In early 1977, Backlund signed with Vincent J. McMahon’s World Wide Wrestling Federation. Backlund was managed by “the Golden Boy” Arnold Skaaland early on. Less than 4 months into his run with the WWWF, Backlund received his first shot at the WWWF Champion against "Superstar" Billy Graham where he lost by countout. Over the course of 1977, Backlund received additional shots at the champion where his fortunes started to change; they first went to a double countout and later Backlund defeated Graham, but only by countout. On February 20, 1978 at the famous Madison Square Garden, Backlund finally got the elusive pinfall victory over Billy Graham that earned Backlund his WWWF World Heavyweight Title. Backlund won the match despite Graham’s leg being on the rope during the pinfall.
Three days after winning the WWWF gold, Backlund clashed with the NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race in a rare “WWWF vs. NWA” title match. Neither title changed hands as the two fought to a 60-minute time limit draw. Defending against other champions became a recurring theme in Backlund’s run with the title as he faced both the AWA (Nick Bockwinkel) and the NWA World Champion (Harley Race four times and Ric Flair once) in highly publicized matches and also engaged in a legendary series of scientific matches against NWF World Champion and Japanese legend Antonio Inoki. Backlund would also take on and defeat the Florida Champion Don Muraco and in 1982 battled "International Champion" Billy Robinson to a classic 63-minute curfew draw in Montreal. Backlund defended the title against a who's who of professional wrestling legends, including Dusty Rhodes, Roddy Piper, Ivan Koloff, Sgt. Slaughter, Adrian Adonis, Greg Valentine, Tatsumi Fujinami, Stan Hansen, WWF Intercontinental & NWA Missouri Champion Ken Patera, Jimmy Snuka, Pat Patterson, the Masked Superstar, the Iron Sheik, Spiros Arion, Tony Atlas, Blackjack Mulligan, Buddy Rose, Killer Khan, NWA Florida Southern Champion Jimmy Garvin, Hawaiian Champion Wildman Austin, Seiji Sakaguchi, Riki Choshu, Hulk Hogan, George Steele, Big John Studd, Strong Kobayashi, Gorilla Monsoon, Ray Stevens, Ernie Ladd, Stan Stasiak, Baron Von Raschke, the Destroyer (Dick Beyer), Bob Orton Jr., Raymond Rougeau, Hiro Matsuda, King Kong Tonga, Ron Bass, Dick Murdoch, the (original) Sheik, Kevin Sullivan, Prof. Toru Tanaka, Mr. Fuji, Bob Sweetan, Swede Hansen, Peter Maivia, Bobby Duncum, Sika, Afa, Larry Zbyszko, Angelo Mosca, Jesse Ventura, Luke Graham, Osamu Kido, Victor Rivera, Crusher Blackwell, Twin Devil #2, Bulldog Brower, Lou Albano, Moose Morowski, Jerry Valiant, Jimmy Valiant, Johnny Valiant, Tom Andrews, Roger Kirby, Jose Estrada, Johnny Rodz, Bulldog Brown, Kengo Kimura, Ron Starr, Lord Alfred Hayes, Le Bourreau (Hangman), Tor Kamata, Buzz Tyler, Butcher Brannigan, Moondog Rex, Hans Schroeder (Masked Executioner), Mr. Saito, and Iron Mike Sharpe.
On August 9, 1980, Backlund teamed with Pedro Morales to capture the WWF World Tag Team Championship from The Wild Samoans at Showdown at Shea. Backlund and Morales were forced to vacate the title due to a then-extant WWF rule stating that no one can hold two championships at the same time. Backlund met with more tag team success at year's end when he (along with Antonio Inoki) captured the 1980 MSG Tag Team League Tournament with a win over Hulk Hogan and Stan Hansen on December 10, 1980, in Osaka, Japan. Backlund and Inoki finished the tournament with seven wins and two double-countout decisions on route to victory.
While World Wrestling Entertainment officially recognizes Bob Backlund’s first WWWF/WWF Title reign to be from February 20, 1978 until December 26, 1983 there is at least one instance where Backlund was defeated in the ring for the title and one instance where the title was “held up” after a match.
