July 2, 2005
Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund (6/12/93)
Flashback June 1993: What was once old is now new again.
Bob Backlund, who was in possession of the WWF World Title from 1978 to 1983, returned to the WWF during the tail end of 1992 and began his quest to regain the title he proudly once held. Classic battles against Superstar Billy Graham, Sgt. Slaughter, Ken Patera, Don Muraco, and Jimmy Snuka solidified Backlund as a legendary figure. But to the fans of the modern day WWF, he was a forgotten relic.
For many, wrestling is a religion. And much like the ĎBefore Christí aspect of the Christian calendar, Backlund was ĎBHí Ö ĎBefore Hoganí. For all the kids that grew up on the Junkyard Dog, Demolition, Brutus Beefcake, and the Legion of Doom, Bob Backlundís amateur wrestling style and soft-spoken demeanor were prehistoric in comparison.
Thatís not to say that Bob didnít have his supporters; he certainly did. But the diehard fans that were familiar with Backlundís heyday as champion and still watched the current product were few and far between.
While Backlund had some early success against the likes of Rick Martel, Shawn Michaels, and Papa Shango, as well as a record-breaking performance in the 1993 Royal Rumble, he soon found himself in a slump. He was being matched up against guys who were much younger, stronger, and faster and it was clear he no longer had the fan support he once enjoyed.
Around this same time, I attended my first live event, held at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD. During intermission, Howard Finkel ran down the card for the following monthís event at the nearby Baltimore Arena. And my ears immediately perked up when it was announced Bob Backlund, former WWF World Champion, had signed to meet Bret ĎThe Hitmaní Hart, my favorite wrestler and the man who just recently held the same championship belt.
Though I assumed Bret would win, I very much wanted to see the match live and in person. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to be one of the 3,000 fans on-hand for that event (obviously not a strong drawing card).
However, a few months ago I was able to track down a fan cam of the MSG event held the very next day with the very same lineup. This event took place 24 hours before the first King of the Ring pay-per-view.
Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund
Madison Square Garden
Saturday, June 12, 1993
Joey Marella is the referee for the contest. The Fink introduces Backlund to the ring first, wearing a red, white, and blue jacket. Bret comes out second, in full Hitman attire, glasses, jacket, and all.
The Hitman hands his glasses to a ringside fan while Backlund disrobes and loosens up in the ring.
A hesitant Backlund reluctantly shakes Hartís hand to begin the contest. Bret seems much more at ease during the opening moments. The two men test each other out and block one anotherís hip toss and take down attempts before once again shaking hands.
Backlund soon takes Hart down but Bret uses both legs to kick away. Seconds later, the roles are reversed and Backlund kicks Hart away. This is a spot also seen in several of the Hart / Curt Hennig battles. A handshake follows.
With 4 minutes in, Backlund reverses a take down into a head scissors. Hart soon escapes to apply a headlock but Bob quickly reapplies the head scissors. The Hitman escapes and reapplies the headlock, which eventually becomes a test of strength into an armbar from Hart.
A few Ďboringí chants and boos can be heard at the 7-minute mark as Backlund has a headlock applied in the middle of the ring. Hart tries several reversals into pinning predicaments but canít keep his opponent down for the 3-count.
After a brief exchange, Backlund reapplies the headlock, keeping Hart down on the mat. The fans continue to get restless. The next few minutes go in the format of headlock Ė run the ropes Ė back to headlock. And while Backlund does cinch up on the hold, there is very little attempt on his part to actually pin Hart.
After 5 minutes of Backlund and his headlock of doom, Bret eventually regains control of the bout with an armbar. Bob attempts a bodyslam to free himself from the hold but Hart holds on and rolls through to keep the armbar in place. Hart works the armbar in similar fashion to how Backlund worked the headlock; simply applies the hold and cinches up every minute or so but fails to go beyond that basic formula.
