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|Ring name(s)||Bruno Sammartino|
|Billed height||5 feet 10 inches|
|Billed weight||285 lb (128 kg)|
|Born||October 6, 1935
|Billed from||Abruzzi, Italy|
Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino (born October 6, 1935), is an Italian former professional wrestler, best known for being the longest-running champion of the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), holding the title across two reigns for over 11 years in total, as well as the longest World Heavyweight Championship reign in professional wrestling history.
"The Italian Strongman" has often been called "The Living Legend" of professional wrestling and is considered one of the greatest performers professional wrestling has ever known. Sammartino's actual wrestling ability was somewhat limited compared to "real" pro wrestlers like Lou Thesz, but his brawling style, power moves, and personal charisma, plus the fact that he came across as a genuinely nice guy, won him many fans, especially on the East Coast. During his career, Bruno was also known as "The Original Italian Stallion."
 Early life
Born in Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo on October 6, 1935, Bruno was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters. Four older siblings died during his life in Italy. Sammartino's family hid, during his childhood, in a big treacherous mountain called Valla Rocca, from German soldiers during the latter stages of World War II. During this time, Bruno's mother, Emilia, would sneak trips into their German occupied town for food and supplies. She once was captured and another time shot in the shoulder during such trips. Eventually, Bruno caught pneumonia but was nursed back to health by his mother with hot blankets and leeches. In 1951 he moved to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where his father had already lived for several years.
When Sammartino first came to America, he was sickly from his experiences of surviving during the war years. His slight frame, along with his tenuous grasp of English, made him an easy target for bullies in school. Sammartino wanted to build himself up physically and became devoted to weight training. Later, his powerlifting prowess nearly earned him a spot on the 1956 U.S. Olympic Team, but he was edged out by legendary strongman Paul Anderson, who outweighed Sammartino by almost 70 pounds. His high school, Schenley, didn't have a wrestling program, but he worked out with the University of Pittsburgh wrestling team under storied coach Rex Peary. Sammartino became known for performing strong man stunts in the Pittsburgh area, and sportscaster Bob Prince put him on his television show. It was there that he was spotted by local wrestling promoter Rudy Miller, who recruited Sammartino for pro wrestling. Miller knew that Sammartino could easily be marketed as an ethnic strongman, and that he would appeal to Italian immigrants who supported wrestling.
Before Bruno started his career in wrestling, there is a story about a match he had with an orangutan at a carnival in Irwin, Pa. His friends bet the attraction operator $50 that Bruno could last five minutes in a cage with the beast. After taking a brutal beating, Bruno punched the creature in the gut and was almost disqualified. Bruno left the cage well after the five minute limit but had his clothes shredded and his eyes almost pounded shut. He and his friends had won the $50.
 Studio Wrestling/Pittsburgh Promotion (1959-1974)
Bruno began wrestling for the local Pittsburgh promotion in 1959 and became an instant sensation. He made his debut in White Plains, New York on December 23, against Miguel Torres. His first Pittsburgh match was November 11 against Jack Vansky. Bruno was so green that he cracked Vansky's ribs with a bearhug. An annoyed Vansky asked the promoter after the match, "Where did you find this ape?" The name of the local TV wrestling program was called Studio Wrestling which was broadcast on WIIC-TV Channel 11. The host was Pittsburgh personality Bill Cardille. The Pittsbugh territory was owned independently of Vince McMahon Sr.'s New York based WWWF.
In 1966, Sammartino bought the Pittsburgh promotion(called Spectator Sports) which featured national stars such as, Gorilla Monsoon, The Crusher Reginald Lisowski, Bill Watts, George Steele, and Bobo Brazil as well as local talent like Johnny De Fazio, Frank "Carnegie Cop" Holtz, Hurricane Hunt, Tony "The Battman" Marino, and John L. Sullivan (who later gained fame as Johnny Valiant). The show was so popular that even referees like Izzy Moidel and Andy DePaul became local celebrities. Although Rudy Miller and Ace Freeman ran things smoothly while he was away, Bruno sold the promotion in 1971. He was later asked by Buffalo-based owners to help with the booking of Pittsburgh area shows. The local TV show was cancelled in 1974, the office closed and Pittsburgh became part of the WWWF territory.