The first instance saw NWF Champion Antonio Inoki pin Bob Backlund in a match in Tokushima, Japan on November 30, 1979 to win the title. Inoki was then billed as both NWF and WWF Champion in subsequent matches. On December 6, Inoki and Backlund fought over the WWF title once again; this time, Backlund pinned Inoki but had the result thrown out by WWF president Hisashi Shinma due to outside interference. After the match, Inoki refused to accept the WWF title back and Backlund appeared in the United States days later as the WWF Champion, with no official announcement of the title change ever being acknowledged by the WWF.
It is also claimed by some sources that because Backlund’s WWF Title was held up after a match against Greg Valentine on October 19, 1981 when a dazed referee "accidentally" gave the title belt to Valentine (storyline) that it constituted an “interruption” of Backlund’s title reign. Arguments against this constituting a break in the lineage is supported by the fact that Backlund was billed as the WWF Champion in other cities in the days following the "controversy". In the early part of the 1980s where no federation had national television deals, it was not an uncommon practice to “hold up” the title in one area to build interest in a rematch that the champion would win while ignoring this fact in other parts of the territory. On November 23, Backlund pinned Valentine for the "Vacant in New York only" WWF title.
After having been popular with the fans from early on, by the final months of his title reign, many fans had grown weary of "Howdy Doody", as the Grand Wizard had dubbed Backlund; this was illustrated by the fact that he was picked as the Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Most Overrated Wrestler in 1983. Additionally, Vincent K. McMahon, who had taken over his father's wrestling promotion, wanted to put the title on the more charismatic and muscular Hulk Hogan. The younger McMahon approached Backlund and said that Hogan was the man that would take the WWF to the next level. McMahon initially wanted Backlund to turn heel and lose to Hogan outright, but when Backlund refused, they consequently needed a transitional champion to serve between Backlund and Hogan. On December 26, 1983, Backlund, recently "injured" in a TV angle where The Iron Sheik assaulted Backlund with his Persian Clubs, lost the title to the Sheik when Backlund's manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel while Backlund was locked in the Camel Clutch. Backlund was not defeated via pinfall or submission, as Skaaland's actions caused the title change. Because Backlund was declared "injured", he was denied an automatic rematch with the Iron Sheik, and instead Hulk Hogan was given a match, and became the new Champion. Backlund continued to work for the WWF for a while after the title change but never saw a shot at the title he held for so many years. On August 4, 1984, Backlund defeated Salvatore Bellomo in his last WWF match for 8 years.
After leaving the WWF Backlund had a run in the short-lived Pro Wrestling USA, which was a joint promotion between the NWA and the American Wrestling Association (AWA) to combat the national expansion of the WWF. In Pro Wrestling USA, Backlund unsuccessfully challenged AWA Champion Rick Martel but soon dropped off the pro wrestling scene. Backlund was believed to have permanently retired from wrestling but made a surprise return in 1991 where he began to work for Herb Abrams' short-lived UWF. He made an appearance at "Beach Brawl", the promotion’s only pay-per-view event, where he defeated Ivan Koloff. Backlund would also appear for the short lived Japanese promotion UWFi, engaging in a memorable series of matches with Nobuhiko Takada
In 1992, Backlund returned to the WWF, which was very different from what he had left nearly a decade earlier. In his absence, the company had expanded to become an international wrestling promotion mainly because of the colorful wrestlers of the "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection" era that Hulk Hogan ushered in 8 years prior. Backlund, whose persona remained the same as it was in his heyday, seemed to be out of step with the evolution of the WWF. Many fans did not even remember him, as he had left just prior to Vince McMahon's national expansion. His initial period in the WWF was largely uneventful with Backlund working mid-card matches; however, it was highlighted by his performance at the 1993 Royal Rumble, in which he lasted sixty-one minutes and ten seconds, a record that would not be broken until 2004 (by Chris Benoit). Backlund's first appearance at a WrestleMania event, at WrestleMania IX, consisted of a quick match, which he lost to Razor Ramon.
On the July 28, 1994 edition of Superstars, Backlund took part in what was billed as an "old generation vs. new generation" match with Bret Hart, with Hart's WWF Championship on the line. Over a number of weeks, viewers were treated to vignettes of Backlund working out and training for his match with Hart. Hart won the match, after Backlund misconceived his own victory and helped Bret to his feet, but afterwards Backlund "snapped", slapping Hart in the face and placing him in the crossface chickenwing submission hold, laughing hysterically. When he finally released the hold, Backlund stared at his hands in shock. Soon afterwards Backlund would start to suddenly snap during a match, go into a blind rage, and would viciously attack his opponent with a crossface chickenwing. Afterward, Backlund would seemingly snap out of his trance and be horrified by what he had done (this of course was all kayfabe).
