RIP Bruno Sammartino
#1
WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino has passed away at the age of 82.

The two-time WWWF Champion passed away at his home in Pittsburgh, PA this morning following a hospitalization, according to PWInsider. Stay tuned as we hope to have more details on his passing soon.
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2018
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#2
RIP a loss of a true legend.
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#3
Guess that makes Larry the one true "Living Legend."
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2018
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#4
Oh shit
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#5
Paul Jones also died. I'm not as familiar with his career but it was a name I would see pop up in a lot of books and on older shoots from time to time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Jones_(wrestler)

If anyone is interested ^
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2018
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#6
Obituary from the Observer

Quote:Editor’s Note: I’ve said many times that of all the guests I’ve had on talk shows, my favorite is Bruno Sammartino. I would hardly be the only person to say this. At times he was controversial, and for years, we weren’t always friends. In the 1980s, Sammartino was very much anti-steroids. He had a lot of problems with what wrestling turned into, feeling that the heavy steroid and drug usage in the business would turn into a morbid body count. I felt the same way. Nether of us got any solace in history proving us more right than we ever imagined. Mark Madden, a Pittsburgh reporter who at the time was friends with Sammartino, and later became an announcer for WCW and is now a well-known sports talk show host in the city, was working on a piece and Bruno had noted that he was against steroids as was everyone in his family, including his twins who were strength athletes, and oldest son David, a pro wrestler at the time. That wasn’t true, as David, who was estranged from his father, then told Madden that he had used steroids and his father was aware of it, and it was a major reason they no longer spoke. His father hated it, and, sadly, the two never made up. David also stated one of his younger brothers used steroids, which Bruno didn’t believe, adamantly denied, and felt that David had gone too far in fingering his brother, saying it wasn’t true and felt David was trying to hurt him and his public image. Madden wrote the story and Sammartino was furious at him. I was covering the story and he was furious at me as well. Years later, things calmed down. We had met a few times, including a backstage story on the Phil Donahue show in 1992.



Vince McMahon was under fire for the steroid use in pro wrestling, stemming from the aftermath of the trial of Dr. George Zahorian, who distributed steroids to a significant percentage of the roster, including McMahon and Hulk Hogan. There were other issues as well, including a scandal involving a ring boy who was fired after he claimed he turned down homosexual advances from Terry Garvin (Terry Joyal), a WWE Vice President at the time. McMahon and Sammartino were on the Larry King show and went back-and-forth. Sammartino was the honest one of the two, but King seemed to side with McMahon. Sammartino brought up the claims of the WBF announcer that he was fired for not giving into a pass by someone in the company. As it turned out, that person was a lifelong con man, which Sammartino didn’t know at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, other claims, particularly from the ring boy, which led to a quick out of court settlement by the company, with hindsight appeared to have credence. Joyal and Mel Phillips were both fired, and never brought back, and have never been mentioned again by the company. The claims about steroids, which Sammartino was vocal about, were largely and obviously true. McMahon in points made Sammartino look bad, making him look foolish by saying the man in question was never a WBF announcer (even though he did the announcing for the first WBF show) and that Phillips, the ring announcer who headed the ring crew, had never even been an employee of the WWF. In actuality, Phillips was technically an independent contractor, but worked for them almost every day (which McMahon later admitted a few days later). In fact, his license listed his home address as the company’s corporate offices.



Fast forward a few days. Sammartino and myself were booked together on the Phil Donahue show, at the time the most popular afternoon talk show in the country. At the last minute, Vince McMahon agreed to go on the show. The people involved in the show had set up a seating chart. The two biggest names, McMahon, and Sammartino, were to sit next to each other in the center. Sammartino, who was 56 at the time, was furious about the Larry King show because he felt he was honest, that McMahon had lied, and to many watching, made Sammartino look to some like he was out-of-touch, when the opposite was the case.



He told the producers that he didn’t think having them sit together was a good idea. He said he would try to be calm, but if McMahon lied, he would probably lose his temper and didn’t know if he could contain himself from punching him. The producers were aghast. Everyone froze. The producers looked at me, because I was the one on the show who was thought to be the voice of reason and asked if I thought Vince would lie. I said that I would sit next to McMahon because no matter what he said, there would be no problems. That’s why Sammartino was put on the last seat on the right.



I had talked with him from time-to-time over the next several years, and we booked him to appear on our first internet radio show on Eyada. We did the show, and after it was over, he said he wanted to talk to me off the air. Without going into detail of what he said, he said that he was taught to dislike me for all the years, and that there were problems in the past having to do with his son David. But he wanted to apologize. I was long past any issues and told him that. He insisted saying that he was very wrong in what he thought about me. If I ever called, he’d always get back to me. If I ever asked him to do a show, he’s make sure to do it, even rearranging his schedule to do so. And it was long past time to do another show together.



My own memories of Sammartino are very similar to that of Lance Russell. There is a lot of eeriness. In late June of 2014, I had written down that the first thing I was going to do the next day was call both of them. As it turned out, Russell’s wife Audrey passed away that morning or the day before, and I found out when I woke up. I called Sammartino, and found out that his close friend Marty Lozarro, who was making a documentary on his life and was the key person behind pushing for a full-length motion picture on his life, had suddenly passed away a few days earlier.



I actually hadn’t spoken to Sammartino in some time. What can I say? You need more hours in a day unfortunately. Last summer I wanted to talk to him about his last trip to Italy, particularly about them naming a wing in the hospital in the city he was born after his mother. Chris Cruise would tell me to talk to Bruno. I loved talking with him. But there was always tomorrow. There was always his birthday, which I would call him that week every year, but time ran out this year. October turned into Christmas. It was always on the to do list, although it unfortunately wasn’t until Tuesday night of this week when it was first thing on the Wednesday morning to-do list.



We all love our mothers, but Sammartino’s bond with his mother was herculean because of the story. For all of Sammartino’s exploits in the ring, the most notable story in his life was his harrowing time in Italy and his mother saving his life, and risking her life for him and his older brother and sister.



I remember talking to him when my mother had a stroke, as he would always marvel at how long she and my father were married, even longer than he and his wife were. While noting how lucky I was to have both of my parents live to an old age, he talked at the time about the death of his own mother, who lived to be 97 but not a day went by when he didn’t miss her greatly and that sadness never went away, even when people consoled him that she lived a long life and had to be proud of how her son turned out.



About once a week, he’d go to the cemetery and talk to her tombstone.



“I was 59 at the time,” he said in an interview talking about his mother’s death. “I was so devastated that I can’t even put it into words. People say to me, `My God Bruno, she was 97.’ I say, `Does that mean I love her any less and miss her any less? She was a peasant woman. She never went to school. She worked in the fields. But she was my hero.”



For whatever reason, because Bruno’s father was 93 when he passed away and his mother was 97, and because Bruno trained so hard and didn’t have the excesses so many had, I thought that he would be around for a long time. The reality is that while he lived a charmed life in many ways as an adult, he took great physical punishment working an insane schedule and not missing time and working through so many injuries because of his feeling he owed his good fortune to the fans and never wanted to cheat them.



I’m not sure why, but there were two things about him that I always think of with him. The first is that he moved into his home in Pittsburgh in 1962, and never moved. This was before he won the WWWF title in 1963 and became the highest paid pro wrestler in the world over the next eight years. While he never made anywhere near the money that current stars made, he was one of the highest paid athletes in the country in the 60s, and while other athletes salaries escalated in the 70s, he made great living in that decade as well. He could have lived high, bought a new place, but he never did. He casually mentioned to me once about how he moved into his home in 1962, before he won the title and started making what was huge money for that time. He mentioned that he had offers from people who would have built him a house for free on Long Island in New York, but he liked where he lived.



His home was equipped with a gym, and maybe that was all he needed. When he retired, money never seemed to be a major issue. He said he wasn’t rich, but he didn’t need to be rich, and he would say he was well off and his needs were not extravagant. A newspaper story last summer listed his net worth at $4 million, so some would say that he was rich–certainly well off. He could have made a lot more being aggressive with signings and appearances, or making up with WWE years earlier. But he never was, and he seemed completely content with that. He told me as long as he could spend time with his wife, kids and their families, train every morning, and go out on his Saturday night date, life was good. And he was grateful for his wife, and his life.



The other, was that in recent years, when he and WWF made their business deal for him to come back, and he was portrayed as the legendary wrestler that he deserved to be, he started getting new opportunities for personal appearances from the company. His rule, no matter how much was offered, is that he wanted to be home that night if possible. But if the appearance was on a Saturday, he had to be home early enough to go on his weekly date to his favorite restaurant with his wife. He made the exception WrestleMania week. He started having trouble with his legs again three years ago at the WrestleMania in Santa Clara, and he was no longer able to train the way he wanted to much after that.



As he got older, he would talk about the frustrations of being a life-long athlete and his health issues in recent years. The same mentality that built him from 84 pounds to 270 pounds was still there when he couldn’t walk due to back and leg problems. Instead of running eight miles, his goal was to walk 20 feet, and then 25 feet, and then 50 feet, just a little more each day But hearing him talk of walking 100 feet before his legs would give out was sad because he was the legendary Bruno Sammartino, but he never sounded bitter, just matter-of-fact, that it goes with age. It was a reminder that no matter how hard you work at it, you never truly own your body, you only rent it, and even if you do things right, you only have so much control. He always asked me how my training was going, and I always asked him how his was. In recent years, he’d start telling me to keep training, but don’t focus on going so heavy. We’d talk about the pains in our shoulders and how he had to give up many of his favorite exercises and which ones he could still do into his early 80s. He’d tell me about the problems he was having with his back and legs. He was not a complainer and these subjects only came up when I asked about his training.



Tuesday night I went to bed. I still had a story to write about Johnny Valiant. Tom Sullivan had passed away when he was run over very close to Bruno’s home. In addition, Tom Sullivan’s start in wrestling was as a fan watching Bruno, and one day knocked on his door around 1967 because he wanted to get into wrestling. Bruno opened the door for him to get in, not just the house, but the business itself. Sullivan’s greatest fame as part of the Valiant Brothers was because the team had several wins over the super team of Dick the Bruiser & Sammartino, and Sammartino was their main foe in tag team matches when they headlined and sold out Madison Square Garden. Sammartino set him up to be trained, started him out in Pittsburgh and sent him on his way. Before writing the story on Wednesday, I was going to, first thing, call up Bruno. Even though we have a mutual good friend in former WCW announcer Chris Cruise, I had no idea he had been hospitalized for the past two months.



I was asleep Wednesday morning. There was a knock on my door. “Bruno just died.”



It was the worst feeling when I went to my computer, and had a message from Cruise. I can only compare it to the death of Lance Russell. It was going to be a tough week anyway, as Thursday would have been my father’s 91st birthday, meaning it was the first time in many years I wouldn’t be spending it with him.



Bruno lived an incredible life. He touched millions. He was loved in a way that few wrestlers were. Right or wrong, he had his opinions and the courage of his convictions. He wasn’t afraid to get people mad at him if he felt that what he said was important. Yet at the same time, when he would do media interviews from people who would sympathize with him on a subject that he felt strongly about, but then they moved on to the next story without any resolution, he would get frustrated. But he was gracious to the Pittsburgh media, and they paid him back by keeping his name alive to where he became one of the cities true cultural icons.



Years ago, when he had a private audience with the Pope, he would remark about how hard it was for him to come to grips with the idea that someone like him could get a private audience with the Pope. Perhaps more than anything else, that was something he was proud of the most. Even then, he never fully understood that the Pope was talking about how he got a private audience with Bruno.



There have been times, in passing, where the thought entered my head that this day would come. But for whatever reason, I expected it many years from now. The only conversation I can ever recall in this direction was with Georgiann Makroplous, who was a lifelong friend of Bruno’s and who ran his fan club during his career. Georgiann was a sweet woman, kind of like an aunt to me, who it hit hard when wrestlers would die, especially in the era where we both would know wrestlers who were dying far too young. One day we were talking and she brought up Bruno, and just said, that she didn’t think she could ever handle if that happened. Instead, it was Bruno who came on our show and spoke eloquently about Georgiann, how she was a great friend, and how she was a giver who never wanted anything in return.