 World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation (1959-1988)
 Early headlines (1959-1962)
Sammartino started wrestling in 1959. Within six months of his debut in wrestling, Bruno headlined Madison Square Garden in tag matches, teaming with Antonino Rocca. Bruno's first match in the Garden was January 2, 1960 against Bull Curry(who was substituting for Killer Kowalski). During his first year wrestling, after tiring of low payoffs and broken promises, Bruno left McMahon's Capitol Wrestling Corporation to join a rival New York promoter and former McMahon Sr. partner Kola Kwariani. Kwariani's hold on New York soon weakened by low gates and athletic commission pressure to curb violence. In an effort to get the crowds back up, Kwariani had Bruno wrestle his tag partner Antonino Rocca twice during this time. Bruno was told by Rudy Miller to jump back to McMahon. Bruno found himself with even less dates and payoffs than the first time he wrestled for McMahon. He then gave notice to McMahon that he was going to San Francisco, and its large Italian population, to wrestle for promoter Roy Shire. Very soon after arriving, Bruno was informed by the local athletic commission that he was suspended. Unable to find work across the country (every state athletic commission honors suspensions given by other state athletic commissions), Bruno headed back to Pittsburgh to work as a laborer. Bruno found out that his suspension was due to his skipping a match he was booked for in Baltimore. He was also booked to wrestle in Chicago that same night. In his autobiography, Bruno states that he believed McMahon set him up, by double booking him and not informing him of his match in Baltimore, as a way of punishment for working for Kwariani. After promoter's Toots Mondt and McMahon Sr. cleared up Bruno's suspension by paying his $500 fine, Bruno went back to work with few dates and low payoffs again.
On the advice of wrestler Yukon Eric, Bruno contacted Toronto promoter Frank Tunney hoping to take advantage of Toronto's large Italian population. Very quickly with the help of self-promotion in local newspapers and radio programs, Bruno became a strong attraction in Toronto. With Canadian legend Whipper Billy Watson, Bruno won his first championship, the NWA International Tag Team Championship. Soon he was in demand by other promoters in different Canadian territories. Back in New York, McMahon Sr. was having a tough time drawing with Buddy Rogers. After many weeks of phone calls with McMahon, Bruno got his title shot with Rogers. Even after he won the WWWF Heavyweight Championship, Bruno never forgot Tunney's kindness and went back every other Sunday to wrestle on his big shows. He made major headlines when he became the first (and only) man to lift 600-pound Haystacks Calhoun in a match and slam him.
On February 18th, 1961 Bruno faced Chick Garibaldi in an afternoon match at the Sunnyside Gardens in New York. During the match, Bruno body slammed Garibaldi and immediately noticed his opponent's eyes roll up inside his head. By the time the ref checked on the fallen wrestler, he was dead in the ring. It was later determined that Garibaldi had died from a heart attack. In the movie, Legends Never Die, Bruno stated that it took him many years to get over that incident.
 Longest Reigning WWWF Champion (1963-1971)
He won the WWF World Championship title on May 17, 1963, defeating "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers in just 48 seconds. In order to get Rogers in the ring with Bruno, Rogers was not told of the planned title switch. When the ref had both men meet in the center of the ring, Bruno informed Rogers that, "This is it". When Bruno put Rogers up on his shoulders for a backbreaker, Bruno told Rogers to just give it up. Rogers complied. Bruno kept this title for an incredible seven years, eight months, and one day; it still stands as the longest continuous world title reign in men's wrestling history.
Bruno was so incredibly popular, that in 1965 he was picked to defeat Lou Thesz, becoming the first wrestler to hold both the NWA and WWWF titles at the same time. Bruno, already getting only every other weekend off, balked when told that he may have months with zero time off. NWA officials then selected Gene Kiniski to replace Thesz. 