Shortly after his match with Hart, on an episode of Monday Night Raw, a changed Backlund explained that he should still be considered the legitimate WWF Champion, as the Iron Sheik had never pinned him, nor had he submitted to the camel clutch. Backlund continued wrestling under the new gimmick of an out of touch, yet highly dangerous, maniac out to teach the new generation a lesson. He often appeared in business suits, had a hyperactive personality, and used (or, often, misused) large words to sound important. He also demanded that he be addressed as Mr. Backlund. He would only sign autographs for wrestling fans if they could recite the names of all of the U.S. Presidents in chronological order. On several instances, he attacked wrestlers and other WWF employees and placed them in the crossface chickenwing. These victims included Duke "The Dumpster" Droese, WWF Magazine writer Lou Gianfriddo, and his former manager Arnold Skaaland, whom he blamed for costing him the WWF Title eleven years earlier.
On November 23, 1994 at the Survivor Series pay-per-view in San Antonio, Texas, Backlund faced Bret Hart in a "Throw in the Towel" submission match for the WWF Championship, with Bret's brother Owen Hart in Backlund's corner (carrying what Backlund claimed to be the same towel Skaaland threw into the ring in 1983) and The British Bulldog in Hart's. The object of the match was to place your opponent in a submission hold and make his cornerman throw in the towel. Late in the match the Bulldog ran after Owen, who had interfered behind the referee's back to break a submission, but missed and hit the ringside stairs head first. While Bret got up to argue with his brother, Backlund took advantage and locked the crossface chickenwing on the defending champion. Hart was locked in the hold for an unheard of eight-and-a-half minutes, but refused to give up. With Bulldog incapacitated and Owen pretending to be shocked at what was going on, he decided to go over to his parents Stu and Helen, who were seated at ringside. Owen, who was faking his concern, pleaded with his parents to throw the towel in to save Bret and handed the towel to his mother. After several minutes, which involved Stu Hart ripping the towel from his wife's hands, Helen Hart threw in the towel, giving the match and the championship to Backlund. The match is also notable due to its 35-minute length and display of outstanding mat wrestling from both men.
Backlund's second reign as WWF Champion was short-lived, however, as he lost the title on November 26 to Diesel at a house show in Madison Square Garden, home of many of Backlund's victories in the 1970s and 1980s. This match stands as the quickest World Title match as the towering Diesel simply kicked Backlund in the stomach and hit him with a Jackknife Powerbomb, pinning him a mere eight seconds after the bell rang. For weeks afterwards, fans jeered Backlund with chants of "Eight seconds! Eight seconds!" In a 2005 interview for the Pro Wrestling Torch, Nash fondly remembered how Backlund sold his Jackknife Powerbomb by crawling up the aisleway back to the dressing room area of the Garden. Nash said, "He couldn't have put me over any stronger." This match, in addition to being the quickest WWF Championship match ever, was also the last time that the WWF Championship changed hands at a non-televised event.
After the title loss Backlund started to work less and less, never again reaching main event status. His final noteworthy WWF match was an "I Quit" match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania XI on April 2, 1995. He lost, though many viewers have noted that Backlund never actually said, "I quit." He screamed unintelligibly into the microphone, which special guest referee Roddy Piper seemed to interpret as "I quit."
Following WrestleMania, the WWF ran an angle where Backlund declared his candidacy for President of the United States. Several vignettes were shown on television, including one depicting Backlund campaigning at a beach. However, this angle was dropped without fanfare, possibly due to lack of fan interest and because the U.S. presidential election would not be held for another year and a half.
For a brief time in 1996 and 1997, Backlund joined forces with his old nemesis the Iron Sheik to manage The Sultan in the WWF.
He later returned to wrestle in the 2000 Royal Rumble. After that, he briefly became manager for the then-Intercontinental and European Champion Kurt Angle. During his run, he taught his crossface chickenwing submission hold to Angle, but later on, Angle fired Backlund and gave Backlund a crossface chickenwing after discovering that Backlund booked Angle in a two-fall Triple Threat match with Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho, with both of his titles on the line, at WrestleMania 2000.Possibly inspired by his fake presidential candidacy in 1995, Backlund also unsuccessfully ran for a Connecticut seat in Congress as a Republican in 2000. He went on to operate a bail bond company in Connecticut.