WWE legend "Superstar" Billy Graham on his health, his current relationship with WWE, selling his WWE Hall of Fame ring, Bruno Sammartino entering the WWE Hall of Fame, feels putting the title on Bob Backlund was a mistake
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On his health: "I’m feeling very good thanks to modern medicine and the advances in medicine. I was in the hospital here for double pneumonia, pneumonia in each lung, and then I was admitted for the flu and then the flu turned into double pneumonia and the lungs got infected, then I got some fluid around the heart and they call that congestive heart failure. So I had four things going at the same time. They were very serious issues and thank god for modern medicine and antibiotics that rid the infection in my system. I was in dire straits. I spent five days at the world famous Mayo Hospital here in Phoenix where I had my liver transplant, they're one of the worlds greatest hospitals, as I’m sure you know, along with John Hopkins in Baltimore. Long story short, I’m doing excellent. I’m in the gym training every day and I’m very happy about that.
"I was down for about thirty days after they released me from the shock to my system and of being so dehydrated and I was actually near death when they admitted me. I didn’t know this, but they had taken my wife aside and said, 'you know, your husband may not come out of this thing.' Which freaked her out, naturally. But thanks to modern medicine and the doctors being some of the world’s greatest physicians here at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. They jumped right on everything and got all the IVs, three different types of antibiotics going at the same time and I pulled through.
"I think I have also good genes to help me survive and I’m very thankful and I’m really excited about being at Wrestlecon and everything; the weekend and then a few days before the weekend, actually coming in on the 3rd and doing some things. Visiting some local indie shows and stuff like that. I’m really excited about this trip. I think it’s going to be a great chance to meet a lot of new fans. This will be my last east coast run because travelling is just getting too hard for me; I’m out here in the desert, 3000 miles away and I’m kind of worn out from all the trips back east.
On making his last east coast appearance: "The east coast fans, New York fans all the way up from Boston and Philly, there’s no fans like these folks, there’s no question about it. They really put their heart and their soul into the matches, they did anyway, but they’re really fantastic fans and I’m really looking forward to having a good time with the fans and being really fan friendly, which I’ve always actually been, and really excited about the event the overall event. It’s so nice to have an option for the fans to go to other the events that WWE is putting on, to have another option to go to, so its great for the fans as well.
On the WWE Hall of Fame: "Well, I sold my HOF ring. I sold it on eBay because I was really having some liver problems from my liver transplant. The medication just skyrocketed for some reason and since the WWE or any other wrestling organization, you cant put all the heat on WWE, but pro wrestling, even territorial days never had health insurance for the performers. So you’re on your own as far as that goes. I had to get this expensive anti rejection medication for my liver, so I just put my ring up on eBay.
"I got over $10,000 for the ring from a fan in England and that really helped me tremendously through this bad period of having to take extra amounts of anti liver rejection medication and everything. So that’s where the ring went. I would choose life any day over a ring on a finger, if you know what I mean as opposed to just hanging onto the ring. I would definitely choose to use the ring to help me live and continue my pursuit of happiness as opposed to simply wearing a ring on a finger and dying and being buried with the ring on my finger.
"I enjoyed the HOF and at the time I was unaware of and I really wasn’t paying attention to people like Pete Rose, who had been inducted, and with all of his income tax and betting on baseball and all of these things that he had done illegally, and I think he served about 5 months in federal penitentiary for income tax evasion and had to pay a $500,000 fine, but to induct somebody like that, even in the celebrity wing, which I’m fully aware of has nothing to do with the wrestlers, I really think that was a bad call. And my real problem these days are of course inducting Abdullah the Butcher where every match he has to cut himself or cut his opponent and he’s just obsessed with it and for a company that has a no blood policy to induct an Abdullah the Butcher, especially ahead of a Randy Macho Man Savage, is really deplorable. Maybe they’re saving Randy for next year or the year after because they’re running out of people to induct."