With both men back to their feet, Hart extends his hand for Backlund to shake. When Bob does, Bret executes a go-behind into a waist lock but Backlund reverses into a take down. Not long thereafter, Bret is back in control with the armbar.
With nearly 17 minutes elapsed (yep, you heard me), Backlund hits the first high impact move of the bout by trapping Hart in a bearhug, as Hart has the armbar applied, and hitting a belly to belly suplex. However, he must not have had much power behind the suplex because seconds later Hart is back with the armbar.
Backlund soon gets Bret on his back and looks to the crowd for approval as he goes to work on the abdomen. Moments later, Backlund implements a Bret Hart style offense as he begins to target the legs and ankles. A Boston Crab soon follows.
ÖAs a side note, one of the most awkward things about watching a Bob Backlund match from this time period is when he would look to the crowd for approval to hit, kick, stomp his opponent and the crowd just didnít care.
In a very nice exchange, the two men trade 5 near falls, after Bret is able to actually power out of and reverse the Boston Crab into a roll up. A few moments later, Bret has Bob down on the mat, once more in the armbar. More than 23 minutes have elapsed in the match as Bret applies an arm scissors. Backlund repeatedly and impressively pulls himself up and is able to get Bret down on the mat for several 2-counts, but cannot break the hold.
Bob is finally able to lift Bret onto his shoulder but Hart rolls through and drops Backlund back down on the mat to keep the hold applied. All the while, the crowd seems to be on the verge of a riot.
Backlund eventually lifts Bret up and gently places him on the top turnbuckle. Hart leaps off for a 2-count but soon sustains a big back suplex from his opponent. A lackadaisical cover follows for a 2-count. Moments later, Bret hits his patented backbreaker and follows with a headbutt and bodyslam. Hart goes for the Sharpshooter but Backlund escapes before the hold can be applied.
The two trade suplex attempts, with Bret gaining a near fall with an inside cradle. A legdrop and side Russian leg sweep follow. Bret hits the elbow off the middle turnbuckle for a 2-count. Moments later, Backlund scores with a sunset flip at the 29-minute mark for his own 2-count. Immediately thereafter, Hart tries for the Sharpshooter but is kicked away.
At this point, the crowd seems to be much, much more into the contest and the Ďboringí chants have fallen by the wayside.
Bret pulls Backlund into the corner and hits a number of European uppercuts. Backlund retaliates with a forearm blow to the ear that knocks Hart to the mat. Bob follows with a pseudo heel tactic of raking the heel of his boot across Hartís head. Bob then slams Hartís face into the mat and follows with a huge atomic drop, Backlundís finisher in the old WWWF. He neglects to make the cover and instead connects with a piledriver. After a brief pause in which both men are down, Backlund gets a near fall.
With both men back to their feet, Hart reverses a suplex attempt into a go-behind and connects with a roll up off the ropes. Backlund emerges on top for the 2-count but Hart is able to use a roll over for the 1-2-3.
Winner at 32:21: Bret Hart
The crowd pops for the finish. Backlund has a look of frustration on his face over his first pinfall loss at MSG but raises Hartís hand in congratulations before leaving the ring. Hart sticks around and plays to the fans before leaving ringside himself.
By no means did this match start out on the right foot. Something just wasnít right. But to both menís credit, the crowd was hot for the last few minutes of the bout as well as the finish. Hart and Backlund forced the fans to stop booing and to get wrapped up in the match.
This bout has a similar tone to the Bret / Benoit bout from Kansas City. However, Bret / Backlund lacks the killer instinct of the more recent match. While Hart and Benoit actually went out there looking to win a match and looking to surprise their opponent with reversals into pinning combinations, Hart and Backlund seemed content just to keep their opponent on the mat in a headlock or armbar for minutes on end.
Personally, I think Hart and Backlund went out there to put on a 1970s St. Louis match in front of a 1990s WWF crowd. And up until the last 5-10 minutes, it didnít work. But if you can find a copy of this, I would still recommend viewing the match at least once. Itís quite different from their later battles in 94-95.