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Bruno Sammartino

Bruno Sammartino
Bruno Sammartino at Celebrate the Season Parade in Pittsburgh, 2005.
Birth name Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino
Born (1935-10-06) October 6, 1935 (age 80)
Pizzoferrato, Kingdom of Italy
Resides Ross Township, Pennsylvania, United States
Spouse(s) Carol Sammartino (m. 1959)
Children 3
Professional wrestling career
Ring name(s) Bruno Sammartino
Billed height Script error: No such module "convert".[1]
Billed weight Script error: No such module "convert".[1][2]
Billed from Abruzzo, Italy
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Trained by Ace Freeman,
Rex Peery[1]
Debut 1959
Retired 1981

Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino (born October 6, 1935) is an Italian-born retired American professional wrestler. He is best known for his work with WWE,[3] where he held the WWWF (World) Heavyweight Championship for over 11 years (4040 days) across two reigns, the first of which is the longest single reign in the promotion's history (2803 days).

Sammartino's wrestling style was more mat-oriented which was typical of wrestlers from his era. His brawling, power moves, and personal charisma helped him become the most popular American wrestler in the 1960s through the mid 1980s. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 6, 2013 by his longtime friend, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Early life

Born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy on October 6, 1935,[1] Sammartino was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. Four older siblings died during his time in Italy. During his childhood, Sammartino's family hid from German soldiers in a mountain called Valla Rocca, during the latter stages of World War II.[4] During this time, Sammartino's mother, Emilia, would sneak into their German-occupied town for food and supplies.[4] She once was captured and another time shot in the shoulder during such trips. Eventually, Sammartino caught rheumatic fever but was nursed back to health by his mother with hot blankets and leeches. In 1950, he moved to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his father had already lived for several years.[4]

When Sammartino first came to America, he spoke no English and was sickly from his experiences of surviving during the war years.[4] This made him an easy target for bullies in school. Sammartino wanted to build himself up physically and became devoted to weight training.

Bruno's devotion to weightlifting nearly resulted in a berth on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team. He was edged out by legendary strongman Paul Anderson – who outweighed Sammartino by 70 pounds. In the early years of Sammartino's career, he was measured at 5'10" and weighed around 280 pounds.

Bruno set a world record in the bench press with a lift of 565 pounds in 1959. Bruno completed this lift while not wearing any elbow or wrist wraps. When he brought the bar down, he did not bounce it off his chest but set it there for two seconds before attempting the press.[2]

Sammartino also competed in bodybuilding and won "Mr. Allegheny" in the late 50s.

His high school, Schenley High School, didn't have a wrestling program, but he worked out with the University of Pittsburgh wrestling team under storied coach Rex Peery.[1] Sammartino became known for performing strongman stunts in the Pittsburgh area, and sportscaster Bob Prince put him on his television show. It was there that he was spotted by local wrestling promoter Rudy Miller, who recruited Sammartino for professional wrestling.[1] Miller knew that Sammartino could easily be marketed as an ethnic strongman, and that he would appeal to Italian immigrants who supported wrestling.

While working in construction in 1956, Sammartino wrestled an orangutan at a carnival. After taking much punishment, Sammartino punched the orangutan in the stomach and was disqualified by the animal's owner. Sammartino left the cage with swollen eyes and shredded clothes. Because of the disqualification, the owner refused to pay Sammartino the $50 he was promised for the match.

Professional wrestling career

Studio Wrestling–Pittsburgh Promotion (1959–1974)

Sammartino made his professional debut in Pittsburgh on December 17, 1959, pinning Dmitri Grabowski in 19 seconds.[2] On December 23, he defeated Miguel Torres, for the local Spectator Sports promotion, in Pittsburgh. He soon became extremely popular. The name of the local TV wrestling program was Studio Wrestling and it was broadcast on WIIC-TV Channel 11. The host was Pittsburgh personality "Chilly Billy" Billy Cardille.

In 1966, Sammartino bought the Pittsburgh-based Spectator Sports promotion which promoted in the Tri-State area of Western Pennsylvania, Ohio & West Virginia. The promotion was a stopping point for national stars such as Gorilla Monsoon, The Crusher, Bill Watts, George Steele, and Bobo Brazil, as well as featuring local talent like Johnny De Fazio, Frank "Carnegie Cop" Holtz, Hurricane Hunt, Tony "The Battman" Marino, and an early Sammartino protege John L. Sullivan (who later gained fame as Johnny Valiant). The Pittsburgh promotion was truly independent, ran its own storylines and had its own tag champions - despite the use of Northeast's based promotion World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF, currently WWE) talent. Before the Civic Arena was built, Spectator Sports held their big Pittsburgh shows at Forbes Field - the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Unlike many promoters, Bruno was said to be a good payoff man & very fair to his fellow wrestlers. Many men, including George "The Animal" Steele, have stated that Bruno has always shown concern for how much all of the wrestlers earn on a card – not just himself. Sammartino sold the promotion in 1971. He was later asked by the new Buffalo-based owners to help with the booking of Pittsburgh area shows. The local TV show was canceled in 1974, and the promotion shut down. The Pittsburgh area then became part of the WWWF territory.