On Bruno Sammartino and the WWE Hall of Fame: "I don’t know if that’s the point or not because the point that I see and I put it in my new DVD Face to Face that’s going to be released at Wrestlecon in that whole weekend, that he has been so bitter against Vince for so many years and has hated anything to do with the WWE and the programming of the WWE that he has been so bitter against any connection with them for almost 30 years. For almost 30 years he’s been very outspoken against the WWE and to all of a sudden embrace the WWE and the programming that he now says is very family friendly and has changed, its just a very odd situation for me to accept the sincerity of his so called 'receiving only $5,000 to be inducted into the HOF.'
"I must be honest with you guys; I do have inside knowledge that I’ve revealed in my Face-to-Face DVD that he’s received a huge amount of money to go in. He was calling a personal friend of mine telling him that he was actually having trouble, now currently, deceiving his fans about only receiving $5,000 for going into the HOF when in fact he’s receiving a small fortune to go in. It’s very sad to have Bruno Sanmartino of all people who have always been honored and respected and held in such high esteem be so deceptive to his loyal fans. It’s really, I think, a major tragedy that all of a sudden he’s embraced [WWE].
"It’s just so bizarre for a man who had so much bitter hatred for Vince and the WWE to all of a sudden have a love affair with them. I’ve written and talked about that exclusively in my DVD Face to Face and gave some real insight into that. It just saddens me because I respected Bruno tremendously and I don’t blame him for taking what he has taken now at all but the sad part about it is he has to lie to his fans currently about his payoff to go into the WWE HOF. It’s really tragic. A man with such honor and dignity and respect to have to have done this. With that aside, the man himself I really respect Bruno to the ultimate.
"It’s like Moses parting the Red Sea water it’s a tremendous turnaround. From having the uttermost hatred for Vince and the WWE to totally embracing them and just this admiration that he has now publicly for the WWE is bizarre. I don’t blame him at all for taking a huge payoff at all, congratulations on that, but I don’t understand between you guys, and you are very intelligent gentlemen, why wrestling out of all other sports, if Kobe Bryant got a bonus of like $10 million it would make the news. If LeBron James got $100 million, those types of things make the news.
"I don’t know why wrestling has always been so secretive, especially now that its been revealed that all of our matches are predetermined and everything in that nature is wide open to the fans, there’s no mystery anymore, why we still have to be secretive. I suggested in the beginning when Triple H was calling Bruno Sanmartino personally trying to get him to go into the HOF, I suggested to Bruno through our mutual friend to just say, 'well, look Vince, if you want me in your HOF give me $2 or $3 million, make it worth my time and Ill go in.’ Its strictly a money and business thing. That’s chump change to Vince McMahon.
"I don’t know the exact amount but it is huge money. From his confidence that he’s put in our mutual friend it is an absolutely enormous amount of money and I told my friend, 'why didn’t you just tell Bruno from day 1?' He says, 'Bruno says 'Triple H is really a nice guy, he's been calling me every week, twice a week trying to get me into the HOF and I just don’t want to go in.' This is going on and on and I told my friend, 'well why doesn’t Bruno step up and say give me a couple million to get me in and why doesn’t Vince step up to the plate and say 'well I want you in so bad, here, you’re worth two or three or four million to go in, lets get this thing done.' The fans would be happy. I would be happy to know that. I'd be happy for Bruno and his family and all of that, but to keep everything so secretive and to put the heat on Bruno, forcing Bruno to tell his fans that he’s only getting five grand is like a slap in the face to all of us.
On his relationship with Vince McMahon: Horrible right now. We’ve had a love hate relationship for years and I don’t know if its because I’ve been so independent but I’ve never come close to revealing the bitter hatred to Vince and the WWE. I mean, Bruno Sanmartino hates Vince McMahon with the uttermost hatred. I mean, he hates him like the venom of an Arizona rattlesnake coming out of Vince’s mouth every time he utters a word he hates him so much. My relationship is severed forever with Vince. I can’t even remember what happened. We’ve had so many back and forth’s going on.