On September 28th 1965, after a match with Tarzan Tyler in Madison Square Garden, Bruno went to a restaurant in Times Square. When he returned, he found that a window in his car was shattered and his championship belt, which had been placed in a suitcase, was stolen. The value of the belt was placed at $10,000, was uninsured, and was immediately replaced by the WWWF. Sammartino headlined cards that filled Madison Square Garden on a monthly basis, over 200 times overall, the most of any individual. He battled the top heels of his time, including Killer Kowalski, Giant Baba, Gene Kiniski, Dr. Bill Miller, Bull Ramos, Hans Mortier, Waldo Von Erich, "Crusher" Reginald Lisowski, Johnny Valentine, The Sheik, Fred Blassie, Curtis Iaukea, Tarzan Tyler, Bill Watts, Gorilla Monsoon, and George "The Animal" Steele.
On January 18, 1971, Sammartino lost the title at Madison Square Garden to Ivan Koloff. The crowd was so stunned into silence that Sammartino thought his hearing had been damaged. After the pin, Koloff slowly walked across the ring while the ref raised his hand three times. The announcer came into the ring with the belt but did not present it to Koloff. Ivan humbly left the ring while Bruno stayed inside to keep the crowd's attention off Koloff. As Bruno left the ring, the sounds of men and woman sobbing sprang from the silence, with people telling Bruno they still loved him while he walked back to the dressing room. Bruno has said that the crowd's reaction disturbed him while he sat in the dressing room after the bout.
Three weeks later, Pedro Morales won the title off Koloff. While Morales drew well in New York, the crowds fell off in other cities. In 1973, Bruno was asked back by McMahon Sr. After refusing McMahon's initial offer, Bruno was offered a percentage of all the gates when he wrestled and a decreased work schedule. Soon after, Bruno and champion Morales wrestled in a series of tag matches. In one tag match, Professor Tanaka blinded both men which resulted in a slugfest between Sammartino and Morales. When their eyes cleared, they still went after each other to the surprise of the crowd. On September 1, 1972 both men wrestled to a 75 minute draw at Shea Stadium in New York. The gate narrowly missed becoming the largest take for an outdoor wrestling show at that time.
On January 14, 1972, Bruno Sammartino returned to Los Angeles, California for the first time in five years to participate in the highlight of promoter Mike LeBelle's year -- a 22-man, $11,000 battle royal. The Battle Royal had an awesome list of competitors such as Rocky Johnson, Mil Mascaras, John Tolos, Haystack Calhoun, Ripper Collins and many others. The final two men left in the ring were Collins and Sammartino. After brawling for about five minutes they finally noticed that they were the only ones left. After Sammartino used bodyslams to soften up Ripper Collins he finally applied the bearhug. Collins submitted and Bruno was the champion, and the $11,000 winner, of the third annual Olympic Battle Royal. This battle royal marked the first time that Pro Wrestling Illustrated had fans vote on Match of The Year. It went on to become the Match of The Year for 1972.
 Second WWWF Championship reign (1973-1977)
Eventually, on December 10, 1973, Sammartino regained the WWWF Championship, defeating Stan Stasiak. He defeated the likes of John Tolos, Bruiser Brody, Ken Patera, Bugsy McGraw, Fred Blassie, Baron Von Raschke, Waldo Von Erich, Ivan Koloff, "Superstar" Billy Graham, Don Leo Jonathan, Angelo Mosca, Ernie Ladd, and Nikolai Volkoff. His second title run lasted three years, four months, and twenty days.
During this time, on April 26, 1976, Sammartino suffered a neck fracture in a match against Stan Hansen at Madison Square Garden, when Hansen improperly executed a body slam. After two months of recovery, Sammartino returned, and faced Hansen in a rematch on June 25, 1976 at Shea Stadium, which was on the closed circuit TV undercard of the famous Ali vs. Antonio Inoki match for WWWF cities. Bruno was rushed back into action by Vince McMahon Sr. when the advance gate for the show was a disaster. Sammartino scored a decisive count-out win, after Hansen ran from the ring and, more importantly, again saved the WWWF from financial ruin by drawing a huge live gate and big closed circuit TV receipts in WWWF territories (the Ali/Inoki show, without the Bruno/Hansen match, tanked in much of the rest of America). The match was rated 1976 Match of the Year by a number of wrestling magazines.
