It seems to be official that Bob Backlund’s Hall of Fame induction duties will be handled by TV personality Maria Menounos, whom wrestling fans will best remember (or wish to forget) from her WrestleMania 28 tag team match.
In what is arguably the most star-studded Hall of Fame induction ceremony in WWE history, Menounos doesn’t quite belong.
Landing Arnold Schwarzenegger to induct Bruno Sammartino was a coup. Recruiting Terry Funk to induct Mick Foley was a no-brainer. Getting Menounos to induct Backlund, on the other hand, seems like a disservice to Backlund’s incredible wrestling legacy.
There are, however, a few compelling arguments in favor of Menounos inducting Backlund. She has a history in the WWE ring, and arguably a more important personal history with Backlund.
As with most celebrity guest spots at WrestleMania, her tag match was underwhelming but mercifully brief. It is probably most notable for the rumor that she soiled her white tights during the match (it was just Eve Torres’ make-up and spray-tanner rubbing off during a stinkface).
In the big picture, she was a good ambassador for WWE in the mainstream media, which immediately puts her in good stead with the company.
Her connections to WWE date back to 2009, when she co-hosted Monday Night Raw alongside fellow Hollywood gossip reporter Nancy O’Dell. She made her in-ring debut when she teamed with Kelly Kelly and Gail Kim in a six-Diva match against Beth Phoenix, Rosa Mendes and Alicia Fox. She earned a bit of cred that night by wolloping Beth Phoenix with a substantial slap.
Another appearance at the 2011 Tribute to the Troops show saw Menounos wrestle in an eight-Diva tag match that, while panned by most home viewers, surely pleased the military men in the live audience. When her onscreen rivalry with Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres bubbled over to an confrontation on Extra, WWE got a valuable shot of mainstream coverage leading into last year’s WrestleMania.
So Menounos is certainly a “friend” of WWE, but her selection as Bob Backlund’s inductor has a more obscure backstory.
In the late-1990s, Backlund performed in a series of skits on the now-defunct MTV dating show Singled Out, hosted by Chris Hardwick and Jenny McCarthy. One of the creators of the show, Kevin Undergaro, happens to be Menounos’ longtime boyfriend, and Menounos served as a producer.
Apparently Menounos and Backlund hit it off, since she recommended Backlund to co-star with her in a comedy movie called In the Land of Merry Misfits, written and directed by Undergaro. Backlund can be spotted at various points portraying the the role of “Friar Chuck,” in this trailer:
As anyone can probably guess from the trailer, the movie was not a hit. Few critics bothered to even see it, and those who did were not impressed. One wrote that he “can’t recommend spending actual money to see it.”
But clearly Menounos and Backlund have forged a bond outside of the wrestling industry — perhaps a stronger bond than Backlund has maintained with many of his former peers.
But does that make Menounos the right choice to induct him into the WWE Hall of Fame?
Ultimately, the choice should lie with Backlund. If he considered all the potential options and chose Menounos, no one should dispute it. He has earned the right to be inducted by anyone he sees fit. But he shouldn’t expect the audience at Madison Square Garden to necessarily agree.
After all, Backlund won his first WWWF World Title four months before Menounos was born. His entire heyday as the world’s top wrestler unfolded while Menounos was far too young to take notice.
There’s a strong case to be made that Backlund should be inducted by one of his peers — someone with first-hand understanding and appreciation of Backlund’s immense contributions to professional wrestling.
Several months ago we published an article proposing eight potential people who should be considered to induct Backlund. Not surprisingly, Menounos was not among them. Here are a few of our top contendors:
– Harley Race. When Backlund transitioned to WWWF, he and Race had a rare, historic “WWWF vs. NWA” title match — a unique moment in wrestling history — and they wrestled to a 60-minute draw.
– Jerry Lawler. Backlund was one of the most frequent and entertaining guests on Lawler’s talk segment, The King’s Court, during the ’90s. They are the same age, and have crossed paths countless times, and Lawler would surely deliver many great one-liners.
– Kevin Nash. Nash (as Diesel) won the WWF Heavyweight Championship from Backlund in a mere eight seconds and Backlund sold it like a pro, crawling back to the dressing room in agony. “He couldn’t have put me over any stronger,” Nash once said.
– Jim Ross. JR could speak about Backlund more eloquently than anyone, and he has done so in the past. Ross also has the added “benefit” of having been attacked by Backlund, which would make for a good story.
Any of these men (or perhaps even a wild card like the Iron Sheik, who beat Backlund for the title in the weeks before Hulkamania ran wild), would be an exemplary choice to induct Backlund.
Menounos, on the other hand, might be faced with a harsh New York crowd if she doesn’t pay proper due to Backlund’s enormous importance to professional wrestling. Perhaps she’ll surprise everyone with a perfect speech befitting the occasion, but on a night full of wrestling reverence and lore, the deck seems strongly stacked against her.
The resulting criticism might be tougher to escape than a crossface chicken-wing.