What happened after Bob Backlund won the title: That was the biggest mistake in the history of our business. I really believe it was the biggest mistake. I was ready to be a huge babyface. All we had to do was have Ivan Koloff, my tag team partner, turn on me. I was a natural babyface but he said he had a handshake deal with Backlund and he’s a man of his word, this is Vince Sr. talking, and despite the fact that Bob Backlund being a very nice young man who’s had to live with this 'howdy doody' tag on him, my god, to be a champion and be tagged as a howdy doody character is really sad to have to live with that.
That was a huge mistake for me to pass the baton back over to Backlund but I did as I was also instructed to. That was set up a full year before it actually went down. Vince Sr. brought me down to Ft. Lauderdale, his home, and along with Eddie Graham, he was still alive when I was wrestling in the Florida territory, to make this agreement that I would take the title from Bruno on April 30th 1977 and then give it to Bob Backlund on, I believe, February 20th of '78, almost a year later, and this was all agreed upon a full year ahead of when it actually happened. The thing with Sr was, he was always a man of his word and he felt that he had to keep his word even though it was a struggle, we had to support all the under card, all the matches. Once I gave that belt back over to Backlund, if he would have been left on his own to draw, it would have been horrible attendance records. We had to support that card underneath that kid with Andre the Giant, with Dusty and I, and all kinds of huge support to draw and make that thing work.
Why he never had a great feud with Backlund: He never had a real feud with anyone, never had a hot thing going on with anyone because he was not hot. He was not over. He was force fed down the fans throat and he didn’t have it. He didn’t have the charisma. On our return match in the Garden, when I gave the belt to Backlund, when I laid down for Backlund, on the return match you go back and look in the photo archives and remember when Backlund was wearing those long boxing robes in the beginning with a towel around his neck, that was his ring attire, and on the return match in Madison Square Garden, and
"I have all my tie dye on and ready to go, we're in the hallway with Vince Sr. and we're waiting for Backlund to walk out before we head for the ring, Backlund walks out of the locker room with this full length boxing robe on and the towel around his neck, and the boxing robe was all the way down to his shoelaces and of course, it is wrapped over and around the belt. Vince McMahon Sr says, 'Bobby, where is the belt? My god, the belt, where's the belt?' Because everything was about the belt. And he says, 'Vince, I have it underneath my robe.' And Vince says, 'But Bobby, the fans want to see the belt. My god its the belt.' Vince was having a breakdown backstage. And so Backlund’s answer to Vince Sr about wearing the black robe and covering up the belt, hiding the belt, was, 'but Vince, I like my robe.' That is a child like response.
On The Rock not mentioning WWE on The Tonight Show: "You're kidding?! Well there you go. Completely falling apart at the seams. The Rock's heart is not in the ring, it’s in the movies. We know where his heart is and I don’t blame him. I don’t blame the man for wanting to continue his movie career, but to most even mention WrestleMania on a program like that and to have the belt shows you the devaluation of the whole product. The whole product is suffering. The depth of the talent pool is so shallow it’s just pathetic. And who believes for one minute that; who's the Undertaker working with? [CM Punk} My buddy Punk; who on gods green earth believes the Undertaker's going to lose to CM Punk?"
On his influence in pro wrestling: "I'm very aware of that and it's a compliment. I remember the fans back then would tell me, 'do you know that Jesse Ventura's taking your stuff, trying to look just like you?' The fans at one point were very jealous about things like that. I said that’s ok because it’s a compliment to be that type of an influence on people that they want to be like you and look like you. It’s a great compliment to have that much influence on people. So I’ve never been jealous or have had a grudge against Jesse and the Hulkster. I’ve always thought it was a great compliment to me that they wanted to follow my persona and be influenced by my charismatic presence just like I was influenced by Muhammad Ali, he was my inspiration.
"I’ve always thought it was a great thing. I didn’t think it was so unusual because I was so different. I knew I was an entertainer and I always, to myself, knew that I was an entertainer in the ring as opposed to a more precision technician wrestler type like a Harley Race or even a Bob Backlund. My ambition was to entertain people. I saw pro wrestling from day one as entertainment and that’s what I sought after. I was very happy and proud to have influenced two of the best entertainers ever in professional wrestling, Ventura and the Hulkster.
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