To see Bob Backlund return to "Monday Night Raw" has been a throwback to the character he portrayed early on during his return in the 1990s. He's intense, driven and almost maniacal in his enthusiasm to "Make Darren Young Great Again!"
In reality, Backlund's the same kind of person off-screen as he has been on-screen since his first WWF run in the 1970s and 80s -- intensely committed to physical fitness and clean living.
Backlund is applying that same intensity to a new endeavor, touring the country doing motivational speaking events, where he touts the benefits of physical fitness and living right. Think of him as someone carrying on the tradition of legendary fitness guru Jack LaLanne, only with a bow tie, suspenders and a couple of WWE championships to go along with the presentation.
Harvard Step Test
Backlund is locked in to providing the highest levels of performance advice to Young on-screen, but he's also eager to spread the message to the youth of the world that being physically active and fit is a goal worth striving for.
To really understand why Backlund is so uniquely qualified to preach the advantages of working out, look no further than the Harvard Step Test and Backlund's continued excellence in performing it.
The Step Test consists of stepping up and down on a single 12-inch step at 24 steps per minute for three minutes. It might sound easy, but this test was initially designed during World War II as a way to measure cardiovascular endurance. It can wear out even the most in-shape person in a hurry.
This was not the case with Backlund, who was so adept at doing hour-long Step Test workouts that the WWE eventually used it as a promotional tool. Backlund would start doing the test at the beginning of a one-hour show and do it nonstop until the end of the show. The WWE also used the Step Test as an angle between Backlund and Sgt. Slaughter.
Backlund recently noted that he actually received a legitimate Step Test challenge from an award-winning marathon runner who saw Backlund doing this exercise in a gym. When the marathoner indicated he thought he could keep up with or surpass Backlund in this type of workout, Backlund smiled and said, "You better be ready, because you'll actually have to work to do this."
Backlund said the runner was able to do the test for about 20 minutes but finally ran out of gas, stopped stepping, turned around and walked out of the gym without saying a word to anyone.
This wasn't the only conditioning challenge Backlund has won over the years. In the book "The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons," authors Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver tell a story of a 62-year old Backlund attending a Massachusetts police academy as a guest instructor and proceeding to outwork every recruit in pushups, squats, pullups, situps and leg lifts.
His feverish workout pace continues to this day. Backlund indicates he does the Harvard Step Test for 30 minutes a day and could still do it for an hour straight if need be.
One-of-a-kind short-arm scissor high spot
One of the ways Backlund's elite constitution helped him in the ring during his days as WWE champion was with a short-arm scissor spot.
Watch the clip embedded here on this page, and you'll see it in all of its glory. Ivan Koloff put Backlund into a short-arm scissor armlock, Backlund tried to find a way to maneuver out of the hold, and his efforts were to no avail.
That's when his endurance came into play.
"When somebody gets you into the short-arm scissor, you've got to pick them up," Backlund said. "You got to be able to last, too, because you've got to finish the match [once that's done]. Most people would have been gassed just picking [the other wrestler] up. When they have you in the short-arm scissor, they keep you in it for quite a while, and you're fighting to get out. And the more enthusiasm you can do when you're fighting to get out, the better. But if you're not in shape, you're not going to keep up with that rate.
"And then when you pick them up [to get out of the short-arm scissor], you've got to walk around with them [in the air] and leave them there for a while so the people all see it. Then you go set them on the top rope, give them a slap, then he comes running at you and you backdrop him. Then you give him a body slam and then small-package him or backslide him to try to pin him. It's important to be in shape so you can do the [high spot] at the right level of intensity."
There is no such thing as a rest hold
Backlund's approach to fitness even helped him take a different kind of position on so-called "rest holds" than most of the wrestling industry.
"You're not resting when you get a hold on [another wrestler]," he said. "You're getting the people emotionally involved. It's that guy that's trying to fight to get out of it. The other wrestler would do something to get me into a headlock, maybe by pulling my hair, and I was constantly fighting to get out [of the hold]. It's up to the guy that's in that hold to keep moving. I was trying to make it look like I was trying to figure out how I'm going to get out of that hold. I'd be always on the move."
I don't want to lie around all day and take pills to stay alive
Backlund doesn't view staying in shape as an option -- it's a necessity.
"I have to sleep to stay alive," he said. "I have to eat to stay alive. I tell myself I have to work out to stay alive. I'm not just staying alive to stay alive, I mean stay alive and live a quality life. One of my biggest things is I don't want to have to lie around all day and take pills to stay alive. And I think working out is a better alternative to some doctor giving me pills all day. I don't want that to happen. It's a big reason I work out."
The driving force
Backlund said that his never-ending drive to work out began during a very difficult childhood. He describes in his autobiography how drinking brought out his father's violent temper, how it was so bad at one point that Backlund's older brother Norval had to jump in and save their mother from being beaten by their father.
This difficult beginning could have driven Backlund in many negative directions, but he instead decided to "never capitulate" -- his favorite saying -- and chose a route that eventually led him to develop his "18 principles of healthy living." These guidelines include staying in shape, eating the proper foods, maintaining a positive mental attitude, being kind to other people and turning any negative into a positive.
The best way to sum up Backlund and his path of positivity is that he decided to be a real-life babyface and not just play one inside of the ring. That hasn't always been the case with wrestlers who portray good guys on-camera over the years, but it's a big reason why Backlund stands out as the real deal to this day in an otherwise kayfabe world.