Capitol Wrestling Corporation/World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation

Early headlines (1959–1962)

Sammartino's first match in Madison Square Garden in New York City was on January 2, 1960 against Bull Curry (who was substituting for Killer Kowalski). Within six months of his debut in wrestling, Sammartino was headlining at Madison Square Garden (starting in tag matches, teaming with Antonino Rocca).

On February 18, 1961, Sammartino faced Chick Garibaldi in an afternoon match at the Sunnyside Gardens in New York. During the match, Sammartino bodyslammed Garibaldi and immediately noticed his opponent's eyes roll up inside his head. By the time the ref checked on the fallen wrestler, he was dead in the ring. It was later determined that Garibaldi had died from a heart attack. In the movie Legends Never Die, Sammartino stated that it took him many years to get over that incident.

Sammartino made major headlines when he became the first (and only) man to lift the Script error: No such module "convert". Haystacks Calhoun in a match. He did not slam him as much as lift him shoulder-heigh and drop him.

After tiring of low payoffs and broken promises, Sammartino left Vincent McMahon Sr.'s Capitol Wrestling Corporation to join a rival New York promoter and former McMahon Sr. partner Kola Kwariani. Kwariani's hold on New York soon weakened because of low attendance and athletic commission pressure to curb violence. In an effort to increase attendance, Kwariani had Sammartino wrestle his tag partner Antonino Rocca twice during this time. Sammartino was then told by Rudy Miller to jump back to McMahon.

Sammartino found himself with even fewer dates and payoffs than the first time he wrestled for McMahon. He gave notice to McMahon that he was going to San Francisco, and its large Italian population, to wrestle for promoter Roy Shire. Very soon after arriving, Sammartino was informed by the local athletic commission that he was suspended. Unable to find work across the country (because every state athletic commission honors suspensions given by other state athletic commissions), Bruno headed back to Pittsburgh to work as a laborer. Sammartino found out that his suspension was due to his skipping a match he was booked for in Baltimore. He was also booked to wrestle in Chicago that same night. In his autobiography, Sammartino states that he believed McMahon set him up, by double-booking him and not informing him of his match in Baltimore, as a way of punishment for working for Kwariani.[5]

On the advice of wrestler Yukon Eric, Bruno contacted Toronto promoter Frank Tunney hoping to take advantage of Toronto's large Italian population. Despite McMahon trying to blackball him there as well, Tunney decided to take a chance. Bruno made his Toronto debut in March 1962 and very quickly, with the help of self-promotion in local newspapers and radio programs, became an attraction. His ability to speak Italian also ingratiated himself with that immigrant population. With Canadian legend Whipper Billy Watson, Bruno won his first championship in September 1962, the local version of the International tag team title. Soon, he was in demand by other promoters in different Canadian territories.

During his tenure in Toronto, Bruno wrestled and beat the (then) National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) Champion Buddy Rogers for the title. Rogers was unable to continue after being accidentally butted in the groin while attempting a leap frog. Sammartino refused to accept the title under the circumstances.

Sammartino also wrestled NWA Champ Lou Thesz twice in Canada. One match ended in a draw and the other with Thesz scoring a fluke pin after a collision, despite Sammartino controlling the 20 minute match from the beginning. Like Thesz's win over Buddy Rogers, this match was booked by NWA kingpin Sam Muchnick as a preliminary to the forming of the WWWF, to ensure the dominance of the senior organization and its championship.[6] Thesz recounted the matches as nothing special. Bruno has said in interviews that noted "shooter" Thesz did not try to take any advantage of him (as he often did in matches against wrestlers he did not like), but that he was prepared to respond in the event he did.

Meanwhile, McMahon Sr. was having a tough time drawing fans with newly created World Wide Wrestling Federation Champion Buddy Rogers in New York. Promoter Willie Gilzenberg appeared on Washington DC TV; referred to a non-title match in Canada; and "returned" the belt to Buddy Rogers (which thus created the WWWF belt). It was also mentioned that Rogers lost to Thesz in a one fall bout; NWA rules specified that the title could only change hands in a 2 out of 3 fall match. Thus, Rogers had not legitimately lost the title.

Eventually, promoters Toots Mondt and McMahon Sr. cleared up Sammartino's suspension by paying his $500 fine (Bruno says they took it out of his future purses). After many weeks of phone calls with McMahon trying to lure Bruno back, Sammartino demanded a title match with Rogers.

To show his gratitude to Tunney, Sammartino still wrestled every other Sunday on the big shows – regardless of how hectic his schedule became.