His second title reign was only supposed to last a year but each year Bruno received bigger payoffs to stay on. In early 1977, after suffering a broken neck and many other ailments, Bruno informed McMahon Sr. that he was done with his second title reign. It ended on April 30, 1977 when he was defeated by "Superstar" Billy Graham in a controversial ending when Graham had both feet on the ropes while successfully pinning Sammartino.
 After World Title (1978-1987)
Free once again to set his own schedule, Bruno toured the U.S. and the world. He wrestled then-NWA Champion Harley Race to a one hour draw. He also beat, among many others, Blackjack Mulligan, Lord Alfred Hayes, and "Crippler" Ray Stevens, and teamed with the legendary Dick the Bruiser to win the WWA Tag Belts from The Valiant Brothers.
One of the most emotionally-charged feuds of Bruno's career started on January 22, 1980, when his former student Larry Zbyszko violently turned against him during a scientific exhibition, broadcast on the World Wrestling Federation's Championship Wrestling show. Bruno, shocked and hurt by Zbyszko's betrayal, vowed to make Zbyszko (whom Bruno described as a "Judas") pay dearly. Their record-setting series culminated on August 9, 1980, in front of 36,295 fans at Shea Stadium. As the main event of the Federation's Showdown At Shea card, Bruno defeated Zbyszko inside a steel cage. This feud is still considered the most successful ever in the northeast.
Hulk Hogan claims in his autobiography that he and André the Giant were the reason for the Shea gate. However, Sammartino/Zbyszko sold out everywhere they wrestled leading up the show. Hogan and Andre wrestled in White Plains, New York, drawing 1,200 in a building that held 3,500 as the main event before they wrestled at Shea.
After retiring from wrestling full-time in 1981, Bruno agreed to return to the then-WWF in an attempt to launch the wrestling career of his son David, who became a wrestler against his father's wishes. Bruno wrestled occasionally, teaming with his son against the likes of Paul Orndorff & Bobby Heenan and Brutus Beefcake & Johnny Valiant. David soon realized he was being used as a pawn by Vince McMahon to get his famous father to wrestle (and draw huge crowds in the Northeast). Disenchanted, David quit the WWF several times which forced Bruno to continue to wrestle, in hopes that he could get his son back in McMahon's good graces.
It was during this time that Bruno found out through Angelo Savoldi, an ex-employee of Capitol Wrestling Corp., that he was being cheated by Vince McMahon Sr. on the gate percentages that he was promised. Bruno filed suit in 1979 against McMahon Sr. and Capitol Wrestling.
The suit was settled out of court by McMahon Jr. after his father had died. Part of the settlement included Bruno doing color commentary on the WWF TV show. Sammartino's last major run came during the mid-1980s, following the inaugral WrestleMania in 1985. At that event, Sammartino chaperoned his son, David, in his match vs. Brutus Beefcake. That match ended in a double-disqualification after the Sammartinos began brawling with Beefcake and Johnny Valiant.
Bruno has stated many times that he was coaxed out of retirement by his son David in order for David to receive a push from McMahon Jr. Bruno says that this time period was his least favorite of his career.
Sammartino's most notable feud during this run was with "Macho Man" Randy Savage. He often teamed with Tito Santana and even old enemy George "The Animal" Steele to wrestle Savage and "Adorable" Adrian Adonis. The feud intensified in late 1986 and early 1987 when an irate Sammartino attacked Savage during a TV interview, after Savage bragged about injuring Ricky Steamboat (by driving the timekeeper's bell into Steamboat's throat during a televised match). Sammartino also defeated Savage in a lumberjack match for the WWF Intercontinental Championship (via disqualification, allowing Savage to keep the belt). Videos of the Sammartino-Savage bouts show a much younger Savage getting so extremely tired early on in their matches that Bruno had to often back away from him so Savage could catch his breath.