He was a man who worked very hard. He got some lucky breaks. He was the right superstar at the right time. He connected with people in a way few ever could, and likely nobody in this business going forward ever will. It’ s a different business and a different world. It’s not saying things were better in his day, or this day. He never fully understood how or why, but was grateful for it. You will hear stories about how gracious he was to fans. You will hear stories from people who grew up in the Northeast about what an impact he had on their childhood, or on families bonding around his triumphs.



People often said he was bitter. I never saw him that way. I thought he was a man who tried to be honest, while also trying to adhere and live by the codes of an often-dishonest world. He tried to claim his matches were real long after the modern wrestlers gave up on it, but eventually did come to grips with discussing it publicly. He still had his stories that he would stick to in public, although less and less as the years went down, and was a lot more open about them to his friends.



He traveled a lot for decades, but always tried to be a good son. After his career was over, he tried to make up for lost time and be a good husband and father. I had wished things worked out better for he and David. With hindsight, I’m glad Paul Levesque and he made their business deal. He and I talked about it when it was in the negotiations process and he was matter-of-fact about it. He had his price and if they agreed to it, fine. If not, he wouldn’t give it any more thought. He thought, in the end, that Vince wouldn’t agree to his terms, but he did. WWE obviously felt it was worth it, both for the credibility of their Hall of Fame, and for the ties to the legacy of the company. While he never fully warmed up to Vince McMahon, when we talked about McMahon in recent years, there was no hate, and it was more funny stories and amusement. He had his view on Vince, and there were times he very much hated him, but seemed more amused by his peculiarities. He seemed to like and respect Paul Levesque, but was not a fan of modern wrestling. Even though his return was a business decision, it was still Dr. Joseph Maroon who played a big part in his agreeing to return by vouching for the legitimacy of the company’s drug testing program.



In 2001, while used to living with back pain and doing his road work (running miles around his neighborhood), suddenly, he began to get numbness in his legs and had difficulty waling, and then even standing. His back was so bad that he couldn’t even walk to his mailbox. An MRI noted all kinds of problems, including severe lumbar stenosis, or narrowing of the lumber spinal canal. Maroon did the surgery, and five weeks later, Sammartino was up to walking six miles and said he was pain free.



In a local newspaper article in 2010, just after his 75th birthday, a reporter came to his home to watch his daily workout. He got up at 5:30 a.m., walked downstairs, got the newspaper and brewed some coffee. He read the newspaper and then started warming up. He then started his workout, with 185 pounds on the bench for ten reps. To him that was nothing, but that kind of poundage for a 75 year old man is still ridiculous. He then did four more sets, each time adding weight. And yes, his shoulders did hurt from the wear-and-tear of 60 years of bench presses.



Maroon told him that the testing WWE did was keeping the guys off steroids. I don’t know that he fully believed it, but he did believe the testing was real. He achieved so much natural that he’s look at guys who, honestly, were likely doing GH, and to him, he was bigger and thicker than they were, so could accept them as clean. But he wasn’t so naive to not see through the obvious neon signs. But it had changed from the 80s.



On the stage known as pro wrestling, Bruno Sammartino was the ultimate hero. In a world of black and white, both in how things were often viewed and the television sets he appeared on when he first became a legend, he was the ethnic John Wayne for two generations in the Northeast, where he will always be them most beloved wrestling star of them all.

Off the stage, some would say he was the ultimate hero, but I don’t think he would think that moniker would fit. He was always in amazement, as when he thought he was leaving pro wrestling in 1981 (he did come back from 1985 to 1987, but wished he never did), he figured after a few years, everyone would forget him. In a business that picks and chooses its history, Sammartino was remembered strongly by fans that grew up with him, but his ties to the newer generation were minimal. In recent years Paul Levesque made a business deal that Vince McMahon thought was never possible. Levesque invoked the name of his trainer, Walter “Killer” Kowalski, one of Sammartino’s all-time favorite rivals, and the company reached a deal to finally put him in their Hall of Fame in 2013. The deal opened up relations with the company that Sammartino carried for much of the 60s and 70s, after 26 years of a strong estrangement between Sammartino and McMahon.

Sammartino died at 9 a.m. on 4/18 after being hospitalized in Pittsburgh for about two months.

“Bruno was 82 when he died this morning,” said good friend Chris Cruise. “I last spoke with him about a week ago. He sounded weak, but determined to get out of the hospital. In the end, the accumulation of injuries he suffered in the ring were too much. Bruno Sammartino gave his life for pro wrestling. Literally.”

He had it kept quiet that he was having serious health problems. Gary Juster, one of his closest friends still in wrestling, who considered Sammartino his mentor in teaching him so much about the business, said he was aware he had been in the hospital, but had no idea it was that serious.

Cruise, who grew up with Sammartino as his sports idol, later became one of his best friends, actually taught a college course in Pittsburgh about the life of Sammartino, was aware of how he was doing, and likely based on Sammartino’s wishes, kept it quiet.

“Bruno Sammartino had been in the hospital the last two months, fighting every day to get out and get home,” Cruise wrote. “And every day, all day, his high school sweetheart, Carol, was by his side. She was his rock, and he was hers. They were married almost 60 years. As tough as Bruno was, she is tougher.

“Carol never wanted the limelight, never wanted to be known as the wife of a famous man. I always enjoyed talking with her and I always loved how much she loved Bruno. They were each others’ best friends. After 60 years, what special people they were.

“Bruno and his wife were cared for lovingly by their son Danny, and their son Darryl traveled to WrestleMania events with Bruno. Danny looks like David a bit, and his mother, and Darryl is the spitting image of Bruno. They are such good and loving sons. Danny spoke with his mother many times throughout the day, was at her side through everything. He is a good man.

“I spoke with Bruno almost every day for the past 35 years, traveled with him to Italy and to WrestleManias, and to other events. We laughed and poked fun at each other. We talked about everything under the sun. We gossiped. He was the older brother and father I never had. I was thrilled to talk with him. It never got old.”

“He made you feel good, supported you through ups and downs,” said Cruise. “He felt your pain.”

“Bruno was strong, but very gentle, and was so careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings, He hated discrimination of any kind, especially against minorities and homosexuals. He loved being with his wife, having a quiet and stable life. He loved Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh sports.

In typical Sammartino fashion whenever he had health issues, he kept them quiet before beating them. Sammartino was one of the strongest men in the world in his heyday, a man who once bench pressed 335 for 38 reps in Tom Minichiello’s gym in New York, with no steroids or special equipment or even any special rep training for it. It was just his last set, not first, in a workout. While Minichiello, a strength afficionado would talk about seeing it for decades after the fact, Sammartino always downplayed it to me when I’d bring it up, but he was more proud of his 565 single rep.

The young Sammartino, who came to the U.S., reuniting with his father in Pittsburgh, at the age of 14, was the prototype of the sickly weakling.

He nearly died at the age of 12. To honor his mother, who he loved dearly, he would forever speak and relive the nightmare of his youth and her heroic story. The story was such that there were attempts to make it the focal point of a Hollywood movie on his life. One of the main reasons it was never made was because of his insistence on complete historical accuracy. He walked away from any major studio offers because they would change the story. He would bemoan the idea that the movie wanted to portray his mother, who was in her late 40s at the time, as a beautiful young woman, and create drama like her having a love interest in Italy.

His home town, Pizzoferrato, Italy (during his career, he would be billed from Aburzzi, Italy, which Pizzoferrato was a part of, as well as from Pittsburgh), where he is their cultural icon, was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. When soldiers invaded their town, Sammartino’s uncle, Camillo, banged on the doors of all the homes and told people to grab their kids and run. The families left in a panic. Soldiers came and killed many who had stayed behind.

Emelia Sammartino and her children made it to the top of the mountain, Villa Rocca. For 14 months, they lived in a secret refugee camp.

His father, Alfonso, had moved to Pittsburgh in 1936, when Bruno was less than one year old. When he saved enough money he was going to bring his family to the land of opportunity.

Alfonso worked as a blacksmith, a steelworker and a coal miner, and sent money back to Italy. He lived in the “Little Italy” section of Pittsburgh with his sister.

While at the top of the mountain, often living on snow and flowers, his mother would climb down the mountain while his older sister, who was 23, and brother, who was 17, looked after the nine-year-old sickly child. Emelia would climb down the mountain and sneak back into their home in the middle of the night, while the soldiers sleeping in their home were asleep. She would grab food that she had hid in the corner of the basement. The trip would take her about 24 hours. Once, she was shot in the shoulder trying to escape. Bruno had a stone he would sit on that gave him a view down the mountain, and would stare, for hours, waiting for her to return, a young, sick child staring into space not knowing if he would ever see her again.

“We were so hungry,” he remembered about that 14 month period. “I don’t remember one day on that mountain when I wasn’t hungry. Us kids, we would ration our food so she wouldn’t have to go into town as much. We’d never eat enough to be full. We just ate enough to sustain ourselves.”

In 2010, when filming a documentary on his life, he did the one thing he said he would never do. He climbed up the mountain. The stone was still there. He had nightmarish flashbacks.

After the war ended, when he was 12, he contracted rheumatic fever.

“The doctor gave me one or two days to live, and said there was nothing he could do for me, told my mom to brace herself for losing me,” he said. “I remember her saying, `I already lost two children, I’m not going to lose a third.’ She was angry. She had tears flowing down her face.

“They put leeches all over my body. At the time, they believed that sucked the poison out of your body. I remember her boiling water and making me inhale the fumes. Well, that doctor came back a few days later and asked my mom about the (funeral) arrangements. She told him that I was still living.

“My mom is why I’m still living.”

Last summer, even though he had physical problems that made traveling extremely difficult for both he and his wife, he flew back to Italy, not so much because they were going to honor him with a statue, or that his childhood home is now the Bruno Sammartino museum, but because he said there was nothing that would keep him from being there when they named a wing at the local hospital after his mother.

Many people’s clearest memories of Sammartino was seeing him vanquish villains before thunderously loud packed arenas, or for those who were in Madison Square Garden the night he lost to Ivan Koloff, the eerie silence and, after a slight delay, the sound of people weeping that something they never imagined possible had happened and he had lost the WWWF championship.

But for Sammartino, no matter how strong he was, and how many people he touched, the memory of his childhood nightmare was his most lasting memory. In his mind, the escape from that weakness started when he went to the gym and lifted heavier and heavier weights, and ate more-and-more, so he would never be that sickly child again.

Sammartino felt so strongly about the link between training and health that it kept him training for hours every morning until he no longer could train. He was humble about his strength. When he was in his 60s, he was still curling with 60 pound dumbbells and had a physique that most 20 year olds would be envious of. If you made a big deal about it, he’d downplay it because, to him, he wasn’t nearly as strong as he was in his younger days.

When one after another of his contemporaries would pass away, he would always be saddened. Once, when I talked with him about John Tolos, it hit him hard. Tolos was known for hard training and lots of running. Sammartino always went with the idea that if you took care of yourself, while some things were out of control, you would live a long life. The Tolos death hit him hard because he was of the belief that Tolos did things the right way.

Even when he needed a heart valve replacement in 2011, he was clear to point out that it was the effects of the Rheumatic fever he had suffered as a child, because he didn’t want people to think that all the years of hard training were not beneficial to living a long and healthy life, particularly since he was so anti-steroid use.

It was that belief that caused a huge rift between he and son David, who he was estranged from for decades, when he found out David, whose goal in life was to be like his father, was using steroids.

It was 1947 when he got sick, and because of his health, he was not allowed into the U.S. His family stayed behind with him in Italy until 1950, reuniting with his father after 14 years, when he was finally cleared to come to the U.S.

He weighed 84 pounds at the time, and was constantly picked on. He couldn’t speak English and was skinny and sickly. He had a hot temper, and would fight back when insulted, but would usually get beat up.