WWWF World Heavyweight Champion (1963–1971)

He won the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship on May 17, 1963, defeating "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds.[7] Bruno has said in interviews that Rogers had to be tricked into the MSG main event. Allegedly, Rogers was to win on a disqualification. It was Sammartino himself that broke the news to him in the ring. While the crowd at Madison Square Garden had expected a tough contest they were shocked at the manner in which Sammartino was able to completely dominate the champion. It took just 48 seconds to crown Sammartino the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion. Distraught and surprised Rogers quickly left the ring.

Rogers claimed until his dying day that he had suffered a heart attack a week before the match and was dragged out of a hospital to have the match. Bruno has said (and other wrestlers on the card verify) that all wrestlers were examined and passed by the State Athletic Commission doctor that night as was customary in those days. Bruno has also pointed out that if Rogers was sick, he never took time off from his schedule after he lost the belt. Others have pointed out that Rogers worked mainly in short tag matches until his first retirement one year later (he would later return for two brief comebacks, and much later as a manager).[8]

Rogers and Sammartino did face each other two months later at Madison Square Garden in a tag team match, with Rogers and Handsome Johnny Barend defeating Bruno and Bobo Brazil 2 falls to 1. Sammartino did not trust Rogers (who had a reputation for taking cheap shots) and the two did not work together very much during the match. Rogers pinned Sammartino for the third and deciding fall.

Rogers retired prior to their scheduled title rematch on October 4, 1963, in Jersey City, NJ's Roosevelt Stadium. Sammartino instead that night had his first match against new #1 contender, Gorilla Monsoon (Monsoon won on disqualification, starting a monumentally successful feud).

Sammartino kept this title for seven years, eight months, and one day; it still stands as the longest continuous world title reign in men's wrestling history.

Sammartino was so popular that in 1965 negotiations began to merge the NWA and the WWWF titles with Bruno winning a match over the legendary Lou Thesz.

For his part, Sammartino says he was not involved in the talks at all, but ultimately killed the idea when he discovered he would be working "35 days a month" and have no time for his family at all.

NWA officials instead selected Gene Kiniski as Thesz's successor - despite the fact Gene had just completed a run in the WWWF where he was beaten by Sammartino in a series of high-profile bouts.

On September 28, 1965, after a match with Tarzan Tyler in Madison Square Garden, Sammartino went to a restaurant in Times Square. When he returned, he found that a car window was shattered and his $10,000 championship belt was stolen.

Sammartino headlined cards that filled both the third and current Madison Square Gardens on a monthly basis. He battled the top bad guys of his time, including Killer Kowalski,[1] Giant Baba, Gene Kiniski,[1] Dr. Bill Miller,[1] Dr. Jerry Graham, Bull Ramos, Hans Mortier, Waldo Von Erich, "Crusher" The Crusher, Johnny Valentine, The Sheik, Freddie Blassie, Curtis Iaukea, Tarzan Tyler, Bill Watts, Gorilla Monsoon, Professor Toru Tanaka, Handsome Johnny Barend, Spiros Arion, Crusher Verdue, Ernie "The Big Cat" Ladd, John Tolos, The Kentucky Butcher, and George "The Animal" Steele.

During this time, Bruno was involved in a shoot with Dr. Bill Miller. In a tag match with Tony Parisi against Miller and Prince Iaukea, Miller (who had a long amateur wrestling background) became angry when Sammartino and Parisi kept Iaukea in the ring for a prolonged period. Miller ran into the ring and kicked Bruno in the chest and knocked the wind out of him. Bruno tagged out and after he recovered, asked to tag back in and applied a front facelock on Miller until Miller bled from his nose and passed out in the middle of the ring. Afterwards, Miller approached Bruno in the dressing room, shook his hand and profusely apologized.[citation needed]

Sammartino defended his title all over the world, including Australia, Spain, Mexico and Japan.

Bruno was honored with a private audience with the Pope in the Vatican during this period.

On January 18, 1971, Sammartino lost the championship at Madison Square Garden to Ivan Koloff.[9] The crowd was so stunned into silence that Sammartino thought his hearing had been damaged. After the pin, Koloff slowly walked across the ring while the ref raised his hand three times. The announcer came into the ring with the belt but, fearful of a riot, did not present it to Koloff. Koloff left the ring while Sammartino stayed inside to keep the crowd's attention off Koloff. As Sammartino left the ring, people started crying.

Three weeks later, Pedro Morales beat Koloff to win the title; Sammartino congratulated the new champion as he was announced. While Morales drew well in New York, the crowds declined in other cities.

