This Day in Wrestling History (2/20) – Bob Backlund beat Superstar Billy Graham for the WWWF Championship

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In a world with larger than life personas, there are some names we never forget, and others that slip our minds. On this day in wrestling history, February 20, 1978, wrestlers with both those qualities met for the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation — precursor to the WWF and WWE).

Launching of a legend

Superstar Billy Graham was one of the most memorable champions in WWE history. He was as flamboyant and talented and helped to usher in the era of the big men once Vince McMahon Jr. took over control of the company.

At the time, and under the control of Vince Sr., Billy Graham had held the championship for 296 days, the longest championship run by a heel at the time. It left the door wide open for a hero to step through, and Bob Backlund took advantage of the opportunity.

(Thanks to @awrestlinghistorian for the quote.)

“The day of the match Superstar Billy Graham was still trying to talk Vince McMahon Sr. out of putting the Championship on me. They had a thing years ago that you had to put money down to secure that you would give the belt back, so they talked him into coming to me and asking if I had X amount of dollars. I didn’t live above my means and nobody ever thought I had a dime, but I had enough money to do that, so I said, ‘Vince do you want a check, or do you want cash?’ Vince then told him, ‘I promised Bob Backlund that he was going to get the Championship and he was going to get it no matter what you think and you’ll never change my mind.’ That man became a father to me.” – Bob Backlund The Swerve interview with Vince Russo May 26, 2016.

What really made this match interesting was that Graham had won the championship by putting a foot on the ropes for leverage, but lost despite having a foot under the ropes.

Meddling with history

Promoters changing the rules or ignoring various bits of history isn’t new, but it’s still an interesting point of contention when those that claim to honor and respect said history constantly rewrite it.

A perfect example is Bob Backlund’s title reign. He would hold the championship for five years before losing it to the Iron Sheik in 1983, who would then lose it to Hulk Hogan and the rest is common knowledge.

But during Backlund’s run, there were a few phantom title losses that aren’t recognized by the WWE. One of those was a week long reign by Antonio Inoki, and another was a victory by Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.

While the reasons why those are omitted isn’t known beyond those involved for the most part, our best guess is they may have been accidental, or trial runs to see how fans responded to it. Whatever the reasons, Bob Backlund’s run was one of he most dominant in WWE history, and reports indicate Vince Sr. wanted him to break Bruno Sammartino’s record, but Vince Jr. nixed that when he took over the company.

Thank you for stopping by, and stay tuned for more of This Day in Wrestling History.

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