One of his friends, Maurice Simon, knew what was happening and took him to the Young Men & Women’s Hebrew Association, where they had a gym with weights. He started him lifting weights.

“I couldn’t lift a feather that first day, but I remember going home with such a good feeling in my gut,”

“I couldn’t wait to go back.”

He immediately thought his life was going to change.

His body responded quickly. As it turned out, even as sickly as he was, he had a uniquely thick bone structure. His wrists and forearms were huge. He was genetically predisposed to gaining strength and his love for lifting heavier and heavier weights sped up that process. When he was older, doctors noted to him that he would never have problems when he was older when it came to osteoporosis, because part of his power was just how thick his bones were. He wasn’t tall, at about 5-foot-10, but his body put on muscle and gained strength quickly.

Knowledge of training and nutrition was primitive at the time. Sammartino only knew to lift heavier weights every time out, and eat as much as he could stand, and drink gallons of milk daily.

Four years later, he was a 225-pound high school senior who was a star on the Schenley High football team.

In his senior high school yearbook in 1955, the formerly almost all bones teenager was now called Bruno“Muscles” Sammartino, and it was noted that his goal in life was to be a wrestler.

There was no wrestling program in high school, but he trained some with Rex Peery, the famed University of Pittsburgh wrestling coach, who said he could get him a partial scholarship to join the team. He said he knew he couldn’t make it academically in college, so after graduating high school, he took a job as a carpenter’s apprentice and continued to lift heavier and heavier weights. In those days, guys who lifted didn’t really specialize in different sports. Sammartino did the Olympic lifts, and was strong enough that he dreamed of going to the 1960 Olympics at first. He also competed in and won both bodybuilding contest and powerlifting contests.

He was eventually able to do a 565 pound bench press, with a pause on the chest, which wasn’t far off the world record at the time, and could squat more than 700 pounds, although he gave up heavy squatting when he became a pro wrestler because he felt it wasn’t conducive to wrestling. While there have been a few wrestlers over the years who have done bigger numbers in competition, Sammartino did this steroid free. In muscle magazines well into the 90s, writers and power historians would bring up the question as to whether or not Paul Anderson, the strongest man in the world at the time, did steroids, and if he did, how strong would Sammartino have been had he done them. I’ve talked lifting with Sammartino many times, and the ridiculous weights he’d toss around in training when he was young, and even when he was older and slimmed down some so he’d have more stamina in the ring and not have the pressure on his back. The idea of what he could have done on steroids, if it ever crossed his mind, was something he never said.

On February 18, 1961, Sammartino had an afternoon match at Sunnyside Gardens, a small arena in Queens, NY, against 46-year-old Chick Garibaldi. During the match, Garibaldi suffered a heart attack after being body slammed, and died. Sammartino later found out that Garibaldi was using steroids. Whether one had anything to do with the other, that was the catalyst for Sammartino’s hatred for steroids.

He was 265 to 270 pounds and was one of the strongest men in the world. He once, based on being goaded from his friends at work, fought against an orangutan, and got unmercifully beaten up. He even sparred with Sonny Liston, the world heavyweight boxing champion. Boxing promoters wanted him, noting he had a great chin, but he didn’t like boxing.

He appeared on a local television show in 1957 with Bob Prince, a local sportscaster, where he did strongman stunts. He was called the “Pittsburgh Hercules” in the local newspapers, and talked about drinking seven quarts of milk a day, eating a dozen eggs for breakfast, and a loaf of bread and eating two-pound steaks for lunch. He ate like crazy, as the bigger he got, the more he felt he was battling against his being a weakling in childhood and being sickly that never left a part of his brain.

As best anyone can find, the first local newspaper story on him in Pittsburgh was on September 7, 1958, about a year before he started as a pro wrestler. The story talked about the 22-year-old from Pittsburgh who was one of the strongest men in the world. At the time he was working as an apprentice carpenter working on the local Hilton Hotel. It noted his offer for a tentative scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, but took the carpenter job. At the time he said he had turned down a five-year contract to be a pro wrestler because he wanted to compete as a weightlifter, obviously eyeing the Olympics. But he said that there was a possibility he might accept the pro wrestling contract. It talked about his intending to marry Carol Teyssier, who he met at the wedding of a friend.

It talked about his training for major Olympic weightlifting events, and to appear on a television show called “Brawn vs. Brains,” with Paul Anderson, who was the strongest man in the world at the time. Obviously that show never got off the ground.

Art Rooney Sr. offered him a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was told if he made the team as a lineman, he’d pay him $6,000 or $7,000. Ace Freeman, the wrestling promoter in town, offered him $15,000 a year.

Freeman saw him on the Bob Prince show and made his first offer. After giving up his Olympic dream, he gave up his carpenter job and started wrestling in late 1959. From the start, he was treated as something special. Even when he started, he rarely lost a match, and when he did, it was only to the biggest stars.

On February 6, 1960, in the city of Paterson, NJ, he had a match with Gorgeous George. While George’s best years as a star came before Sammartino had come to the U.S., he knew of him as one of the legends, like Jim Londos, Strangler Lewis, and his Italian heroes, Argentina Rocca and Primo Carnera.

George was long past his prime and a heavy drinker, and he remembered the catcalls from the fans that George received that night, about being an old man and such. Sammartino never forgot it, and vowed that he would never allow that to happen to him. He brought up this story many times to me as the reason he decided to retire in 1981, even though he was still the biggest drawing card in the country’s biggest cities.

He said that he never wanted to be in the ring and have fans say how he’s slower and not as good as he used to be, which also kept him not only training hard with weights, but running six to eight miles a day.

While records aren’t complete, the late Georgiann Makropolous, who was one of his biggest fans and best friends, put together an updated Sammartino record book , and aside from occasional tag team matches against major stars like the Fabulous Kangaroos, there was no record of Sammartino losing via pinfall in a singles match until a November 3, 1961, NWA world championship match against Buddy Rogers in White Plains, NY.

Although many sources this past week were listing a December 17, 1959, match with Dmiti Grabowski in Pittsburgh as his first match, the first match we have a record for him was a win over Miguel Torres on October 23, 1959, in White Plains. In Pittsburgh media, they listed his debut as November 15, 1959, in a match with Jack Vansky in the city.

But he had only been wrestling a few months when he debuted in Madison Square Garden, on January 2, 1960. To show how he was pushed from the start, in his debut match, billed as “Bruno Sanmartino,” in the newspaper ads (from his fourth MSG show, on March 7, 1960, they had the correct spelling of his name) he was to face Killer Kowalski in a match second from the top behind an Argentina Rocca vs. Amazing Zuma match, which did the largest gate in the arena since the famed 1920 Joe Stecher vs. Earl Caddock match, doing $64,680.23. As it turned out, Kowalski didn’t appear, and was replaced by Wild Bull Curry, and Sammartino beat Curry, one of the era’s biggest stars, via submission in only 5:00. He remained second from the top on the next six shows, underneath Rocca, who was the top star. Aside from a no contest with Kowalski in a long match, he won almost all his matches in around 5-6 minutes, which in those days was considered a short match, and against name stars like Skull Murphy, Zuma (who was a huge drawing card in New York), Karl Von Hess and the match that is most remembered for getting him over as a major star, the May 21, 1960, match where he pinned Haystacks Calhoun.

Whether it was before or during the match, Sammartino lifted Calhoun, who was billed at 601-pounds, off his feet. Later legend has it that he body slammed him or press slammed him, but it was just lifting him off his feet. Still, nobody had done that before. This led to his first MSG main event, on June 4, 1960, where he and Rocca teamed to beat Pampero Firpo & the Great Antonio before 13,000 fans.

Later that year, he headlined twice in singles matches against Rocca, with the idea of it being the next upcoming superstar against the guy who had dominated Madison Square Garden wrestling since 1949. Still, the face vs. face matches only drew average houses for the time, 12,654 for the first one, 12,815 for the second one, with Rocca winning by DQ, and the second match ending at the 11 p.m. curfew after they had gone 34:00.

A story that he often told was that he had an issue with Vince McMahon Sr., which led to him not knowing about a booking, missing a booking, and being put on a national suspension through the various athletic commissions. He noted he’d go to territories and promoters wouldn’t use him, feeling he had been blacklisted. While his relationship with both Vince McMahons was complicated, to say the least, it was he and McMahon Sr., who later, together, basically made the WWWF championship mean what it did after they got back together for business reasons.

He was working regularly in the U.S. until April of 1962. He mentioned to me about going to Indianapolis, which was run by Jim Barnett at the time, and he had been promised work and then, when he got there, Barnett wouldn’t use him. It led to him being bitter against Barnett for years. A few years later, when Barnett tried to book him in Australia and was offering McMahon so much money for a short tour, Sammartino refused. Barnett told me that he had to pay $15,000 per week, a number absolutely unheard of in the era, to get Sammartino to come. He also said it was worth it, as even though he knew Sammartino never liked him, that he the truth is that Sammartino was the biggest short-term draw in the history of his World Championship Wrestling promotion.

But there was a one-year break between Sammartino matches in MSG. He considered returning home to work as a carpenter, but got an offer from Frank Tunney in Toronto, where his suspension by American commissions wasn’t enforced.

When he went to Toronto, he got booked on television shows doing strongman stunts. Billed as “The Italian Strongboy,” in a city with a large Italian population, Sammartino became the most popular wrestler in the territory. He was doing so well that McMahon wanted him back. Sammartino refused to talk to McMahon, although eventually, after his friends in the Pittsburgh office told him to please listen to Vince, he did talk with him.

Sammartino was negative about coming back, because of his loyalty to Tunney, who had used him when other promoters wouldn’t. This was early 1963 and the entire wrestling landscape was starting to get weird.

Rogers had beaten Pat O’Connor on June 30, 1961, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, before the largest crowd of the era, 38,622 fans setting a gate record of $141,000, and was the NWA world champion. McMahon was booking Rogers, and unlike previous champions who would work all the territories, McMahon kept Rogers, who was the biggest star and drawing card at the time, around his territory for at least two weeks every month.

Many NWA promotions couldn’t get any dates on the world champion which led to many of the companies withdrawing from the NWA and creating their own world champions.

Sam Muchnick, as the leading promoter and often-times President of the NWA, and Lou Thesz, as champion, built the NWA in the 1950s around the idea that sports people considered pro wrestling a joke due to its multiple world champions. Things were generally good when Thesz was champion through 1957, but the NWA weakened greatly when Thesz quit as champion and dropped the title to Dick Hutton, a great amateur but someone who didn’t draw as a pro. O’Connor replaced him, and while O’Connor may have been the best worker in the business, or was at least right at the top, and an established superstar for years, he wasn’t a big draw like Rogers. A lot of the promoters wanted Thesz to lose to Rogers, but Thesz hated Rogers and refused, and also felt it ruined the credibility of the world heavyweight championship to have a guy who was not a legitimate top wrestler holding it.

By the end of 1962, the NWA was falling apart. Rogers was drawing great, but so many of the smaller promoters couldn’t get dates on him. Muchnick called Thesz to bring him back to take the title from Rogers. There were at least two occasions when the title was supposed to change hands, and Rogers was injured and missed both matches. The injuries probably were legit, one came after he was roughed up in a dressing room fight by Bill Miller and Karl Gotch and had a door slammed on his hand and he broke his hand. Criminal charges were pressed in that one so it was undoubtedly legit. The second time, just before a scheduled title loss with Thesz, Rogers broke his ankle in a match with Kowalski. Kowalski was recognized in some places as world champion, given that Rogers couldn’t continue in the match, but since it wasn’t the planned finish and Kowalski wasn’t voted on to take the title, it never really counted.

Finally, on January 24, 1963, Thesz beat Rogers at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to win the NWA title. Rogers told me about the tension on the day, because his promoter, McMahon, didn’t want him losing the title. Muchnick, the President of the NWA, did, and was going to release the $25,000 bond that Rogers had posted when winning the championship to charity, which was protection for the NWA in case a guy wouldn’t lose the title when asked.