Meanwhile, on January 14, 1972, Sammartino returned to Los Angeles, California for the first time in five years to participate in the highlight of promoter Mike LeBelle's year: a 22-man battle royal. The battle royal included competitors such as Rocky Johnson, Mil Máscaras, John Tolos, Haystacks Calhoun, and Ripper Collins. The final two men left in the ring were Collins and Sammartino. After brawling for about five minutes, they noticed that they were the only ones left. After Sammartino bodyslammed Collins several times, he then applied the bearhug. Collins submitted and Bruno was the $11,000 winner of the third annual Olympic Battle Royal. This battle royal marked the first time that The Wrestler, an "Apter Mag", had fans vote on Match of the Year. It went on to become the Match of the Year for 1972.

Later in 1972, Sammartino was asked back by McMahon Sr. to regain the title. After refusing McMahon's initial offer, Sammartino was offered a percentage of all the gates when he wrestled and a decreased work schedule that only included major arenas.

Soon after, Bruno and champion Morales teamed up for a series of tag matches. In a televised match, Professor Tanaka blinded both men with salt and they were maneuvered into fighting each other. When their eyes cleared, to the surprise of the crowd, they kept fighting each other.

Two weeks later, all syndicated wrestling shows in the WWWF showed a clip of Morales and Sammartino signing a contract for a title match at Shea Stadium. When McMahon gestured for them to shake hands, both wordlessly turned and walked away.

On September 1, 1972, Sammartino and Morales wrestled to a 75-minute draw at Shea Stadium in New York.[10] Despite miserable weather (cold and rainy), the gate narrowly missed becoming the largest take for an outdoor wrestling show at that time.

The match was a scientific trading of holds and mat wrestling. McMahon did not film the proceedings, so all that exists are still photographs. During the match, George "The Animal" Steele, tried to interfere – but was restrained by an army of police before he could enter the ring.

Second WWWF Heavyweight Championship reign (1973–1977)

File:Kathy Segal & Bruno Sammartino, August 1974.jpg
Sammartino signing an autograph in August 1974 for bodybuilder Kathy Segal, who later won the Ms. International.

Eventually, on December 10, 1973, Sammartino regained the WWWF Heavyweight Championship by defeating Stan Stasiak who had won the title from Pedro Morales nine days earlier in Philadelphia.

In his second reign, Bruno defeated contenders such as John Tolos, Bruiser Brody, Spiros Arion, Ken Patera, Bugsy McGraw, Freddie Blassie, Baron von Raschke, Waldo Von Erich, Ivan Koloff, Superstar Billy Graham, Don Leo Jonathan, Angelo Mosca, Ernie Ladd, Big Bob Duncum, and Nikolai Volkoff. He also encountered old foes Killer Kowalski and George Steele. His second title run lasted three years, four months, and twenty days.

While in Japan, Bruno had a confrontation with an up-and-coming Antonio Inoki in an Osaka tag match. At the urging of noted "shooter" Karl Gotch, Inoki attempted to slap a real submission hold on the WWWF world champion and make him quit. Bruno immediately powered out of the hold, pounded Inoki unmercifully and pitched him out of the ring. Inoki ducked Bruno for the rest of the match.

Years later, when Inoki broke away and formed New Japan Pro Wrestling, the WWWF signed a deal with them in Japan. Bruno refused to work for Inoki, preferring to stay loyal to his old friend Giant Baba, the owner of All Japan. They had several marathon matches in the '60s, usually ending in hour-long draws.

During this time, on April 26, 1976, Sammartino suffered a neck fracture in a match against Stan Hansen at Madison Square Garden, when Hansen improperly executed a body slam and dropped Sammartino on his head. According to Hansen, Bruno was dazed, but said "give me a minute". Clearing the cobwebs, he managed to wrestle for an additional 15 minutes and did the planned finish of a stoppage due to blood. Despite doctors' orders, Bruno insisted on flying home to Pittsburgh that night. Sammartino was concerned that his elderly parents would find out he was in a NY hospital with a broken neck and would die from the shock.

After two months, Sammartino famously returned, and faced Hansen in a rematch on June 25, 1976 at Shea Stadium, which was on the closed circuit TV undercard of the famous Ali vs. Antonio Inoki match for WWWF cities.

Sammartino was rushed back into action by Vince McMahon Sr. when the advance gate for the show was a disaster. McMahon claims that the entire WWWF was in peril of folding because of his investment in this card.

Bruno was in no shape to wrestle, but nonetheless entered the ring, and when Hansen tried to hit him with his "lariat move" Bruno swung him into the turnbuckle and beat him bloody with 10 punches to the head as the crowd counted the strikes. Hansen was taken away in an stretcher. More importantly, Sammartino drew a large live audience, and big closed circuit TV receipts (the Ali/Inoki match, without the Sammartino/Hansen match, drew very poorly in most of America). Bruno contends that he was never paid the percentage of the closed circuit gate that he was promised.

The match was rated 1976 Match of the Year by a number of wrestling magazines. Subsequently, after a chance to recover and train, Sammartino scored decisive cage match wins over Hansen around the WWWF circuit.

