bummed me out so much. "You just look and every single year one of your best friends die. It's really hard and you don't want to be a statistic" or something like that. So damn sad.

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  90. Bob was a good worker who was incredibly strong for his size, and was capable as a draw, but his real money persona came later as the crazy heel with the crossface chickenwing.

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  91. Haha! Now THERE'S a visual I'll never be able to unsee

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  92. Because Vince helped with the cover-up. He's obligated to trot him out like a trophy and hero.

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  93. Backlund is one of my favorite wrestlers ever but I had never even heard of him until he came back in 94. I didn't really start watching wrestling until like 88/89 and I was just a small child. But the crossface chicken wing won me over and then when I got wwf 24/7 and as youtube became a thing I was able to catch up on him and the guy is awesome and he was having great matches that hold up today. Patterson, Slaughter, Hansen, Graham, Race, Samoans, that greek dude, Backlund had awesome matches that were all different with all those guys. I can't sit through Bruno matches, or Graham matches from that era (unless he's wrestling Bob) but Backlunds shit holds up right now. Dude was awesome. And he is a huge reason I wish they would put up all the houseshows and the WWF TV from the 70's and early 80's which they will probably never do.

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  94. Oh I know, I just like going off on tangents.

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  95. Graham was a one-of-a-kind heel then, though; I'd have to assume if Bob beat, say, Stan Stasiak for the title, it'd be a little different.

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  96. Also, this is a man who doesn't like when he can't control a sneeze. I can only imagine he was furious and mortified he had to come out on national TV and apologize for honoring Benoit with a tribute before getting the whole story.

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  97. Hey does anyone if his matches with Harley Race ever got on tv? I've seen the fan cam match on Daily Motion but I've never seen a broadcast version of their matches.

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  98. Spiros Arion?

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  99. Yup good call.

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  100. I guess. Vince Sr. just seems like a totally different guy than Jr. Duh, right?

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  101. Bowling alleys should be the same way. Nowadays they're all clean and trendy. Feels all wrong.

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  102. Bob Backlund is a lot like Brock Lesner, someone with an accomplished amateur background who astonished people with his freaky athleticism. When he won the WWWF Championship in 1978, he was by far the most athletic holder of that belt up to that point. You may argue that the level of athleticism has increased in pro wrestling since then but Backlund's athleticism was impressive, especially in the WWWF territory which wasn't known for athletic wrestlers and wrestling.

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  103. MaffewOfBotchamaniaMay 13, 2015 at 9:57 AM

    Because De Niro is sat front row, smoking a cigar and laughing his ass off.

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  104. MaffewOfBotchamaniaMay 13, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    ''let's face it, it's one of the greatest matches ever.''

    Wait, Rumble 2004? Is this is a new thing or have I not seen the praise this Rumble's been getting for a while?

    It's a good Rumble, sure, but let's not shit ourselves here.

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  105. I think Snuka gets a lesser reaction for a few reasons -
    1) We didn't get all the lurid details - no crazy stories about text messages and bibles and weight machines etc. We believe the Snuka thing happened, but not in the detail that we know the Benoit thing happened.
    2) We were all watching as it was happening - police press conference and investigation and Nancy Grace etc. It's different as you watch it in real time versus something that we found out 20 years later that happened in 1983.
    3) The brain injury stuff makes the Benoit matches even harder to watch, because every sick bump and headshot is another step towards his brain decomposition and the eventual murders. Snuka matches don't have that eww factor.
    4) We probably all believe the Snuka thing happened, but we don't "know" that it happened to the extent that we know what happened with Benoit. (Related to #1 as well.) He's still denying it. I think that emotionally that makes a difference in the viewers' minds.

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  106. Actual matches that don't have to deal with TV constraints and no commentary from the usual group of chucklefucks? What's not to like? Televise all the house shows and throw it on the main stream.

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  107. If they must have commentary, give me Brennan, Graves, and Regal please. Heck, give me that team on RAW and PPVs and I'd find the shows much more enjoyable!

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  108. I used to be terrified of Bob Backlund after he put the chicken wing on some kid from the crowd. Terrifying how he could switch from this 'normal', intelligent person into a compete psycho in seconds

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  109. Guy at my job got good seats to a house show. Now he feels like he's been screwed over because of Elimination Chamber. Oh, the date of the house show? May 31. Granted our show starts at 1 so it's possible that everyone has to jump to Memphis right after the show here.

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  110. Did Snuka murder his own child?

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  111. Yeah, that's just you. Because you're really fucked up.

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  112. This happens with many famous people. Roman Polanski, OJ Simpson, Ray Lewis, Chris Brown, Floyd Mayweather, and so on. If you're very good at what you are paid to do, a lot of people will overlook how reprehensible you are. To a point, anyway.

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  113. What?! Dude, watch the interview with Superstar where he's talking about running 50 miles a day and swimming across the Atlantic Ocean in 1977. They even acknowledge at the beginning of the interview that he's already getting a mixed reaction. A heel in *1977* getting a mixed reaction!!!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4eimoSheog



    I have no doubt that if they wanted to they could've turned him face super easy. Now, the reliability...

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  114. WWE DID YOU KNOW


    Maria Menononounounous knows Bob Backlund? That's more friendships with Backlund than ESPN, ABC, FX, MTV, and Lifetime Network COMBINED!

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  115. Scott gave it the full Monty five snowflake treatment back in the day.

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  116. Since 04, I've enjoyed only the 2010 match as far as storylines and such.

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  117. Cause he <3 benoit

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  118. I've read so many things. I believe Vince and the company did know a lot more than they led on (i.e. Dave Taylor at the crime scene immediately for them)

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  119. AverageJoeEverymanMay 13, 2015 at 10:54 AM

    DAMN YOU FOR INCLUDING THE SIDEBURNS JOKE!!!!

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  120. I watch Owen and Eddy matches,I enjoy them,but yeah,they're a little sad. Of course neither of those guys are murderers so there's nothing wrong with missing them.

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  121. AverageJoeEverymanMay 13, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    "Hes just a sexy Bob, sexxxxy Booooooob"
    Then Bret could get angry with Backlund for showing his "pubes"

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  122. His athleticism was impressive even in 94!

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  123. More than Scott Steiner? I mean, minus his insanity.

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  124. Never at the time--MSG Network showed a tape of the Andre/Hogan Shea Stadium match instead. It finally showed up on WWE 24/7 some time ago.

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  125. I don't get that--Bruno had been practically begging VJM to take the title off him when it finally happened. He had to be begged and cajoled into taking a second reign to begin with.

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  126. DID YOU KNOW, Bob Backlund is Jim Norton's favorite wrestler?

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  127. Free month of May for new subscribers. Special network only event May 31, ending ~1 hour before June 1on the East coast. I wonder how many subscriptions will get rolled over to $9.99 due to laziness/forgetfullness?

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