Rogers said it was so tense that when the match started, Thesz had no love for Rogers, and was one of the most legit wrestlers of that era, even at 46 years old. Thesz went up to him and said when the referee was giving instructions,“We can do this the hard way or the easy way.” Rogers told him he didn’t want any trouble.

McMahon then withdrew from the NWA, because he didn’t want to book Thesz, who didn’t draw well in New York when he was champion in the 50s, and wanted to keep Rogers as world champion.

McMahon contacted Stanley Weston, who headed the most widely-read wrestling magazines of the era, and asked him not to publish that Thesz beat Rogers and to act like Rogers was still the champion. Weston refused, which started decades of uneasiness between Weston’s magazines and the company, although for the good of business, they still worked together. Weston and Bill Apter felt that when the current Vince McMahon went national, started his own magazine, and banned all the other magazines from covering WWF shows, that at least in part, it stemmed from the longstanding grudge where Weston reported that Thesz beat Rogers after McMahon’s father had tried to keep it away from the magazine-reading fans.

However, one of the magazines created a story of a tournament in Rio de Janeiro to crown the new Worldwide Wrestling Federation champion, where Rogers beat Rocca in the finals. The WWE history today claims this happened, even though everyone readily admits no such tournament existed, and that fake was the creation of the current title.

On the McMahon television show, no such story was ever stated. Willie Gilzenberg, who promoted boxing and wrestling in New Jersey and was a minority partner in the office, came on television as the authority figure (later, and until his death in 1978, he became the figurehead president of the World Wide Wrestling Federation). He came out, with Rogers and with a new championship belt, the WWWF title. Gilzenberg acknowledged that there was a match in Canada, but claimed it was a non-title match and said he was giving the title back to Rogers. As far as the fans in the Northeast were told, Rogers was just continuing his reign as champion. The next week Gilzenberg, in trying to get fans to believe Rogers was still the top guy, came out with a trophy for Rogers in honor of his 100th or 200th (there are different memories of the number) title defense.

Another story that the Northeast promoters claimed that the Thesz-Rogers match was one fall, and not two out of three falls, and most title matches in that era were two out of three falls. But that was silly since many promotions had already moved to one fall, including Capitol Sports, McMahon’s company. And to guard against that story, Muchnick and Tunney booked a Thesz vs. Rogers rematch in Toronto on February 7, 1963, just two weeks later, for 2/3 falls, which Thesz again won (although Rogers was able to negotiate losing his early fall via DQ but was still pinned in the third fall). Then, on March 14, 1963, Tunney booked Thesz vs. Bruno Sammartino in a match that Thesz won via pinfall. That was key because in the bragging rights of the kayfabe world of wrestling, when Sammartino and Thesz were the two most noteworthy world champions, Thesz held that win and the NWA could use it to claim they had the superior and rightful champion.

Sammartino has said that when he lost to Thesz, it was just a match and not part of political maneuvering for the public viewpoint of who was the real deserved world champion. He said that at the time, he hadn’t made the deal to beat Rogers and that Muchnick and Tunney wouldn’t have known. But he also told me that the title win over Rogers was absolutely part of the package for him to return to work for McMahon,.

He had returned to Madison Square Garden on February 25, 1963. But he didn’t start working the Northeast territory as he was still working mostly Ontario, Quebec and the Pittsburgh territory (which he always worked as it allowed him to go home, and was working there during the period he claimed he was blacklisted) until late March, about two weeks after the Thesz loss.

When he returned to television, which in those days was taped in Washington, DC, he immediately challenged Rogers for the title. He put up $1,000 to get a match with Rogers on television. Rogers then put up $1,000 as well. Announcer Ray Morgan held both checks in his hand as they went to do a match. Rogers tried to jump Sammartino before the bell, but Sammartino was ready, lifted Rogers up and put him in his over-the-shoulder backbreaker. Rogers submitted, but the bell had never rung to start the match. However, Morgan said that in his mind, Sammartino won, and handed him both checks.

The May 17,1963, match in Madison Square Garden where Rogers defended against Sammartino, which Sammartino won in 48 seconds with his over the shoulder backbreaker submission, was, along with the Calhoun lift, the real start of the Sammartino legend.

The idea of a 48 second world title win was unheard of. Rogers always claimed the reason the match was so short was because he had heart issues. The reality is, Rogers was mostly doing tag matches and not working very long. He worked the next night in what was billed as a world title defense in Baltimore against Argentina Apollo, and won in less than one minute. He then took a month off. He worked some shows in the Northeast for the next few months, almost all tags, but the singles matches were all kept short. He didn’t work again until 1965, and aside from a few Montreal dates, we don’t have records of Rogers wrestling in the U.S. again until 1969.

Sammartino vs. Rogers drew a sellout of 19,648 paying $58,966.10. There were bigger gates in the Rocca era, but it had been roughly a year, since the Rogers vs. Cowboy Bob Ellis world title program, since the Garden had been close to selling out.

There was never a rematch. The promotion booked Roosevelt Stadium on October 4, 1963, for the Sammartino vs. Rogers rematch. The belief was that it would set the all-time gate record for the Northeast. Rogers disappeared completely a few weeks before the match, and didn’t wrestle anywhere for a long time. Sammartino instead wrestled his first singles match against one of his most legendary opponents, the supposed 6-foot-7 and 400 pound Manchurian giant, who spoke not a word of English, Gorilla Monsoon, losing via DQ in a bloodbath to start their rivalry.

Sammartino always claimed Rogers never had a heart issue, and that it was made up by Rogers to save face. Most in wrestling believed it to be true. The fact Rogers never did a rematch with Sammartino, and only worked short matches when he did work singles for the next few months, would indicate something was wrong,

Through May of 1963 when Rogers was on track to have one of the best years when it came to drawing of any wrestler up to that point in history.

For nearly eight years, Sammartino ruled the Northeast as its champion. One could make a case that no wrestler was so beloved by the fans ever in the United States, and even on a worldwide basis, only El Santo would exceed him. There were other huge stars that came before him and after him, whether it be Londos, or George, or Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin, but when they lost, the place never went silent, nor did, after that silence, did the only sound in a sold out arena be women sobbing and men with tears in their eyes trying to hold back their emotions.

His biggest feud of that era was with former tag team partner Cowboy Bill Watts. The two were legitimately good friends, and workout partners, as well as being the area’s top two babyfaces. They were both powerhouses. Sammartino noted that Watts was very strong, and could bench press 500 pounds, although he would arch (cheat) like crazy to get it. Still, in that era, that was an enormous amount of weight.

On January 25, 1965, Watts & Sammartino challenged U.S. tag team champions Gene Kiniski & Waldo Von Erich, winning via DQ. During the match, Sammartino accidentally hit Watts with a dropkick. Then, in a television match against Smasher Sloan & The Golden Terror, Watts refused to tag in, and then, after the match, attacked Sammartino and gave him a beating.

Usually a challenger would get one or two title matches, and the best drawing challengers would get three. Watts got four. The second meeting was billed as a Texas death match with no DQ. But Watts used a low bow and was disqualified. Sammartino, on television, said that he, Watts and WWWF officials had a meeting and that even though it was a Texas death match, low blows were not legal. Watts claimed there was no such meeting. But it did tell a lesson. Sammartino and Watts sold out the first two meetings, but after a DQ in a Texas death match, it left a bad taste in people’s mouths and the third meeting, a two out of three fall match, drew 12,984 fans and the fourth did 13,624.

While McMahon and Muchnick had their falling out in 1963, by 1965, with Sammartino establishing himself as the biggest drawing card and biggest star in pro wrestling, they were back to doing business.

Muchnick always felt that the best thing for wrestling was one world champion. The reality is that Thesz was nearing 50, and Sammartino was clearly the bigger draw. The two arranged for the idea of the first-ever closed-circuit show with the battle of the two biggest world champions.

But it never happened. Neither Thesz, nor Sammartino, wanted it. Thesz said that he never trusted McMahon, feeling that McMahon tried to steal the title with Rogers a few years earlier. He asked for a $100,000 guarantee to lose, knowing it would be turned down. He was also told he would lose the match to Sammartino, but in return, would win the title back a year later. He didn’t believe that, and he probably shouldn’t have believed it.

For his part, Sammartino, who was already being run ragged with his Northeast schedule, working 28 dates a month and barely seeing his family. The agreement of a new schedule for a touring world champion, had him literally working every day, and even then there was more demand for him for dates than there dates available. He said there was no way he was doing that schedule.

It wasn’t until 1971, after Sammartino had lost the title, that McMahon rejoined the NWA. By that time his WWWF title had been established by Sammartino and in his area, was thought to be the real championship. Changing the name from WWWF world title to just WWWF title, a semantics change that most fans weren’t aware of, made no difference. McMahon also never booked the NWA champion in his territory until after the Sammartino era was over.

In 1968, Sammartino suffered a serious back injury. As champion, he continued to work, but was in great pain. By 1969, he asked out as champion. They kept putting it off until he finally insisted, and on January 18, 1971, he dropped the title to Ivan Koloff before what was announced as 21,666 fans paying $85,554, the second biggest gate up to that point in time in Northeast wrestling history.

Sammartino worked a lesser schedule and spent more time at home. He told me that during this period, he began to love life, and love wrestling a lot more. He had been running the local promotion in the Pittsburgh area for years, but things were tough on that front and eventually sold the company. Several years later Pittsburgh became part of the WWWF circuit. He worked for a number of major promotions. In some places, he drew big. In others, not so much.

Pedro Morales beat Koloff for the WWWF title and was actually the most successful drawing champion in Madison Square Garden history. It should be noted that during Sammartino’s two title reigns, as well as the Morales and Superstar Graham era, that children under 14 were banned from attending matches in Madison Square Garden stemming from a riot in the building in 1957. So when looking at his attendance figures, you have to realize that while Sammartino was a hero to kids, they weren’t allowed to see his big matches, and many fathers who watched Sammartino with their sons didn’t come either. The Morales was era similar. By the era of Bob Backlund, his sellout percentage was higher for a career than Sammartino, but they also loaded up shows and he was able to draw kids because the restriction was overturned.

Even though Morales’ three year-run as champion was more successful in Madison Square Garden than Sammartino’s first run, he was nowhere near the draw Sammartino was overall.

While Sammartino frequently sold out Madison Square Garden during his second run, and was starting to do so regularly at the end of his first run, and was easily the biggest star in the U.S., he never was able to break the O’Connor vs. Rogers mark.

His match with Rogers at Roosevelt Stadium was the first time they tried, but Rogers disappeared and Monsoon was hardly the star in 1963 that Rogers was, although he would become one of Sammartino’s best rivals of his first run. Bringing in Fred Blassie, who had been the WWA champion in California, with fans told he was the Pacific Coast champion, to face Sammartino at Roosevelt Stadium drew about what a sold out Garden would do.

After losing the title, McMahon made the “Wrestling Match of the Century,” Morales vs. Sammartino for the WWWF title. It started with Sammartino returning, with the idea that he and Morales were good friends who were joining forces to go after the tag team titles held by Prof. Toru Tanaka & Mr. Fuji. In a title match, the Japanese threw salt in both men’s eyes. They started swinging wildly to defend themselves, and ended up hitting each other. When their eyes cleared up, and they each could see the other one was punching them, they continued to punch back. Sammartino said that out of respect for Morales, he hadn’t asked for a title match, but now he was going to.

The match took place on September 30, 1972, at Shea Stadium. Both were faces. The crowd actually cheered Morales more than Sammartino. In those days, face vs. face matches usually didn’t draw well, but it was figured this would be the exception.