His second title reign was only supposed to last a year, but each year Bruno received bigger payoffs to stay on. Around this time, Bruno's yearly pay equaled that of the highest paid athletes in any professional sport. With only having to appear in the biggest arenas and with an increase of the gate percentages, Bruno had, up to this point, the greatest financial deal in wrestling history.

In early 1977, after suffering the broken neck and many other ailments, Bruno informed McMahon Sr. that he was done with his second title reign. It ended in Baltimore on April 30, 1977, when he was defeated by Superstar Billy Graham.[11] In a controversial ending, Graham had both feet braced on the ropes (which is illegal in pro wrestling) while successfully pinning Sammartino.

Later WWWF/WWF career and initial retirement (1978–1981)

Despite a very long and financially successful series of re-matches against Billy Graham, Sammartino was unwilling to regain the title. His final attempt was in Philadelphia, just a few days before Graham was scheduled to lose the title to Bob Backlund. The Philly match was the only documented instance of Sammartino losing a steel cage match. He lost by accidentally knocking a bloody and battered Graham through the cage door.

After his second reign ended, Sammartino leisurely toured the U.S. and the world. He wrestled then NWA World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race to a one hour draw in St. Louis. He also wrestled and defeated Blackjack Mulligan, Lord Alfred Hayes, Dick Murdoch, Kenji Shibuya, and "Crippler" Ray Stevens.

During this time period, Sammartino did a rare "clean job" for Killer Kowalski in Canada. At the time, Kowalski was the Grand Prix World Champion and recounted in an interview that he was "touched" his old friend and rival would do that for him.

One of the most emotional feuds of Sammartino's career started on January 22, 1980, when his former student Larry Zbyszko violently turned against him during a scientific wrestling exhibition, broadcast on the World Wrestling Federation's Championship Wrestling show. Sammartino, shocked and hurt by Zbyszko's betrayal, vowed to make Zbyszko (whom Bruno described as a "Judas") pay dearly. Their feud culminated on August 9, 1980, in front of 36,295 fans at Shea Stadium.[12] As the main event of 1980's Showdown at Shea, Sammartino defeated Zbyszko inside a steel cage.[12] This feud is considered by many wrestling historians and journalists to be the biggest feud in the history of wrestling in the northeast.

In his autobiography, Hulk Hogan claimed that his match with André the Giant was the real reason for the huge draw at Shea Stadium, however the feud between Sammartino and Zbyszko sold out everywhere in the build-up to the show. In contrast, Hogan and André headlined exactly one card in White Plains, New York before they wrestled at Shea. They drew a paltry 1,200 in a building that held 3,500.[citation needed]

Sammartino retired from North American wrestling full-time in 1981, in a match that opened the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Sammartino pinned George "The Animal" Steele in his match. Sammartino then finished up his full-time career by touring Japan.

Return to WWF (1984–1988)

In 1984, Bruno made an appearance at an Italian Festival in Wheeling, WV to do a weightlifting exhibition. While there, he was interviewed by a local TV station and when asked if he still watched TV wrestling he said it made him sick and that he would never watch it. He didn't like the direction that it was taking.

It was during this time Sammartino found out through Angelo Savoldi, a recently fired office employee of Capitol Wrestling Corporation, that he had been cheated by Vince McMahon Sr. on the promised gate percentages for his entire second title run. Bruno filed suit against McMahon and his Capitol Wrestling Corporation.[13] The suit was eventually settled out of court by McMahon's son, Vince McMahon Jr. after his father had died. Part of the settlement included Sammartino returning to do color commentary on WWF television in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars for what amounted to nineteen days of work.

The primary reason Sammartino returned was an attempt to promote the wrestling career of his son David Sammartino, who became a wrestler against his father's wishes. Despite lingering effects from previous injuries, Sammartino agreed to come out of retirement to help his son launch his career. Bruno says that this time period was his least favorite of his career.

At the inaugural WrestleMania at a sold out Madison Square Garden in 1985, Sammartino was in his son's corner, for his match against Brutus Beefcake. The match ended in a double-disqualification after the Sammartinos began brawling with Beefcake and his manager Johnny Valiant. He returned to in ring action soon after with his son, as they wrestled against Beefcake and Valiant at Madison Square Garden. The Sammartinos also teamed against Paul Orndorff and Bobby Heenan in various arenas. Despite being in his early-50's, Sammartino frequently proved to be in much better physical shape than his opponents, often leaving them "blown up" by the middle of the match.

David Sammartino eventually realized he was being used by McMahon to get his famous father to wrestle, as the elder Sammartino still drew huge crowds. Disenchanted, the younger Sammartino quit the WWF several times. This forced his father to continue to wrestle, in hopes that he could get his son back in McMahon's good graces.