In late 1985 and early 1986, Sammartino engaged in a feud with Rowdy Roddy Piper after Piper insulted him on Piper's Pit at Madison Square Garden; "Cowboy" Bob Orton had tried to stay in the ring in an attempt to intimidate Sammartino, but the ploy did not work. The "Living Legend" got upper hand in the feud, ultimately defeating Piper in a steel cage match at the Boston Garden. Sammartino also competed in the Battle Royal at WrestleMania 2, but didn't win.
Sammartino's last major series of matches came in the summer of 1987 against The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Title. Although he dominated the matches against the champion Honky, Sammartino never won the title, winning most of his matches by countout or disqualification. Sammartino also fought in a series of matches against Hercules during this time. Hercules Hernandez was the last singles match that Bruno ever wrestled. He won via countout at the Paul Boesch Retirment Show in Houston, Texas on August 28, 1987
Sammartino's final WWF match saw him team with Hulk Hogan to defeat King Kong Bundy & One Man Gang. He continued doing commentary on the WWF's syndicated Superstars of Wrestling until March 1988, at which time he and the WWF parted ways.
 1989 appearance in NWA
On October 28, 1989, Bruno made a special appearance at the NWA PPV Halloween Havoc, where he was the special guest referee in a "Thunderdome" cage match which featured Ric Flair and Sting taking on Terry Funk and The Great Muta. He ended up exchanging blows with Muta at the end of the match and ran him off. He appeared at several WCW events in a minor analysis role in the early 1990s.
 Criticism of pro wrestling today
In his retirement, Sammartino has publicly criticized the direction professional wrestling has taken, making reference to lurid storylines, over-the-top theatrics, and drug and steroid abuse. In particular he has been critical of Vince McMahon, saying that McMahon has been detrimental to his father's creation. Sammartino has refused to provide commentary on WWE-produced retrospectives of his career, instead participating in a series of independently-produced documentaries, including Bruno Sammartino's Legends Never Die, La Roccia, The Passing of the Belt, and The Boys are Back. Despite being the biggest drawing card in wrestling during the 1960s and 1970s, Bruno was not mentioned in the A&E wrestling documentary The Unreal History of Professional Wrestling. He attributes this to McMahon, who provided much of the footage to the production.
On July 26, 2004; Bruno met in Pittsburgh with Vince and WWE officials about doing a DVD release and providing commentary for their 24/7 Channel of classic matches, but Bruno would not agree to be a part of the current product. He was invited to stay for the RAW show that night, but declined because he did not want to be seen endorsing the product. (He was told the main event was Chris Benoit vs. Triple H. He reportedly told them he would've stayed if Benoit was wrestling Kurt Angle; one of the people he said this to was Triple H, who he didn't know. Triple H is Vince McMahon's son in law.) This was also the same night of an incident with Ric Flair(see below). Contract talks stalled. Aside from feuding with wrestling, Bruno also has a strained relationship with his son, David, after "a series of things happened."
 Hall of Fame recognition
Sammartino has refused entry into the WWE Hall of Fame, as he feels it would be hypocritical to accept the invitation after all he's said about them. He is a founding inductee into the unrelated Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, but he did not cooperate with them either. Bruno claims they only inducted him after they realized that Vince McMahon would not have anything to do with them. He is also an inductee of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.Sammartino will be inducted into the World Wide Wrestling Alliance
 Ring of Honor
Sammartino made a special appearance for the independent wrestling promotion Ring of Honor, on September 16th, 2006 in Manhattan, NY, putting over the company in the ring for bringing what he considers real wrestling back to the fans. He posed for photographs backstage with then GHC Heavyweight Champion Naomichi Marufuji and then ROH Champion Bryan Danielson. He also sat for the recording of a shoot interview, conducted by Jim Cornette. Bruno took part of Ring of Honor's first "WrestleMania Weekend" show in Detroit, MI on March 30th, entitled "All Star Extravaganza III", as well, doing an in ring promo where once again he put over Ring of Honor and its wrestlers until he was interrupted by Larry Sweeney.