It was cold and rainy, and in those days, most tickets were sold the day of the event. The show drew 22,508 fans for $140,923, falling short of the gate record of both O’Connor vs. Rogers, as well as the 1971 Fred Blassie vs. John Tolos match at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The match was reported as a 75 minute draw, ending for the 11 p.m. curfew, although the actual match time was 65:05. It was a totally babyface match. While the match, without any brawling, which was Sammartino’s specialty, was panned, Sammartino always talked of it as one of his proudest matches, going that long in a technical match. When it was over, Sammartino said he respected Morales, and would never challenge him again, and blamed Tanaka & Fuji, setting up a tag team grudge match two weeks later, which drew nearly the same sized crowd to the Garden.

By 1973, both Vince McMahon Sr., and his son, came to Sammartino, wanting him to come back and replace Morales as champion. Sammartino said that he wasn’t interested, because he refused to do the schedule again.

To understand how valuable they felt Sammartino was, there were some amazing concessions made. First, Sammartino would work a limited schedule, a few nights per week and only major arenas. The second is he was guaranteed six percent of every show he worked, except Madison Square Garden, where he was to get five percent. Whether he actually got that was a matter of conjecture, because he did file a suit years later claiming he found out he didn’t. The current Vince McMahon settled the suit, and as part of the settlement, hired Sammartino to a well paying job as a television announcer.

In an even more amazing concession, Vince McMahon had started working on a deal where he’d be paid for booking talent to Antonio Inoki’s New Japan Pro Wrestling. New Japan was at war with Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling. Sammartino and Baba were friends, to the point that Sammartino once bought Baba a large Cadillac as a gift, when he saw how uncomfortable it was for Baba to drive in a smaller Japanese car

Sammartino had worked for All Japan. He refused to work for New Japan, so McMahon, the booker of foreign talent, if he made Sammartino champion, couldn’t send his champion, and New Japan couldn’t get any WWWF title matches.

Sammartino came back, winning the title in stunning fashion. The December 10, 1973, show in Madison Square Garden was advertised as Morales defending the title against Larry Hennig, with Sammartino, who hadn’t appeared in the arena since January, facing Stan Stasiak in the co-feature.

On December 1, 1973, in Philadelphia, Stasiak wrestled Morales. They did a fluke looking pin, but both men’s shoulders down. For fear of a riot, they never announced the result of the match. It wasn’t until the television tapings the next day, when Stasiak came out with the title belt. But he only had the belt for the first hour of the tapings.

That Wednesday, at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, for the show that aired live in California, but a few weeks later in New York, Jimmy Lennon announced that January 14th, in Madison Square Garden, Bruno Sammartino would be defending the WWWF title against Don Leo Jonathan.

Communication was slow, so very, very few people in the country, particularly outside Los Angeles, knew what that meant. That weekend, on the television shows in New York, it was announce that new champion Stasiak would be defending against Sammartino while Morales vs. Hennig was now a non-title match. As soon as this was announced, tickets went flying. Sammartino pinned Stasiak with a bodyslam at 12:14, before a legitimate advanced sellout crowd, something very rare in that era. Sammartino’s title loss was the quietest reaction to a match ever remembered, to the point Sammartino thought he broke his eardrum. Sammartino’s win over Stasiak was one of the biggest pops in that building of the era, although those who were at both still said that the Morales win over Koloff was bigger.

Business was big all over the Northeast during the second Sammartino run. In 1975 and early 1976 things peaked, with Sammartino’s series against Spyros Arion, a babyface who had turned on he and Chief Jay Strongbow, the return to the WWWF of Koloff and his most remembered rival of that era, Superstar Billy Graham. Matches were so big that several sold out more than a week in advance, and they would then book the Felt Forum for closed-circuit showings of the overflow, and that was with the matches airing live in the area on the MSG Network, and kids not allowed to attend.

Arion, Koloff and Graham’s programs were so strong because fans saw them as people who could win the title. Arion was a powerhouse who could wrestle, coming in after being the biggest star in Australia. Koloff had beaten Sammartino before, and Sammartino had never gotten his revenge from five years earlier. Graham was so big and muscular, and so charismatic, that he took the area by storm. Sammartino was always the strongest, but Graham looked bigger and stronger and fans saw him as his greatest challenge.

Arion had first been in the area in the late 1960s, and was the No. 2 face in the promotion at the time. He never lost, and he got over with the idea that after Sammartino would beat opponents, Arion would face them, and beat them faster than Sammartino did. But he returned to Australia and there was never a match.

In 1975, when he returned, it was as a babyface that, while not as popular as Sammartino, he was the one guy fans thought maybe he was as good. Arion started teaming with Chief Jay Strongbow, who had become the No. 2 babyface, but turned on Strongbow in a tag team title match against the Valiant Brothers.

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Quote:Arion had first been in the area in the late 1960s, and was the No. 2 face in the promotion at the time. He never lost, and he got over with the idea that after Sammartino would beat opponents, Arion would face them, and beat them faster than Sammartino did. But he returned to Australia and there was never a match.

In 1975, when he returned, it was as a babyface that, while not as popular as Sammartino, he was the one guy fans thought maybe he was as good. Arion started teaming with Chief Jay Strongbow, who had become the No. 2 babyface, but turned on Strongbow in a tag team title match against the Valiant Brothers.

Arion then signed for a match with Larry Zbyszko, the protégé of Sammartino. The idea was that this was a mismatch. Arion said that Zbyszko was his friend and they would have a friendly match. But because he had turned on Strongbow, fans didn’t believe him, nor did Sammartino, who said that he didn’t want Zbyszko to take this match.

The build worked. Fans were furious when Arion took liberties on Zbyszko. Sammartino ran in to stop the attack, and then challenged Arion to a match. The first match, on February 17, 1975, was the first time wrestling was closed-circuited into the Felt Forum, meaning there were more than 24,000 fans (billed as 26,000). They did double sellout business for a Texas death match rematch, followed by going clean a third time for a Greek death match.

On April 26, 1976, Sammartino was making his first title defense against Stan Hansen. During the match, Hansen did a routine bodyslam, let go early, and dropped Sammartino right on the top of his head, breaking his neck. If it wasn’t for Sammartino’s powerful neck, he would have likely been paralyzed. Still, with a broken neck, and a probable concussion, Sammartino kept fighting, continued the match, and while it was stopped with Hansen winning because Sammartino was bleeding so badly (a blade cut, as this was the planned finish), Sammartino retained the title.

But with the injury, they had no WWWF champion. It wasn’t too bad, because for the first month, Hansen going against babyfaces who vowed revenge for Bruno was big business. But the feeling was that would wear out by the second or third show in each market.

McMahon Sr. begged Sammartino to come back, since June 25, 1976, they had booked Shea Stadium for a closed-circuit showing of Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki and Chuck Wepner vs. Andre the Giant. They also had arenas and theaters booked all over the country, with McMahon and Bob Arum as co-promoters.

Sammartino’s doctors told McMahon, and himself, that he was nuts to try and wrestle that soon. Sammartino said that McMahon told him they had so much money tied up that if the show bombed, and it could without him, that the company may have to go into bankruptcy. Whether true or not, Sanmartino came back for the grudge match with Hansen.

Ali vs. Inoki was not a success anywhere but the Northeast. In the newspaper reports of the show, the lead was that Ali vs. Inoki was a flop, but the show was a success because 32,000 fans paid $500,000, the latter destroying all records, to Shea, with the stories saying the crowd didn’t come for Andre, and didn’t come for Ali, but, based on reaction, came to see Bruno get his revenge.

But after the broken neck, Sammartino once again wanted to drop the title. They begged him to stay on for another year. McMahon Sr. met with Graham, and Graham was told two things, that he would win the title on April 30, 1977, in Baltimore, and he would lose to Bob Backlund on February 20, 1978, in Madison Square Garden.

Last week in the Andre story, we noted that even though Bruno asked for a Shea Stadium match with Andre, and agreed to lose to make it happen, Vince McMahon Sr. adamantly refused. It’s notable that from 1963 until his retirement, Sammartino only lost twice, both times when he had to as it was the two title losses, by pin or submission in the WWWF territory.

Graham won the title with his feet on he ropes, giving Sammartino an alibi. Graham’s title defenses against Sammartino were some of the biggest drawing and most heated matches in the territory’s history. One match, a cage match on February 18, 1978, in Philadelphia at the Spectrum, was remembered as the city’s biggest event of the era. The news, which rarely covered wrestling, told fans that evening not to go to the building, as it was sold out. In Philadelphia, Graham had escaped a few times with his title, but in a cage, there was no way, as Sammartino had never lost a cage match in that part of the country. It was the first-ever fluke cage match finish as Sammartino punched Graham and he flew out the door to escape.

Sammartino had what was actually the biggest feud of his career in 1980, shortly before his first retirement.

Larry Whistler was a good high school wrestler in Pittsburgh who befriended Sammartino. He started his career in Pittsburgh as Larry Zbyszko, the personal protégé of Sammartino. He eventually settled in as a mid-card babyface in the WWWF, a regular tag team champion with Tony Garea.

Frustrated by his career stagnation, Zbyszko suggested the idea to Sammartino of his turning on him. Sammartino liked the idea and went to McMahon Sr. with it. McMahon Sr. was completely against it, feeling Zbyszko wasn’t big enough nor a big enough star to have the credibility to have a long program with Sammartino. Zbyszko got even more frustrated and Sammartino pushed harder. McMahon relented.

The program, which was somewhat the prototype for the later Owen Hart turn on Bret Hart in 1993 and 1994, has to be considered one of the greatest in pro wrestling history. Zbyszko kept challenging Sammartino to a match, and Sammartino said he considered Zbyszko like a son, and would never wrestle him. Zbyszko kept pushing. Eventually they agreed to a public workout. Zbyszko would get holds on Sammartino, and he would break out of them. Sammartino would get holds on Zbyszko and he would try, and fail to break out of them, and Sammartino would let him go. This happened a few times, and Zbyszko grew frustrated, and eventually hit Sammartino in the head with a chair. Sammartino did one of the most blatantly obvious blade jobs over, but it didn’t matter.

The series of promos was the master class in building a program. They sold out Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh, so they knew to open up both Madison Square Garden and the Felt Forum for their fourth match, on March 24. 1980. Both buildings sold out in advance. In this one, Sammartino lost his cool because he was so mad at being turned on, talking about all the time he took away from his own family to train Zbyszko, that he was disqualified. An April 21, 1980, rematch in the Garden also sold out, but didn’t sell out the Felt Forum. This time, Sammartino was getting the better of Zbyszko, and he walked out, losing via count out.

They mirrored this program in every major arena in the Northeast, doing record business everywhere. Pittsburgh and Boston did blow-offs in June, a cage match in Pittsburgh, a Texas death match in Boston.

Then, at the June 16, 1980, show in Madison Square Garden, where Zbyszko beat Bob Backlund via blood stoppage in a title match, when everyone expected a conclusive finish next month, they instead announced that on August 9, they would return to Shea Stadium with Zbyszko facing, not Backlund, but Sammartino, in a cage match.

The show drew 35,771 paid and 36,295 total, although the public announcement was 40,717, with the idea of breaking the O’Connor vs. Rogers record. The gate was $541,730, which beat the Sammartino vs. Hansen record for North America. Of course Sammartino won decisively.

Sammartino wrestled sparingly after that. His neck injury was getting worse. He did a 1981 program with Hansen in Boston and Pittsburgh, but not anywhere else, climaxing with cage matches. He didn’t wrestle at all in New York in 1981, ending his career with a count out win over George Steele on the first wrestling show at the Meadowlands Arena on October 4, 1981.

His son, and Vince McMahon, convinced him to come back in 1985, but he always regretted it and talked very negatively about that period. He hated the drug use and the steroids. His back was in immense pain. He would only travel with Chief Jay Strongbow. He didn’t get along with Hulk Hogan, who had become the big star.

He told me his issues with Hogan came because he was trying to give him advice on working as the top star, and Hogan blew him off.