Sammartino's most notable feud during this run was with "Macho Man" Randy Savage. An irate Sammartino attacked Savage during a TV interview, after Savage bragged about injuring Ricky Steamboat, by driving the timekeeper's bell into Steamboat's throat during a televised match.

Sammartino defeated Savage in a lumberjack match for the WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship via disqualification at the Boston Garden.[14] This allowed Savage to keep the championship belt, as titles cannot change hands via count out or disqualification.

Sammartino would often be teamed with Tito Santana and his old enemy George "The Animal" Steele (who was a face at this point in his career) to wrestle Savage and "Adorable" Adrian Adonis. The climax of the their feud came was a victory for Sammartino and Santana in a steel cage match in Madison Square Garden.

Sammartino also engaged in a feud with "Rowdy" Roddy Piper after Piper insulted his heritage on a segment of Piper's Pit at Madison Square Garden. Sammartino faced Piper in both singles and tag matches. Sammartino teamed with Paul Orndorff in his matches against Piper, while Piper would tag with his "bodyguard", Ace "Cowboy" Bob Orton. Sammartino would eventually get the upper hand in the feud, by defeating Piper in a steel cage match at the Boston Garden.

In 1986 Sammartino competed in a 20 man battle royal at WrestleMania 2 in at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago. The battle royal featured not only professional wrestlers but also professional football players. Sammartino was eliminated by Killer Kowalski protege Big John Studd. André the Giant would go on to win the battle royal.

Later on in 1986 Sammartino would team with Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and Santana in a 6-man elimination tag team match against The Hart Foundation and then WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion The Honky Tonk Man. Sammartino was the sole survivor of the match pinning the Honky Tonk Man for the win.

Sammartino's last major feud came in the summer of 1987 against The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship. Although he dominated the matches against the champion, Sammartino never won the title, winning most of his matches by countout or disqualification.

Sammartino also feuded with Hercules Hernandez during this time. Sammartino had his last singles match in the WWF against on August 28, 1987 as he defeated Hercules via count out at the Paul Boesch Retirement Show in Houston, Texas.

Sammartino's final WWF match saw him teaming up with Hulk Hogan to defeat King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang. Sammartino continued doing commentary on the WWF Superstars of Wrestling until March 1988. Sammartino would eventually criticize Vince McMahon after he fired his son David that same year, in his attempt to return to the WWF. McMahon's reasoning was that David punched a fan after the fan spat at him. Sammartino and his son later speculated that the fan was a plant hired by McMahon, in order to give the WWF an excuse to terminate David Sammartino's contract.

Post WWF career

After leaving the WWF, Bruno was an outspoken critic of the path McMahon has taken pro wrestling, particularly in the use of steroids, other illicit drugs and borderline obscene wrestling angles. In the last stage of his career, he refused to travel with the younger wrestlers for fear of being stopped in a vehicle containing drugs. McMahon provided wrestler-turned-road-agent Chief Jay Strongbow as a travel partner. He appeared in the media in opposition to the WWE on such shows as The Phil Donahue Show, Geraldo and CNN.

Sammartino began doing commentary for Herb Abrams' upstart Universal Wrestling Federation as it attempted to go national and compete with the WWF, the NWA, and WCCW.

On October 28, 1989, Sammartino made a special appearance at the NWA PPV Halloween Havoc, where he was the special guest referee in a "Thunderdome" cage match which featured Ric Flair and Sting taking on Terry Funk and The Great Muta. Sammartino ended up exchanging blows with Muta at the end of the match and ran him off.

Sammartino worked several World Championship Wrestling events in a minor analysis role in the early 1990s.

On July 26, 2004, Sammartino met in Pittsburgh with McMahon and WWE officials about doing a DVD release and providing commentary for WWE 24/7 Classics, but Sammartino would not agree to be a part of the current product. He was invited to stay for the Raw show that night, but declined because he did not want to be seen endorsing the product. He was told the main event was Chris Benoit vs. Triple H. He reportedly told them he would've stayed if Benoit was wrestling Kurt Angle; one of the people he said this to was Triple H, who he didn't know. This was also the same night of an incident with Ric Flair (see Backstage incidents). Contract talks stalled.

In 2006, he signed an independent deal with Jakks Pacific to produce an action figure, which is part of the WWE Classic Superstars line, Series 10.[15]

Sammartino has appeared for independent wrestling promotion Ring of Honor, and was featured on Total Nonstop Action's Kurt Angle biographical DVD. In it, he praises Angle and says that he generally doesn't watch wrestling unless he finds out that Angle's going to wrestle.

