Stepping into the great void left by Sammartino and Morales, Bob Backlund's college wrestling notoriety and All-American gimmickry made him one of the best of the WWF champions. Borrowing a page from the NWA standards of technical expertise, Backlund made most of his matches a wrestling workshop. He turned back Billy Graham's bid to regain the crown, and staved off the best efforts of Captain Lou Albano's crew to wrest his belt away. Ironically, it was Superfly Jimmy Snuka's loss to Backlund that catapulted 'The Phenom' into WWF superstardom.
Backlund at his peak was virtually unstoppable. Fans mobbed the ring on nationwide TV after Backlund singlehandedly ran off the Wild Samoans, the reigning world tag team champs. He fell victim to a devious campaign by Fred Blassie and his protege, the Iron Sheik, at the end of a long term as WWF kingpin. After being injured in a pre-bout attack, Backlund was trapped in the Sheik's Camel Clutch with no hope of escape. Manager Arnold Skaaland, in an unparalleled move, threw in the towel, virtually ending Backlund's career in the face of Hulkamania.
Backlund, after years of negotiation, returned as a 'heel' to the WWF in the '80's. It was a sad sight as Backlund wound up doing a tank job to further the career of upcoming superstar Bret Hart.
Dory Funk Jr.
The oldest son of renowned Texas grappler Dory Funk, he became the heir apparent to Lou Thesz as the franchise performer of the NWA by the end of the 60's. A gifted amateur champion, he and his brother Terry came into the sport with their Dad at their backs and championship gold before them. The Funks dominated Southwest wrestling for years as they became standard bearers for the Alliance. Dory's feud with the Sheik became his baptism of fire, proving beyond doubt he could brawl with the best.
When Gene Kiniski toppled the invincible yet aging Lou Thesz for the NWA crown, Dory was ranked among the top five title contenders. Promoters were quick to match the two, and Dory provided the mat world with a second shock by ending what they predicted would be the 'Kiniski Era'. Dory proved to be no fluke champion by defending his belt against all comers. Only two men rose from the ranks that would contribute to the hottest title competition of all time: Harley Race and Jack Brisco. The three men engaged in classic wars with each other over the years, providing Southeast mat fans with some of the greatest moments in wrestling history. The title exchanged hands between them several times, and only a newcomer named Ric Flair would break the chain between the bitter rivals.
Dory, like so many before him, eventually defected to the WWF at the end of his career. Would it have been a decade earlier, he and fellow arrival Harley Race would have created another fierce rivalry for Hulk Hogan's belt. Dory instead teamed with brother Terry and soared to the top of the WWF tag-team ranks within weeks of their arrival. Yet Dory grew weary of the grind and retired shortly afterward, leaving Terry to continue the Funk tradition.
Funk is currently participating as an instructor in the WWF training program for prospective wrestling talent.
...revolutionized the anti-hero role in the game...
Don Leo Jonathan
...the evil Andre?...
...restored the prestige of the WWWF...
Harley Race was an eight-time NWA World Championship and held dozens of other regional titles over a three-decade career. Along with Larry Hennig, they were the youngest AWA tag-team champs in history in the '60's, staving off the Crusher and the Bruiser in several classic mat wars. Race won his first NWA World Title in 1973, defeating Dory Funk Jr. in `the best match of his career'. Although challenged by such greats as Jack Brisco, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair, Race combined a brawling style with intricate skills and tremendous endurance to hold off all comers until age finally caused Race to take a back seat to the equally tenacious Flair.
...king of Southwest wrestling...
...policeman and standard-bearer for WWF, NWA, AWA...
...king of the outlaw gangs, co-founder of the Legion of Doom...
...true craftsman of the sport...