wrestling / Hall of Fame

411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2006: Bruno Sammartino

January 14, 2006 | Posted by Larry Csonka

From the age of 8, there was one and only one thing Bruno Sammartino wanted to do with his life; become a wrestler. As a young child, Bruno idolized a former Olympian named Batisti. Bruno loved the pure athleticism that was wrestling, but always felt there was one thing missing, spectacle. For as much as he loved it, he didn’t feel the overall excitement and enthusiasm. He survived a 2-year bout with Rheumatic fever, as well as the trials of World War II. He and his family left their land of Italy and went in search of opportunity and freedom in America.

Bruno and family moved to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania where he attended school. School wasn’t the only thing that kept him occupied though, every night he would go to a local gym and work out. It was through the gym that he was able to get into contact with wrestling, the one thing he wanted to do. After he was finished with school he worked several construction jobs, and would wrestle on local cards to perfect his craft and then turned pro in 1959. He was incredibly strong, most people that met he couldn’t believe how much raw strength he had. That strength would be a key to his impending success.

His hard work would pay-off as he became a regular wrestler with the WWWF. Bruno was incredibly strong, and connected with the crowds instantaneously. He stacked up wins left and right, and only had one target, the top. He quickly rose through the ranks, and on the night of May 17th, 1963 he defeated “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rodgers to become the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion, just a mere 4-years after turning pro. But Bruno’s hard work was just beginning.

For the next 8-years Bruno defended his title against all comers, and the result was always the same, victory. The man was virtually unstoppable, until January 18th, 1971. That night he met “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff and not only tasted defeat, but lost the title that had been his for 8-years. Sammartino was humiliated, and was on a quest to regain what he fully believed was his title. He faced off against Pedro Morales, who had defeated Koloff for the title after Sammartino lost it in what many call one of the great feuds. Sammartino then went to a time limit draw of 75-minutes with Morales, but no gold. Morales would go on to lose the title to Stan “the man” Stasiak on December 1st, 1973. Sammartino was then awarded a title shot due to being a former champion and having a great winning record. 9-days after Stasiak won the title, he lost it to Sammartino and once again Bruno was a top the wrestling world.

While he was busy being champion, Bruno also had a hand in developing talent, as he is the man that brought in Larry Zbyzko and Spiros Arion. Zbyzko became quickly annoyed as he felt he was always in his teachers shadow, and would do the unthinkable and turn on the Champion. The 2 engaged in a vicious feud, which culminated at Shea Stadium in a steel cage match, where the teacher proved that he was the better man and defeated Zbyzko. Just as Bruno thought all was back to normal, his other pupil Arion also turned on him after the devious Freddie Blassie talked him into it. But once again, Bruno stayed strong and through it all came out victorious against his other pupil.

But as always, on any night something can go wrong. That night was May 1st 1977. The man was “Superstar” Billy Graham, who captured the world title with help from the ropes on a pinning attempt. After 4-years, Bruno was no longer the champion. He challenged Graham again, and a month later Bruno came extremely close to winning the title back, but there was just not enough time as the time limit was reached. This was as close as Bruno would get to the WWWF title again.

Bruno had done all he ever wanted, and did it against the best of the time. Koloff, Stasiak, Morales, Zbyzko, Patera, Ladd and Kowalski. No opponent was too great, as he accepted every challenge ever throw his way. 1985 in Madison Square Garden; the place where he set records for years with 211 appearances, and 187 sellouts; he had his final match when he tagged with his son David. He retired from the ring, one of the few true retirements and agreed to be a color commentator with the WWF. Eventually he would have a fall out with Vince Jr. over the way he did business, as well as other things and left the business. The now WWE has courted Bruno on and off to come back and join their Hall of Fame, but Bruno refuses to work with them in any way, shape or form and holds the grudge to this day.

Bruno is truly a living legend, as to this day he is idolized in Pittsburgh. Even to this very day he can be seen jogging through the parks of Pittsburgh, where he may be a step slower, but still the same man. He always has a minute to stop and chat and sign the occasional autograph. Through all the years and all the fame, he still remains the same man he was when he arrived in Pittsburgh all those years ago. A true champion.

Why Bruno Sammartino was selected…

There cannot be a Hall of Fame without the true Living Legend, Bruno Sammartino. He is regarded as one of the strongest men ever to wrestle, and he was all natural. The man held the WWWF title for an amazing 12+-years over 2 runs. Before the time of PPV, Hulk Hogan and people knowing everything about the wrestling business, he was its true hero. I think in this day and age Sammartino is forgotten by current fans, but the truth is that the current state of wrestling would not be the same if it wasn’t for Bruno. He wrestled as he lived life, with all of his effort and heart. That my friends is why Bruno Sammartino belongs in any Hall of Fame dedicated to Professional Wrestling.


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Larry Csonka

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