• Bob Backlund
Newer fans may know Bob Backlund as the psychotic man in the red suspenders with dreams of the Oval Office. However, the master of the cross-faced chicken wing is among the most respected technical wrestlers in the industry.
After beating Superstar Billy Graham in controversial fashion, Backlund’s first WWE championship run lasted five years, ending in 1983 when his manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel as the Iron Sheik had the injured champion in the Camel Clutch. This scene was revisited in his favor when Backlund defeated Bret Hart after the Hitman’s mother, Helen, threw in the towel at the 1994 Survivor Series.
Backlund was an All-American boy, a true babyface, during his initial title run. He helped bridge Hulk-A-Mania and then left the WWF. When he returned years later, Mr. Backlund turned heel, utilizing a verbose vocabulary to criticize the plebeians for their lack of education, morality and respect.
His last appearance for the company was at the Raw 1000 show with a group of other past performers terrorizing Heath Slater.
Backlund, 63, who ran for Congress in Connecticut, was a junior college All-American in football and wrestling. At NCAA Division II North Dakota State, he again earned All-American honors in wrestling. He graduated with a degree in Physical Education.
Backlund’s inductor will be television personality Maria Menounos, who once wore a shirt of the legend at a WWE event.
• Booker T.
Before the Harlem Shake there was the Harlem Heat with Booker T. and his brother Stevie Ray.
Many today know the charismatic legend as the sharply dressed general manager of SmackDown, but there is much more to the master of the Spinaroonie. Believe it or not the youngest of eight children spent time in prison for aggravated robbery, but he learned from his mistakes and turned his life around. His inspirational story is chronicled in his book “Booker T: From Prison to Promise: Life before the Squared Circle.”
His journey into pro wrestling began under the tutelage of wrestler/trainer Scott Casey. He worked the character G.I. Bro (which briefly resurfaced late into his WCW career) and began teaming with his brother Stevie Ray in promotions such as the Global Wrestling Federation. They won the GWF tag championships as the Ebony Experience.
Booker, 48, began his eight years in WCW in 1993 where he and his brother were given the names Kole and Kane (yes, Kane). This didn’t last long as the duo evolved into the Harlem Heat we know and love. During their time together they also had WWE Hall of Famer ‘Sister’ Sherri (Martel) and Jacqueline by their side. The tandem dominated the division with 10 title reigns battling the likes of the Steiner Brothers, Lex Luger and Sting, the Road Warriors, the Blue Bloods, Public Enemy, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall and others.
Booker transitioned to the singles ranks with tremendous success by winning every major singles championship in WCW. He wasn’t eligible for cruiserweight or he would have won that too. Booker is one of the greats like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Scott Steiner, Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr. and Jack Brisco who’ve won top tag team and singles gold.
Fans may remember his acclaimed best-of-seven series with Chris Benoit, as well as his clashes with the likes of Bret Hart, Rick Martel, Finlay and Scott Steiner. His summer series in 1998 with Benoit was so good WWE had the two fight multiple times in a similar scenario over the United States championship.