On March 25, 2010, Sammartino was honored at the 74th annual Dapper Dan Dinner, a popular awards and charity fundraising event in Pittsburgh, with a lifetime achievement award, for which fellow former Studio Wrestling personalities Bill Cardille, "Jumping" Johnny De Fazio, Dom DeNucci, Frank Durso, and referee Andy "Kid" DePaul were all present.[16]

On October 8, 2011 Sammartino briefly returned to the Pro Wrestling scene as a special guest when he joined a wrestling show held in his honor by Adriatic Wrestling League, an Italian pro-wrestling promotion. "Through The Eyes Of The Legend", was held in his country of his birth, Pizzoferrato, Abruzzi, Italy.

WWE Hall of Famer (2013–2015)

In 2013, Sammartino accepted an invitation for induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, after having declined several times in prior years.[17][18] The ceremony took place at Madison Square Garden on April 6, 2013. Afterwards Sammartino shook hands with Vince McMahon.[17][18] Later that year it was confirmed that Bruno Sammartino will be a playable character in WWE 2K14, the first video game offering from 2K.[19] Sammartino appeared on Raw on October 7, which was in Pittsburgh, and received a birthday greeting in his hometown.[20] Sammartino inducted Larry Zybzsko into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 28th, 2015.

Criticism of pro wrestling after retirement

File:Triple h and bruno.jpg
Sammartino with Triple H at WrestleMania Axxess in April 2014, unveiling a statue created in Sammartino's image and honor.

In his retirement, Sammartino has publicly criticized the direction professional wrestling has taken, making reference to lurid storylines, over-the-top theatrics, and drug and steroid abuse. In particular he has been critical of Vince McMahon, saying that McMahon has been detrimental to his father's creation. Sammartino has refused to provide commentary on WWE-produced retrospectives of his career, instead participating in a series of independently-produced documentaries, including Bruno Sammartino's Legends Never Die, La Roccia, The Passing of the Belt, and The Boys are Back. Despite being the biggest drawing card in wrestling during the 1960s and 1970s, Sammartino was not mentioned in the A&E wrestling documentary The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling. He attributed his exclusion to McMahon, who provided much of the footage to the production.[citation needed]

Sammartino accepted WWE's offer to join their Hall of Fame in 2013, saying he was satisfied with the way the company has addressed his concerns.[21][22] He said, "Being that they made those changes, now that they want me in there so badly I absolutely accept it because they did what I wanted them to do, and it is fitting that I accept this honor in Madison Square Garden, which I sold out the most of any single performer."[21]

Backstage incidents

  • In the late 1960s, Sammartino was involved in a fight with former PA Athletic Commissioner Joe Cimino. Cimino was new to his post and intervened in a match finish involving Bruno. Bruno took a shot at Cimino in the ring and the argument continued backstage. Bruno ended up in a screaming match with Cimino on Pittsburgh's local Studio Wrestling program. Cimino suspended Bruno for a month. Sam Muchnick mentions the incident in his book, Wrestling Babylon.[23]
  • In his autobiography, The Cowboy and the Cross: The Bill Watts Story: Rebellion, Wrestling and Redemption,[24] Bill Watts tells of witnessing a backstage incident between Sammartino and Gorilla Monsoon. Watts wrote that Monsoon "soon found himself in deep water" when messing with Sammartino. He did not go into further detail on the incident out of respect for Monsoon.
  • When Bruno was about 51 years old, he was involved in an infamous backstage fight with a former football player. Six men were backstage at a wrestling show in an area that was restricted. When Sammartino spotted the men, he told them that if security saw them in this area, they might get in trouble. Dave "Rooster" Fleming, a former CFL player with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, stuck his hand out to Sammartino. When Sammartino went to shake his hand, Fleming began to squeeze hard. Sammartino asked him what he was doing to which Fleming replied "You're nothing but a washed up old man." Sammartino responded "Not too washed up to take care of you." Upon hearing that, Fleming took a swing at Sammartino but it was blocked. Sammartino then punched him and knocked him down. Sammartino soon found himself fighting the other five men at once. At this time, the Iron Sheik was in the showers after his match and heard the commotion. He immediately jumped in next to Bruno and the two wrestlers proceeded to "clean house" according to Bruno.[25]
  • July 26, 2004 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh was the site of the infamous "Who snubbed who?" non-confrontation with Ric Flair. Flair denigrated Sammartino's wrestling ability in his book.[26] Flair claims Sammartino refused to shake his hand at the event; Sammartino says Flair saw him coming down the hall, turned, and rushed away.

Other media

Bruno is included in two DVDs summarizing his career and life; Bruno Returns to Italy With Bruno Sammartino (2006) and Bruno Sammartino: Behind the Championship Belt (2006). Both were only released in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bruno is honored on the Madison Square Garden walk of fame. On March 24, 2007, Bruno received the Key to the City in Franklin, Pennsylvania as part of IWC's Night of Legends 3. On April 6, 2013, he received the Key to the City in Jersey City, New Jersey. May 17, 2013 was declared "Bruno Sammartino Day" in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Later that year it was confirmed that Bruno Sammartino will be a playable character in WWE 2K14, the first video game offering from 2K. In 2013, Sammartino appeared as one of the Board of Governors in the nationally-televised 69th Annual Columbus Day Parade. Later on in the event Sammartino arm wrestled Grand Marshal Joseph Perella in a losing effort.

