We’ve Lost a Legend in Bruno Sammartino
It is with a heavy heart that I report the passing of WWE Legend and Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino. This news hits hard for any true wrestling fan. Whether you are young, old, or in-between, if you are a fan of wrestling you should know who this man was and how large of a mark he left on the business.
Bruno was known to be battling health issues for the last few years. At the age of 82, he passed away peacefully beside his wife Carol and his two sons.
I remember listening to his stories of living his life in Italy in a small mountain town. This man spoke of how he loved listening to stories of the United States. He was seduced by stories of streets paved in gold, literally believing it at that time. He dreamed of the kind of freedom this country could provide him.
Coming to America
Bruno’s history is a tragic one. He lost both his brother and sister at a very young age. His town was seized by Adolph Hitler when he was young, but Bruno wasn’t the type of person to give up. He and his mother hid in the mountain called Valla Rocca during the German occupation. He eventually got out and joined his immigrant father in Pittsburgh, PA.
During his early years in the United States, he showed off his bodybuilding physique and skill by setting world records. In 1959, he bench-pressed 565 pounds. This was the thing that caught the eye of promoter Vincent J. McMahon, who then signed him as a professional wrestler.
Bruno Sammartino’s Title Reign
Bruno wasn’t just a big hit with his own Italian community. His physique was an eye-catcher to the Greek and Latin communities, too. Bruno Sammartino was a trailblazer who bridged the gap in wrestling that was separated by race, creed, and nationality.
He soon defeated former NWA Heavyweight Champion, Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, in 75 seconds to become the second-ever WWE Champion in front of a sold-out venue of 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden. He held the title for a total of eight years. This is the longest reign in all of the WWE, no matter what revisionist history or terrible commentating will make you think otherwise.
Bruno Sammartino has a list of amazing Hall of Famers who he defeated under his belt. He beat Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon, and George “The Animal” Steele, to name a few. He wrestled so many of the greatest in the business from “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Honky Tonk Man, Ivan Koloff, Larry Zabyszko, Hulk Hogan, Billy Graham, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as well.
An Emotional Connection.
During a match in 1971, Bruno took on Ivan Koloff in an amazing bout – one that had everybody on the edge of their seat. When he lost the title to this man, it is well-known and documented that grown men were seen in the audience weeping because of the connection they had to this man, their real-life superhero.
On December 10, 1973, Bruno won his title back and then held it for 3 whole years. He set yet another record leaving him in the history books twice for title runs. This man was clearly born simply to be a champion. He was very humble, but also showed the crowd he was their champion.
Besting His Protégé
Bruno Sammartino’s protégé is WWE Legend, Larry Zabyszko. On August 9, 1980, he battled Zabyszko in a steel cage. The event sold out New York City’s Shea Stadium. They battled for 16 minutes and eventually after defeating his protégé, they even fought briefly outside the cage.
Coming Back to Broadcasting
Bruno’s son David needed a mentor and so he returned to WWE in a broadcasting role, while helping his son. During the start of his son’s career as a grappler, he, too, was fighting some of the wrestlers that his father had faced. Bruno at this point in the mid-1980’s was already known as a living legend.
There was some bad blood between Bruno and wrestling though, as networks and promoters began going in a different direction. He wasn’t a fan of the risqué content of the Attitude Era and disconnected himself from the business. Occasionally during interviews, he would talk about wrestlers and their talents, but he was mostly silent.
Hall of Fame
The year of 2013 was the year of Bruno. He was chosen to be the headliner of the Hall of Fame ceremony. The man was inducted by action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. This was marked as the 188th and record-setting time of this living legend selling out Madison Square Garden.
Bruno told ESPN in 2013:
Anytime that people feel that you accomplished enough to enter into a Hall of Fame, of course, this is a tremendous, tremendous thrill for me. I had a lot of my success due to appearing at the Garden.
Bruno Sammartino will be truly missed by the wrestling world and this is a loss where we all have to admit that even Superman can leave this world. My condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones.
What is your favorite Bruno memory? Tell us in the comments!