 Backstage Incidents
- In the late 60's, Bruno was involved in a fight with former PA Athletic Commissioner, Joe Cimino. Cimino was new to his post at this time and overheard Bruno talking about a planned finish against Baron Sicluna in a match in McKeesport, located right outside of Pittsburgh. The commissioner walked over to Bruno and told him he didn't approve of the finish. A short argument ensued which ended with Bruno throwing a punch at the commissioner. Referee Izzy Moidel stepped in to stop the fight and took the punch meant for Commissioner Cimino. The entire incident was witnessed by current Western PA Commissioner and former referee Andy DePaul.
- In his autobiography,The Cowboy and the Cross: The Bill Watts Story: Rebellion, Wrestling and Redemption, Bill Watts tells of witnessing a backstage incident between Bruno and Gorilla Monsoon. Watts said that Monsoon "soon found himself in deep water" when messing with Bruno. He did not go into further detail on the incident out of respect for Monsoon.
- When Bruno was about 51 years old, he was involved in an infamous backstage fight with a former football player. Six men were backstage at a wrestling show in an area that was restricted. When Bruno spotted the men, he told them that if security saw them in this area, they might get in trouble. Rooster Fleming, a former NFL player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, stuck his hand out to Bruno. When Bruno went to shake his hand, Fleming began to squeeze hard. Bruno asked him what he was doing to which Fleming replied "You're nothing but a washed up old man." Bruno responded "Not too washed up to take care of you." Upon hearing that, Fleming took a swing at Bruno but it was blocked. Bruno then punched him and knocked him down. Bruno soon found himself fighting the other five men at once. At this time, the Iron Sheik was in the showers after his match and heard the commotion. He immediately jumped in next to Bruno and the two wrestlers proceeded to "clean house" according to Bruno.
- On July 26, 2004 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh was the site of the infamous "who snubbed who?" non-confrontation with Ric Flair. Flair denigrated Sammartino's wrestling ability in his book. Flair claims Bruno refused to shake his hand at the event; Bruno says Flair saw Bruno coming down the hall, turned, and rushed away.
 In wrestling
- Finishing and signature moves
- "The Living Legend"
 Championships and accomplishments
- GPW Tag Team Championship (1 time) - with Édouard Carpentier
- Maple Leaf Wrestling
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- Match of the Year (1972) Battle royal on January 14, Los Angeles, CA
- Match of the Year (1975) vs. Spiros Arion on March 17, New York, NY
- Match of the Year (1976) vs. Stan Hansen on April 26, New York, NY
- Match of the Year (1977) vs. Billy Graham on April 30, Baltimore, MD
- Match of the Year (1980) vs. Larry Zbyszko at Showdown at Shea in a steel cage match
- Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year (1976)
- Stanley Weston Award (1981)
- Wrestler of the Year (1974)
- World Wide Wrestling Federation
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
|All or part of this article may be confusing or unclear.
Please help . Suggestions may be on the talk page.
- Bruno Returns to Italy With Bruno Sammartino 2006
- Bruno Sammartino Behind the Championship Belt 2006
Note: Both Were Only Released in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- ^ NEWS: CATCHING UP WITH BRUNO SAMMARTINO - The Pro-Wrestling Chronicle
- ^ Ross Davies (2001). Bruno Sammartino (p.77). The Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 0823934322.
- ^ ClassicFigs.com - Where legends are displayed
- ^ Wrestling with fame: Bruno Sammartino still a hero to fans
- ^ YouTube - Iron Sheik and Bruno Sammartino fight in locker room story
- ^ "Pro Wrestling Illustrated Award Winners Inspirational Wrestler of the Year". Wrestling Information Archive. Retrieved on 2008-07-27.
- ^ "W.W.A. World Tag Team Title (Indianapolis)". Puroresu Dojo (2003).
 External links
- Bruno Sammartino at Online World of Wrestling
- Steel Belt Wrestling
- Video: Bruno Sammartino & New Jack Discuss Drugs & Benoit Case
- Video: Beginning of the Sammartino-Zbyzsko feud
"Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers
|WWWF World Heavyweight Champion
May 17, 1963–January 18, 1971
|WWWF World Heavyweight Champion
December 10, 1973–April 30, 1977
"Superstar" Billy Graham