Sammartino noted that Hogan had a routine that he always did, and that was fine if he would come to cities a few times a year, but he felt it wouldn’t work with coming back month after month and doing three match series’ with the same opponents, building to the blow-off. He tried to impart his knowledge on working a more realistic match, how to sell to make fans think it’s legit, doing a comeback, and working finishes. He said Hogan wouldn’t listen, and he never really had time for him. The irony is that Sammartino’s last match, on August 29, 1987, he and Hogan teamed up to sell out the Baltimore Arena in a match with King Kong Bundy & One Man Gang. Sammartino never did muscle poses in his match, feeling that was showing off. But when Hogan did his post-mach posing routine and the fans cheered for Bruno to do the same, reluctantly, he did. It was the only time they ever teamed. Sammartino never talked about the match, and if it was brought up to him, you could see it was not a happy subject to him.

As it turned out, I saw his next to last match, the night before, in Houston, as Paul Boesch wanted him to appear on his own retirement show. He wrestled Hercules, and his back was hurting bad and he couldn’t do much.

Worse, when Hogan went on the Arsenio Hall show, after Sammartino had knocked the WWF for all the steroid usage, and Hogan denied being a steroid user, he then directly said Sammartino was a hypocrite since he had worked against Graham.

The reality is that Hogan, because of national television, became bigger and more well-known than Sammartino. But Sammartino noted that Hogan’s house show programs never drew as well as his. Hogan would do well spaced out every few months in a city, but if he’d work a program, the first match did well, the second match would go down, and the third would go down from that. Sammartino noted that the way it was supposed to be, is the first match should build a rematch and a larger crowd, and the third match should do the biggest of the three.

Times had changed and they were different people. Sammartino, particularly after his second title win in 1973, did draw better than Hogan on a consistent basis in the Northeast arenas. Steve Austin came in and broke all of their records, but Sammartino always noted that Austin also didn’t work month-after-month in the same markets like he did.

Bruno retired to Pittsburgh and became something of a cultural icon in the city. He was treated reverently in most cases by the television and newspaper reporters in news stories, and his death was the lead news story on at least some of the television stations in the city.

“Bruno Sammartino was one of the greatest ambassadors the city of Pittsburgh ever had,” said Mayor Bill Peduto. “Like so many of us, his immigrant family moved here to build a new life, and through his uncommon strength and surprising grace he embodied the spirit of Pittsburgh on the world stage. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are of sitting in the basement with my grandfather on Saturday mornings and watching Bruno wrestle. They both came from the same part of Italy, and when my grandfather, who was 5-foot-8, would watch Bruno wrestle, he became 6-foot-10. I consider it a personal honor that Bruno and I later became friends. I join all other Pittsburgh residents in saying, `Thank you Bruno,’ and we will miss you.”

His death was covered almost everywhere nationally. Sammartino was the third most searched for term on Wednesday in the United States.

Most of the stories had the exaggerated statistic of him headlining 211 times in Madison Square Garden and selling out 187 times. Later, after the 2013 Hall of Fame ceremony, that number changed to being his 188th sellout.

The number isn’t close to accurate, but he did both headline and sell out Madison Square Garden more than any wrestler in history. He told me that he and Georgiann Makropolous came up with the number, estimating he regularly worked the building for 18 years, once a month, and sold out 90 percent of the time. This was long before research was done and real records were available.

His actual record of Madison Square Garden matches is listed here. He did 160 matches in Madison Square Garden, and was only pinned once, which ironically was his most famous match ever, and the most enduring match of that era, with Koloff.

Of those, 140 of those shows you could say he main evented. When he was champion, every match he was in was the main event. During the Morales and Backlund runs, his match had equal billing with the championship match as the main event. Often his match was a bigger drawing match than the championship match. For those who would watch the Madison Square Garden shows live, or on the MSG Network in the late 70s, some of the fondest memories would be right before the final match, when the ring announcer, where it was Johnny Addie or Howard Finkel, would announce the next show.

When Sammartino was champion, the anticipation was who would be the next contender, although usually that was obvious, or in the case of a disputed ending earlier in the night, what the special stipulations would be next month.

But after he lost the title in 1977, because he was not there every month, the announcement of his appearances would be louder and more dramatic.

Finkel was the master of this, and he’d run down the card, and then the championship match, and you thought it was over. He’d subtly stop, and then say that there’s one more match, and he’d announce that name of the heel, who was always one of the top guys. “And he will face,” as his voice boomed, “BRUNO SAMMARTINO!” The place never failed to explode.

Pay records from Madison Square Garden from the Backlund era showed that every show he appeared on, he was paid the most, always $6,000, which was more than Backlund, who would get $5,000, or Andre the Giant, who would get $3,000.

Legitimately, his match was the true main event a minimum of 130 times. Not all attendance figures are available, but he had 60 verifiable sellouts, and logically, there are probably a few others, but not more than 65.

Some of the late 60s crowds don’t look impressive, but during that period, they had no television at all in the market, and relied only on newspaper advertising, so there was really no chance to draw big numbers.

If you go to the South Oakland neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where Sanmartino grew up, on the corner of Dawson and Swinburne Streets as you enter the area, there is a sign that reads, “Welcome to South Oakland, childhood home of Dan Marino, Andy Warhol and Bruno Sammartino.” There is also a second sign that says the same thing in a local park.

In around 1981, a sign was first put up, mentioning Warhol and Marino, but not Sammartino. Marino could never figure it out. In a 2016 ceremony, that was changed.

“I remember my dad always saying, `Why don’t they have Bruno’s name on the sign?” said Marino when it was changed. “So today we took care of that.”

BRUNO SAMMARTINO



MADISON SQUARE GARDEN HISTORY



Bruno Sammartino earliest recorded match was October 23, 1959, in White Plains, NY, beating Miguel Torres.



January 2, 1960: def. Wild Bull Curry (second from top) - sellout

January 25, 1960: def. Skull Murphy (second from top) - 15,675

February 22, 1960: no contest Killer Kowalski (second from top) - 18,896

March 7, 1960: def. Mighty Zuma (second from top) - 8,912

March 19, 1960: def. Karl Von Hess (second from top) - 6,450

May 21, 1960: def. Haystacks Calhoun (second from top) - 18,000

June 4, 1960: w/Argentina Rocca def. Pampero Firpo & Great Antonio (main event) - 13,000

July 16, 1960: w/Ilio DiPaolo def. John & Chris Tolos (second from top) - 15,850

August 6, 1960: w/Argentina Rocca def. Dr. Jerry Graham & Pampero Firpo (main event) - 16,752

August 27, 1960: w/Argentina Rocca def. John & Chris Tolos via DQ (Main event) - 11,000

October 1, 1960: w/Ilio DiPaolo def. Larry Hamilton (Missouri Mauler) & Jackie Fargo (third from top) - 10,000

October 24, 1960: lost to Argentina Rocca via DQ (main event) - 12,654

November 14, 1960: curfew draw with Argentina Rocca (main event) - 12,815

January 23, 1961: w/Primo Carnera def. The Crusher & Danny McShain (second from top) - 14,783

February 27, 1961: def. Haystacks Calhoun via count out (third form top) - sellout

August 25, 1961: def. Eddie Graham via DQ (fourth from top) - 18,752

September 18, 1961: def. Yukio Suzuki (fourth from top) - 12.391

October 16, 1961: w/Sailor Art Thomas def. Mark Lewin & Don Curtis via DQ (third from top) - 12,511

November 13, 1961: lost to Giant Baba via count out (second from top) - sellout

December 11, 1961: w/Argentina Apollo def. Great Togo & Yoshino Sato (third from top) - 13,430

January 22, 1962: w/Argentina Apollo lost to Giant Baba & Yukio Suzuki (second from top) - sellout

February 26, 1962: w/Argentina Apollo def. The Fabulous Kangaroos via DQ (fourth from top) - sellout

February 25, 1963: w/Bobo Brazil def. Handsome Johnny Barend & Magnificent Maurice (second from top) - 9,324

March 25, 1963: w/Bobo Brazil def. Brute Bernard & Skull Murphy (second from top) - 13,150

May 17, 1963: def. Buddy Rogers to win WWWF title in 48 seconds (main event) - sellout

June 21, 1963: def. Hans Mortier to retain WWWF title (main event) - 8,552

July 23, 1963: def. Hans Mortier to retain WWWF title (main event) - 14,495

August 2, 1963: w/Bobo Brazil lost to Buddy Rogers & Johnny Barend (main event) - 14,667

August 23, 1963: def. Killer Kowalski to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

September 16, 1963: w/Bobo Brazil drew Hans Mortier (subbing for Buddy Rogers) & Gorilla Monsoon via curfew (main event) - 17,576

October 21, 1963: double count out Gorilla Monsoon for WWWF title (main event) - sellout

November 18, 1963: def. Gorilla Monsoon via count out for WWWF title (main event) - sellout

December 16, 1963: def. Dr. Jerry Graham via blood stoppage for WWWF title (main event) - 11,670

January 20, 1964: def. Dr. Jerry Graham for WWWF title (main event) - 17,006

February 17, 1964: def. Giant Baba for WWWF title (main event) - 14,764

March 16, 1964: def. Dr. Jerry Graham for WWWF title (main event) - sellout

May 11, 1964: drew Gorilla Monsoon over 70:00 to retain WWWF title (main event) - 16,300

June 6, 1964: def Gorilla Monsoon to retain WWWF title (main event) - 16,781

July 11, 1964: lost via DQ to Fred Blassie to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

August 1, 1964: def. Fred Blassie to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

August 22, 1964: drew Waldo Von Erich over 81:00 to retain WWWF title (main event) - 16,958

September 21, 1964: def. Waldo Von Erich via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 14,915

October 19, 1964: def. Waldo Von Erich to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

November 16, 1964: def. Gene Kiniski via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 16,816

December 14, 1964: def. Gene Kiniski to retain WWWF title (main event) - 11,803

January 25, 1965: w/Cowboy Bill Watts def. Gene Kiniski & Waldo Von Erich via DQ (main event) - 13,875

February 22, 1965: def. Cowboy Bill Watts via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

March 29, 1965: def. Cowboy Bill Watts via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

May 17, 1965: def Cowboy Bill Watts via blood stoppage to retain WWWF title (main event) - 12,984

July 12, 1965: def. Bill Miller via split decision after 60:00 to retain WWWF title (Main event) - 17,134

August 2, 1965: lost to Bill Miller via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 15,064

August 23, 1965: def. Bill Miller via submission in 48 seconds to retain WWWF title (main event) - 16,113

September 27, 1965: def. Tarzan Tyler to retain WWWF title (main event) - 13,000

October 20, 1965: def. Cowboy Bill Watts to retain WWWF title (main event) - 13,624

November 15, 1965: w/Johnny Valentine lost to Bill & Dan Miller (main event) - 13,913

December 13 1965: w/Johnny Valentine def. Bill & Dan Miller (main event) - 10,090

January 24, 1966: def. Baron Mikel Scicluna via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - 12,354

February 21, 1966: def. Baron Mikel Scicluna to retain WWWF title (Main event) - 14,303

March 28, 1966: def. King Curtis Iaukea to retain WWWF title (main event) - 10,859

November 7, 1966: def. Bulldog Brower to retain WWWF title (main event) - 14,159

December 12, 1966: def Tank Morgan to retain WWWF title (main event) - 12,029

January 30, 1967: def. Jesse Ortega to retain WWWF title (main event) - 14,760

February 27, 1967: lost to Gorilla Monsoon via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 13,827

March 27, 1967: drew Gorilla Monsoon 39:52 curfew to retain WWWF title (main event) - 17,395

May 15, 1967: def Gorilla Monsoon to retain WWWF title (main event) - 11,804

June 19. 1967: def. Professor Toru Tanaka to retain WWWF title (main event) - 11,515

July 31, 1967: w/Spyros Arion lost to Prof. Toru Tanaka & Gorilla Monsoon via DQ (main event) - 10,891

August 21, 1967: w/Spyros Arion def. Gorilla Monsoon & Prof. Toru Tanaka (main event) - 11,750

September 25, 1967: drew Hans Mortier 40:00 curfew to retain WWWF title (main event) - 9,351