Personal life

Bruno has been married to his wife Carol since 1959 and they have three sons, David, and fraternal twins, Danny and Darryl. Bruno and Carol are also grandparents of four grandchildren. He and his wife have lived in Ross Township, Allegheny County near Pittsburgh since 1965.[4] Bruno has a strained relationship with David.[27]

In wrestling

  • Nicknames
    • "The Strongest Man in the World"
    • "The Italian Strongman"
    • "The Living Legend"
    • "The Italian Superman"

Championships and accomplishments

  • International Sports Hall of Fame
  • World Wide Wrestling Alliance
    • Hall of Fame (Class of 2008)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Hornbaker, Tim (2012). Legends of Pro Wrestling: 150 Years of Headlocks, Body Slams, and Piledrivers. Sports Publishing. ISBN 1613210752. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Davies, Ross (2001). Bruno Sammartino. Rosen Publishing Group. pp. 23–24. ISBN 1435836251. 
  3. It should be noted that during his tenure with the company, they were known as WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) or WWF ('Wide' omitted).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Togneri, Chris (December 24, 2010). "Bruno Sammartino: Mountain of strength". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved December 24, 2010. 
  5. sammartino, Bruno & Bob Michelucci (1990). Bruno Sammartino: An Autobiography of Wrestling's Living Legend. Sports Publishing. ISBN 0911137149. 
  6. Wrestling Observer Newsletter. August 21, 1995.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 16. ISBN 978-1-4928-2597-5. 
  8. Wrestling Observer Newsletter. July 6, 1992.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-4928-2597-5. 
  10. Ross Davies (2001). Bruno Sammartino. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-8239-3432-4. Retrieved 29 September 2012. 
  11. Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 211. ISBN 978-1-4928-2597-5. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 309. ISBN 978-1-4928-2597-5. 
  13. Bruno Sammartino v. Capitol Wrestling Corporation and Vince McMahon. (1983-08-26). Retrieved on 2012-09-29.
  14. Cawthon, Graham (2013). The History of Professional Wrestling: The Results WWF 1963–1989. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 620. ISBN 978-1-4928-2597-5. 
  15. "Where legends are displayed". 
  16. Dvorchak, Robert (March 26, 2010). "Dapper Dan: Malkin, Sammartino, Penn State volleyball claim awards". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved March 26, 2010. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Varsallone, Jim (February 5, 2013). "Wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino accepts WWE Hall of Fame honor". The Miami Herald. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 "Bruno Sammartino gets Hall call". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 5, 2013. 
  19. Johnston, mack (June 3, 2013). "The Rock and Bruno Sammartino 100% confirmed". 
  20. James Caldwell (2013-10-07). "CALDWELL'S WWE RAW RESULTS 10/7 (Hour 1): Battleground PPV fall-out, WWE Title match to continue at next PPV, one "firing," Bruno Sammartino, more". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Bruno Sammartino To Join WWE Hall Of Fame". CBS Pittsburgh. February 4, 2013. 
  22. "Bruno Sammartino inducted into WWE Hall of Fame". 
  23. Muchnick, Sam (2011). Wrestling Babylon. New York: ECW Press. p. 55. ISBN 1-55022-761-0. 
  24. Watts, Bill (2006). The Cowboy and the Cross:The Bill Watts Story: Rebellion, Wrestling and Redemption. New York: ECW Press. p. 72. ISBN 1-55022-708-4. 
  25. Iron Sheik and Bruno Sammartino fight in locker room story on YouTube. Retrieved on 2012-09-29.
  26. Flair, Ric (2005). Ric Flair: to Be the Man. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 63–64. ISBN 0-7434-9181-5. 
  27. Rouvalis, Cristina (October 28, 1998). "Wrestling with fame: Bruno Sammartino still a hero to fans". Post-gazette. 
  28. "Finishing Moves List". Other Arena. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  29. Video on YouTube
  30. "Bruno Sammartino Hall of Fame 2013". International Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2013-03-10. 
  31. "Pro Wrestling Illustrated Award Winners Inspirational Wrestler of the Year". Wrestling Information Archive. Retrieved 2008-07-27. 
  32. "PWI 500 of the PWI Years". Willy Wrestlefest. Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  33. "W.W.A. World Tag Team Title (Indianapolis)". Puroresu Dojo. 2003. 
  34. "Bruno Sammartino". Online World of Wrestling. 
  35. Machcinski, Anthony J. (6 April 2013). "Bruno Sammartino given key to Jersey City before his induction into WWE Hall of Fame". The Jersey Journal. Retrieved 2013-04-07. 

External links

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