October 23, 1967: def. Hans Mortier to retain WWWF title (main event) - 6,612

January 29, 1968: def. Prof. Toru Tanaka to retain WWWF title (main event) - 14,130

February 19, 1968: def. Apache Bull Ramos to retain WWWF title (main event) - 12,989

March 11, 1968: def. Kentucky Butcher (John Quinn) to retain WWWF title (main event) - 13,148

May 20, 1968: drew George Steele 50:51, curfew to retain WWWF title (main event) - 10,506

June 22, 1968: def. George Steele to retain WWWF title (main event) - 10,580

July 13, 1968: def Ernie Ladd via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 9,783

August 17, 1968: w/Victor Rivera def. Gorilla Monsoon & Prof. Toru Tanaka (Main event) - attendance unavailable

September 23, 1968: def. Rocky Fitzpatrick (Bob Orton Sr.) To retain WWWF title (main event) - 9,382

October 21, 1968: lost to The Sheik via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 10,443

November 18, 1968: def. The Sheik via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - 11,122

December 9, 1968: def. The Sheik via blood stoppage to retain WWWF title (main event) - 10,943

January 27, 1969: w/Victor Rivera lost to Gorilla Monsoon & Killer Kowalski (main event) - 11,568

February 17, 1969: No contest with Killer Kowalski to retain WWWF title (main event) - 9,639

March 7, 1969: def. Killer Kowalski via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 11,326

May 14, 1969: w/Victor Rivera def. Killer Kowalski & Prof. Toru Tanaka (main event) - 7,670

June 30, 1969: def. George Steele to retain WWWF title (main event) - 5,527

October 1, 1969: lost to Waldo Von Erich via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - attendance unavailable

October 27, 1969: def. Waldo Von Erich to retain WWWF title (main event) - 11,128

December 8, 1969: lost via blood stoppage to Ivan Koloff to retain WWWF title (main event) - 10,878

January 19, 1970: def. Ivan Koloff to retain WWWF title (main event) - 16,858

March 9, 1970: def. Krippler Karl Kovacs (Stan Kowalski/Bert Smith) to retain WWWF title (main event) - 14,328

June 15, 1970: lost via blood stoppage to Crusher Verdu to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

July 10, 1970: def Crusher Verdu to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

August 1, 1970: w/Victor Rivera def. The Mongols (Josip Peruzovic aka Nikolai Volkoff & Newton Tattrie) via DQ (main event) - 17,864

September 14, 1970: lost to Bepo Mongol (Volkoff) via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - 17,232

October 23, 1970: def Bepo Mongol to retain WWWF title (main event) - 17,491

November 16, 1970: def. Bulldog Brower to retain WWWF title (main event) - attendance unavailable

January 18, 1971: lost to Ivan Koloff to lose WWWF title (main event) - sellout

February 8, 1971: def. Geto Mongol (part of double main event) - sellout

July 24, 1971: def. Blackjack Mulligan (part of double main event) - sellout

March 13, 1972: def. Smasher Sloan (part of double main event) - attendance unavailable

September 2, 1972: def. George Steele (part of double main event) - sellout

September 30, 1972: drew Pedro Morales in WWWF title match at Shea Stadium (main event) - 22,508

October 16, 1972: w/Pedro Morales def. Prof. Toru Tanaka & Mr. Fuji via DQ (main event) - sellout

January 15, 1973: def. Prof Toru Tanaka (part of double main event) - sellout

December 10, 1973: def. Stan Stasiak to win WWWF title (part of double main event) - sellout

January 14, 1974: def. Don Leo Jonathan to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

March 4, 1974: drew Nikolai Volkoff 53:00 curfew to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

April 1, 1974: def. Nikolai Volkoff to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

April 29, 1974: no contest Killer Kowalski to retain WWWF title (main event) - attendance unavailable

May 20, 1974: def. Killer Kowalski in Texas death match to retain WWWF title (main event) - 17,103

June 24, 1974: w/Chief Jay Strongbow def. Nikolai Volkoff & Fred Blassie (main event) - sellout

July 22, 1974: def. John Tolos to retain WWWF title (main event) - 18,579

August 26, 1974: w/Chief Jay Strongbow drew Jimmy & Johnny Valiant, curfew draw (main event) - sellout

October 7, 1974: w/Chief Jay Strongbow def. Jimmy & Johnny Valiant via DQ (main event) - sellout

November 18, 1974: def. Bobby Duncum via blood stoppage to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

December 16, 1974: def. Bobby Duncum to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

January 20, 1975: w/Chief Jay Strongbow def Jimmy & Johnny Valiant via DQ (main event) - sellout

February 17, 1975: lost via DQ to Spyros Arion to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout and closed circuit sellout at Felt Forum

March 17, 1975: def. Spyros Arion in Texas death match to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout and closed circuit sellout at Felt Forum

April 14, 1975: def. Spyros Arion in Greek death match to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout of Madison Square Garden and closed circuit sellout at Felt Forum

May 19, 1975: lost to Waldo Von Erich via blood stoppage to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout of Madison Square Garden and closed circuit sellout at Felt Forum

June 16, 1975: def. Waldo Von Erich to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

July 12, 1975: drew George Steele, curfew to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

August 9, 1975: def. George Steele to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

September 6, 1975: def. Bugsy McGraw & Lou Albano in handicap match (main event) - sellout

October 13, 1975: double disqualification with Ivan Koloff to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

November 17, 1975: def. Ivan Koloff via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

December 15, 1975: def. Ivan Koloff to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

January 12, 1976: lost to Superstar Billy Graham to retain WWWF title via count out (main event) - sellout

February 2, 1976: def. Superstar Billy Graham to retain WWWF title (main event) - Madison Square Garden sellout, Felt Forum near sellout

March 1, 1976: def. Ernie Ladd to retain WWWF title (Main event) - sellout

March 29, 1976: w/Tony Parisi def. Superstar Billy Graham & Ivan Koloff via count out (main event) - sellout

April 26, 1976: lost via blood stoppage to Stan Hansen to retain WWWF title (main event) - 17,493

June 25, 1976: def. Stan Hansen via count out to retain WWWF title at Shea Stadium (part of triple main event) - 32,000

August 7, 1976: def. Stan Hansen to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

September 4, 1976: def. Bruiser Brody via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

October 4, 1976: def. Bruiser Brody to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

October 24, 1976: def. Nikolai Volkoff to retain WWWF title (main event) - attendance unavailable

November 22, 1976: lost to Stan Stasiak via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

December 20, 1976: def. Stan Stasiak to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

January 17, 1977: lost to Ken Patera via count out to retain WWWF title (main event) - attendance unavailable

February 7, 1977: drew Ken Patera in Texas death match to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

March 7, 1977: def. Ken Patera via blood stoppage to retain WWWF title (main event) - sellout

March 28, 1977: def. Baron Von Raschke via DQ to retain WWWF title (main event) - attendance unavailable

April 25, 1977: def. Baron Von Raschke to retain WWWF title (main event) - attendance unavailable

May 16, 1977: def. George Steele (part of double main event) - sellout

June 27, 1977: double disqualification with WWWF champion Superstar Billy Graham (main event) - sellout

August 1, 1977: double disqualification with WWWF champion Superstar Billy Graham (main event) - sellout

August 29, 1977: def. Ken Patera (part of double main event) - sellout

October 23, 1978: def. Superstar Billy Graham via blood stoppage (part of double main event) - sellout

March 26, 1979: def. Ivan Koloff via count out (part of double main event) - sellout

August 27, 1979: def. Nikolai Volkoff (part of double main event) - sellout

October 22, 1979: def. Greg Valentine (part of double main event) - sellout

March 24, 1980: lost to Larry Zbyszko via DQ (part of double main event) - sellout of Madison Square Garden and closed circuit sellout of Felt Forum

April 21, 1980: def. Larry Zbyszko via count out (part of double main event) - sellout

August 9, 1980: def. Larry Zbyszko in cage match at Shea Stadium (main event) - 36,295

December 8, 1980: def. Sgt. Slaughter via count out (main event) - sellout

May 20, 1985: w/David Sammartino def. Brutus Beefcake & Johnny Valiant (second from top) - 15,000

June 12, 1986: w/Tito Santana def. Randy Savage & Adrian Adonis (main event) - 16,000



Bruno Sammartino announced in the summer of 1981 that he would retire. He was talked into having his retirement match the night the WWF debuted at the new Meadowlands Arena (now Izod Center) in East Rutherford, NJ, on October 4, 1981, beating George Steele. He had agreed to actually finish his career with a several day tour of Japan, so what he and most believed would be his actual retirement match was October 9, 1981, in Tokyo, teaming with Baba and going to a no contest against Tiger Jeet Singh & Umanosuke Ueda. The part of his career he never speaks fondly of, his return, started on February 16, 1985, selling out the Spectrum in Philadelphia teaming with son David to beat Bobby Heenan & Paul Orndorff via DQ.



Bruno Sammartino’s final match was August 29, 1987, in Baltimore, teaming with Hulk Hogan (the only time the two ever teamed), beating King Kong Bundy & One Man Gang

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#8
TL;DR?




Kidding, I was just coming to post this actually. Incredible writing.
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#9
More Bruno from the Observer

Quote:The death of Bruno Sammartino on 4/18 was the result of multiple organ failure due to heart issues, which ironically and unknowingly to him, dated back to his childhood.

When he nearly died due to rheumatic fever at the age of 12, it damaged a portion of his heart. Through a lifetime of training, he was able to build up the get the non-damaged part of his heart so strong that it compensated for the damaged portion and he was never aware of an issue until recent years.

A few years ago, he noted that his pants were getting tighter and he was starting to get a gut. He just chalked it up to getting older but found out that one of his heart valves, from the childhood damage, wasn’t functioning well and the gut was the buildup of fluid in his abdomen. He had an operation to get a new heart valve put in that was believed at the time was taking care of the problem.

He was also having issues with his legs, which did come from back problems stemming from his years in the ring. He first noticed problems with his legs in 2015 when he was in San Jose for WrestleMania. A few months later, he had a fall in his bathroom and was hospitalized. He had told me at the time of having to start training with smaller goals, like walking 30 feet on his own, then 35 feet and then 40 feet. But he’d spent his life building himself up and figured it was a slow process and he was older, but he knew what to do. But he was having issues falling after that point.

It was feared as far back as 2001, due to lumber stenosis, that he was likely to end up being wheelchair bound. After surgery performed by Dr. Joseph Maroon in Pittsburgh, he not only recovered but was able to continue his two to three hours of training each day until recent years. But this year, the issues got so bad that had he been able to survive this ordeal, he was almost surely going to end up in a wheelchair.

He was very proud man, and he would not have liked it and he would not have likely allowed almost anyone to see him at that point. I remember when he saw Killer Kowalski for the last time, and he noted that Kowalski, who was 6-foot-7 in his wrestling days, was shorter than he was and how much it broke his heart to see Kowalski like that as his last memory of him and wishing that he never saw him that way.

In mid-February, his health was getting bad again. He had been in and out of the hospital and didn’t want to go back. He had Diverticulitis, and there was bleeding from the colon and they had trouble finding the source of the bleeding. He also had the feeling that if he went in this time that he would never get out. When he was brought to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Passavant, he was told that if he had waited much longer, he wouldn’t have survived.

Very few were aware of his condition because that’s how he wanted it. In my own dealings with him, past telling me how light he was training because the injuries were catching up and shoulder issues with bench pressing, he never talked of health issues before the fact. After he was hospitalized, he would readily talk, in detail, about his condition and what led to it, but it was always when he was on the road to recovery. Aside from Cruise, who said that he considered letting me know just to prepare because he knew how serious this situation was, but didn’t, it’s not clear if anyone aside from the family and close family friends knew. Gary Juster was aware he has hospitalized only because he called the house a few weeks ago, and talked to Carol, who told him she had to leave to see Bruno at the hospital, but didn’t elaborate any further.

What led to his death was that the good part of his heart was no longer strong enough to overcompensate for the damaged part, and thus he was having trouble with his organs and it was a downward spiral.

Most were shocked when he passed away, because of his being known for training hard and being in such great shape, even at an advanced age. A few years ago, when he went back to Pizzoferrato, Italy, he noted to me how he was surprised because he was getting tired climbing Valla Rocca, the mountain he escaped to as a child when the Nazis took over the city in 1943. To him, that was the first sign something was wrong. The funny part of the story is the crew that went with him all remarked how they couldn’t believe how he, in his late 70s, was still able to climb the mountain in the first place, with a group of men, all a generation younger, who were all getting tired.

The belief now is that the damage from the Rheumatic fever was so severe that he was likely if he lived a normal life to live past his early 60s, and that all the training that he did in strengthening his heart added 15 to 20 years to his life.

His funeral took place at St. Sebastian Church in Pittsburgh, which was covered heavily by the local media. He was talked about as being a city hero. Larry Richert, a local news reporter who was close to him, gave a eulogy as did Dr. Frank Costa. Richert noted to us that the documentary on his life that had been worked on for years would be released soon. I believe it is the same documentary that played on KDKA in Pittsburgh on Mother’s Day in 2015.

Stephanie McMahon, who came with Vince McMahon, spoke and read a message from her husband, Paul Levesque, who was unable to be there because he was in Saudi Arabia preparing for the show this week.

Not a lot of wrestling people were there. Chris Cruise, the former WCW announcer and one of his closest friends, was an honorary pall bearer. Larry Zbyszko, who idolized him, flew in from Florida and Shane Douglas also came, as did some of the other local wrestlers, most notably Dominic DeNucci, who he met back in 1966 when both were wrestling in Australia, and remained lifelong friends with since both ended up also living in Pittsburgh. DeNucci used to push Sammartino to come to the Cauliflower Alley Club years ago, when a number of his contemporaries were still alive and going, but that wasn’t his style. The WWE released a documentary called “Bruno,” which aired right after Raw on 4/23 on the WWE Network. The documentary featured a lot of clips from a Philadelphia documentary from years ago, the Greatest Sports Legends syndicated television show hosted by Tom Seaver, which did an episode on him in 1979. I also noticed clips from another documentary that was done on him around 2006, as well as things from a High Spots.com video package that was released right after his death. There was also a ton of footage backstage with him with Paul Levesque, Vince McMahon and Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony. Much of the focus of the documentary were long interviews Sammartino did with WWE in 2013 when he made his deal to return with Levesque, for both a proposed DVD release on him that ended up not happening, the 50-year History of the WWE release and for future releases.

The documentary was universally well received, as would almost anything be with Sammartino as its centerpiece, particularly when you start with the stories from his childhood about surviving on the mountain when the Nazis took over his hometown and the stories about his mother. It also was filled with photos of him growing up, competing in powerlifting, weightlifting and bodybuilding and newspaper clippings and whatever footage has survived of his early career.

More than his physical power, which was the attribute that got him into wrestling and got him his original stardom, it was his ability to come across so sincere and connect with the average person on television or in person that was really the key to his longevity as a drawing card.

There weren’t really the major historical inaccuracies you expect from a WWE DVD, past the constant pushing of 188 Madison Square Garden sellouts (187 as a wrestler and the final one for the 2013 Hall of Fame). That was said over-and-over. It’s one of those wrestling legends told so often that people believe it to be true, and are offended that it isn’t, even when the reality of his 60 sellouts in the building, almost all during a period when children under the age of 14 were banned from attending, is impressive enough.

There were the omissions, but those were going to be there. The idea that Vince McMahon Sr., was involved in getting him suspended in 38 states in 1962 or that his returning in 1963 was very much contentious wasn’t about to be broached on a WWE piece. He claimed Buddy Rogers didn’t know the finish of their 1963 title change and that Rogers believed he was going to retain the title with the figure four, with the idea he shot on Rogers (he portrayed it as Rogers being double-crossed and not that he went against McMahon’s orders), which he has said for years although obviously that’s not the case and Rogers has always claimed the short match was because he was having heart issues. Sammartino always denied the story that most in wrestling had. While the story that many have claimed of Rogers being taken from the hospital to lose the match wasn’t the case, as Rogers was wrestling regularly, mostly in tags or very short singles matches, Rogers never claimed anything of the sort. The only thing Rogers said about his two famous title losses in 1963 was that Lou Thesz did come up to him at the start of their title change in Toronto and say they could do it the hard way or the easy way and he told Thesz there would be no trouble.

The harder subject, his departure from WWF in 1987 and his speaking out against the company so vehemently was also downplayed. There was no way they were going to broach Sammartino’s issues with steroids, drug use and young deaths of pro wrestlers.

The way it was explained is that Sammartino wasn’t happy with the entertainment direction the product took in the 80s, loved wrestling the way it was, and thus stopped watching and wouldn’t work for the company.

While he was not a fan of the change in the product, that was hardly his major issue. In the late 90s, with the things like bra and panties matches and the swearing, yes, he did hate that. But for the most part he wasn’t watching and only had limited knowledge of it by that point.

Some of it was a resentment of the public perception, and media stories. He hated the idea that people thought that pro wrestling had exploded in popularity in 1984, the idea it moved from smoky armories to major arenas, or that Hulk Hogan was this incredible drawing card, since Sammartino claimed his numbers were better than Hogan’s.

But a lot of it was the drug-infested business that pro wrestling turned into in the 80s, which he spoke out about. In later interviews as recently as six years ago, even though wrestling did end up cleaning up to a significant degree from its worst periods, he felt he had failed. He was unhappy the media would listen to him, he would state his case, and then, for the most part, they’d move on and nothing would change. He understood those working for McMahon couldn’t say anything, but resented that more of the people who didn’t wouldn’t come forward. He hated that he was presented as old and bitter, with the idea that he was saying what he was saying because his day on top had passed, when he noted that he was very happy in his life. Plus the tag of old and bitter was a great tactic to use to avoid discussing the real issue in the first place.

For the most part, he was correct. Sammartino was working and packing the same Northeast arenas in his second run as champion that WWF was running. He was able to draw big crowds month-after-month. Comparing he and Hogan is probably unfair to both, as they were both the top guys in different times, and they had very different appeals.

Sammartino exuded reality, but his matches were no more real than Hogan’s, who was all about entertainment. But both were the larger-than-life stars who dominated their eras. Sammartino was superior as far as drawing fans monthly, and working multiple-match programs. Hogan, because of national television, was a more well-known star and drew in more places, and Hogan’s biggest crowds for his stadium big shows were bigger than Sammartino’s biggest crowds at stadium big shows. Really, Steve Austin, whose time on top was brief compared to the other two, drew in far more places and more successfully than either of them, again, as much because of the time as anything.

Sammartino was the backbone of creating the importance of the WWWF, later WWF title. He was big in his region because he was the biggest star of the only real game in town. People lived and died by his match results. There were no fear of riots if Hogan was to lose a match, although Hogan was booked similarly in that he also, during his big run, would never lose via pin or submission. Sammartino did get pinned a few times in tag team matches to set up a title challenger, which Hogan was never booked to do. Hogan was around when there were other games on television, and Hogan drew in most places, but there were places where fans were taught in a different kind of wrestling and Hogan didn’t have staying power in those places. In addition, in 1984, it was shown that putting Hogan on top month-after-month in the same buildings was a bad idea, because crowds would dwindle down with his repeated appearances. He was best booked a few times a year, so shows he was on were special.

So while he bristled at talk that wrestling was more popular, or that Hogan was a great drawing card (which he was, but not by the standard Sammartino held for being a great draw, the ability to draw consistently big houses month-after-month in the same building ), his real issues were the drug use. Obviously, that is not going to play on a WWE Network documentary. There was also the funny thing of showing a Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine cover with Sammartino where the WWF was changed to WWE.

The reconciliation was played as HHH calling him up, telling him to watch the show now, him seeing a more athletic product, and they made up and he went into the Hall of Fame and all is well that ends well.

Of course, reality wasn’t quite so simple. The negotiations weren’t easy and took months.

At first, Sammartino showed little interest, for one, feeling that some would view him as a hypocrite for going back after speaking out about the company for 26 years. He actually had a lot of issues with that perception, of what people who had supported him, and who he thought were on the side of right, would think.

That’s where Maroon came in, to convince Sammartino that the drug issues and steroid issues were a thing of the past.

But in the end, it was a business decision. Levesque pushed hard, with the feeling that as long as Sammartino wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, it would be hard for it to be legitimate. The reality is that he should have been the first inductee, or at worst, after Andre the Giant, the second. But that was never possible after the idea of the Hall of Fame was first broached.

Sammartino gave a figure, which he felt was the money he was owed from his heyday. One of the key things he brought up, which he had never talked about previously, was that when he rushed back to action after his broken neck for the rematch with Stan Hansen at Shea Stadium on the Ali vs. Inoki show, is that his doctors were dead set against him doing it to the point one of them was furious at Vince McMahon Sr., for calling him up and constantly trying to guilt trip him into it. McMahon Sr. kept saying that so much money was involved in Ali vs. Inoki, and without him involved, if the show was to bomb, the company could go out of business.

Part of the deal to get him do the match was not just his regular percentage (likely five percent, since that was his Madison Square Garden percentage) of the Shea Stadium live gate, but also three percent of all the Northeast closed-circuit locations.

He never got a dime from any of the closed-circuit locations, and said after coming back, when he asked about that money, McMahon told him that Bob Arum, who was the co-promoter, had refused the deal.

There were other business deals he’d made that he believed WWE had nixed for him over the years.

Levesque said that he couldn’t undo the past and they weren’t responsible for deals from the past. But Sammartino stuck to his guns.

This dragged on for months. Sammartino always told me that he liked Levesque, who assured him that the parts of the product he had qualms with were no longer the case. He said that his price was $250,000, and that Levesque couldn’t approve of it and had to get Vince McMahon’s authorization. The deal had stagnated and there was pretty much a deadline on both sides, Sammartino because he was tired of it going nowhere and felt in the end McMahon would never approve of it, and WWE, which wanted an agreed upon deal so they could announce it to the world when they started promoting the 2013 ceremony.

Sammartino told me at the time that he didn’t believe it would be done, feeling Vince wouldn’t approve it, and he was fine either way it would turn out, making it clear he would have zero negative feelings toward Levesque if McMahon didn’t make the deal. His wants and needs in life were simple and he had no financial need for it. He felt his price was only asking what he believed he had been due from the past, and nothing more.

The thing he didn’t realize is that $250,000 was a lot of money for WWE ten or 15 years ago for somebody who wasn’t going to be working full-time, but by 2013, that was by no means an exorbitant price to get Sammartino into the Hall of Fame because of the public relations value, as well as do videos. It was also a great move for Levesque, because he got the public credit for being able to make the business deal that one year earlier would have thought to have been next to impossible.

For all those reasons, the logic in the end was that they would make the deal. Sammartino’s feelings McMahon wouldn’t approve it because of the past actually worked in his favor. McMahon has always taken a special pleasure in signing up people who believed that, for whatever reason, they would never work for him again. To many, Sammartino was the one guy who many thought would be the exception to the rule. Some were disappointed that he wasn’t, because of how strongly he spoke against the company for so long. No matter what decision he made, there would be negativity.

They ended up giving him a contract after to do appearances and such, as well as participate in taping sessions for DVDs. I believe it was a three-year deal and once again when it was over, he figured they wouldn’t renew, but they did, as once he was in, he was back to being a key part of the company’s legacy and history. A few years back, WWE brought him to WrestleMania to unveil a statue of him, just as his home town in Italy had done previously.

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#10
whoa playa

aint nobody reading all that
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(09-02-2011, 05:38 AM)RawrBabyRawr Wrote:
it's funny because sal really does have muscles and those pictures he posted up really are of him. seriously.

[+] 1 user Likes Sal Undy's post
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