Bruno Sammartino, pro wrestling original legend dead at 82

Bruno Sammartino, pro wrestling original legend dead at 82, by Greg Tingle - 19th April 2018


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Bruno Sammartino is dead.

For me, I learnt of this just hours ago having fired up coffee and computer at 6.30am, ready for another day in the competitive world of news media, tech and promotions. All over my sportsfeeds and Google alerts: Bruno is dead. I kept double checking in case it was a hoax - unfortunately it was not. Sammartino was one of my favorites, from when my late father introduced me to the mat game the mid 1970's. My respect and interest in Sammartino is such that I've made this my first news article of the day. The rest will have to wait. As some wrestling fans will remember the slogan, Bruno is Uno (number 1).

For many, he represented all that was good in sports and entertainment, and he was a shining example of what was the American Dream.

Through a series of miracles and sheer determination he escaped war torn Italy to build a new life in America.

Sammartino life and times amazing and fit for a movie

His life was so amazing that its worthy of a movie, if not a world class documentary, following the success of recent releases on other pro wrestling greats such as the late Andre The Giant, and 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair. Fortunately Mr. Flair is very much still with us and is alive and well, and as some wrestling insider may know Flair and the late Sammartino were able to patch things up over the last number of years after an apparent misunderstanding or lack of respect matter backstage. Sammartino, Flair and their contemporaries soon found out that many of pro wrestling real fights were out of the ring, be it with promoters, injuries, and just separating the fact from the fiction, and moving away from their in ring personal to get on with their real life - something many wrestlers have struggled with and was a contributing factor in the early passing away of wrestlers in the 80s and 90s. By necessity, the pro wrestling industry cleaned itself up and leading promoter Vince McMahon, top brass of the WWE, implemented the WWE Wellness Policy. This initiative has been credited to saving many lives. The WWE also works closely with wrestlers to help them achieve success after their in-ring careers are over, thus enabling a sustainable career for many when injures catches up with them. Sammartino never had a personal issue with drugs or alcohol, but did speak out about the once widespread issue in the industry. Mr. Flair, a current living legend of pro wrestling, was known to over indulge in vice for much of his career, and was able to survive a life threatening operation in his bowl region last year that was the result of years of over doing alcohol consumption. Flair's story 'Nature Boy' was released early this year by HBO.

Sammartino champion in and out of the ring

An Italian immigrant who was World Wide Wrestling Federation champion for a record 11 years in the 1960s and '70s, long before the promotion admitted that its matches were scripted and largely choreographed entertainment shows, died this past Wednesday at the age 82.

His death was announced on the WWE website, the promotion also known as World Wrestling Entertainment, the rebrand of the World Wide Wrestling Federation. No other details were provided, but a family friend and former wrestling announcer, Christopher Cruise, told media group The Associated Press that Sammartino had been hospitalized for two months. Sammartino lived in Pittsburgh, which is where he was billed from wrestling ring introductions.

He wrestled in Australia, Spain, Mexico, Canada and Japan, and often drew gates of 20,000 at New York's Madison Square Garden, where he had more than 200 matches.

Sammartino was not like most in pro wrestling. He was a soft-spoken and let his actions in the ring do most of his talking. Numerous media report he was a connoisseur of grand opera, in particularly Verdi. As an amateur athlete, he bench-pressed 565 pounds, he was an average size: under 6 feet tall and a trim 260 pounds, with bulging muscles. He was dwarfed by big men in the industry such as Gorilla Monsoon, Haystacks Calhoun, Killer Kowalski and Andre The Giant.

Sammartino never disputed that professional wrestling matches were fixed. But he hesitated at suggestions that he had ever taken a fall and said his injuries were proofs of his honesty.

“I would be a fool to tell you that there was no fixing,” he told The Washington Post in 1980 as his career wound down. “You ask if wrestling is for real? Well, I think my own body answers that question. I have broken more bones than any of the others — my neck, my collarbone, both arms, wrists, knuckles, all of my ribs, my back. A hairline fracture of the kneecap. My jaw has been wired and rewired. It’s incredible to think people would fake that.”

In 1989, Vince McMahon, the owner of WWE, acknowledged for the first time that its matches were not contests, only entertainment shows featuring story lines, scripts and sometimes high risk choreography. The admission was made to avoid taxes and licensing fees imposed by state athletic commissions.

Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino was born on Oct. 6, 1935, in central Italy, in the town of Pizzoferrato. He was the youngest of seven children of Alfonso and Emilia Sammartino. Four siblings did not survive childhood, such was the testing environment that the Sammartino's were born into.

In 1959, Sammartino signed a $250-a-week contract with Capitol Pro Wrestling, owned by Mr. McMahon and Joseph Mondt, and wrestled in Pennsylvania, New York and other U.S. states. Mr. McMahon and Mr. Mondt later formed the World Wide Wrestling Federation and awarded its heavyweight title to “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in April 1963.

A month later, Sammartino faced Rogers at Madison Square Garden for the title. Rogers was originally supposed to win. But in a story often told in wrestling circles, Sammartino wises up Rogers with a newsflash and reality check in the ring.

“We can do this the easy way, or the hard way,” Sammartino said. He defeated Rogers in 48 seconds, launching his championship career.

After his second reign came to an end in 1977, he wrestled on tours of duty. He retired in 1981 from full-time professional wrestling, although he later appeared in exhibition matches. A few of Sammartino's last matches were with Hercules, The Honky Tonk Man, Randy 'Macho Man' Savage and in-ring loud mouth 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper.

In 2013, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame to much fanfare. He had previously declined induction several times, dissatisfied with what he called lurid story lines, over-the-top theatrics and drug and steroid abuse by professional wrestlers. Around a year prior to induction he built a relationship and good line of communication with WWE executive Triple H, son-in-law to Mr. McMahon, and upon close investigation Sammartino was able to be satisfied that the company has changed for the better, both in-ring and behind the scenes.

Sammartino for many was regarded as a real life hero and what a pro wrestler or other sports champion should be. He had strong morals, was a true gentleman, and when it was time for action he went about it in a no nonsense way. A brawler, and with technical know how. A giant of the sports world who never forgot his roots and the legions of fans who helped keep him at the top of the game for the majority of his amazing career.

It is expected that the WWE will celebrate his life in upcoming television programming, as well as expand on his profile via the WWE Network and company website.

Sammartino's passing is worldwide news, and we with his family, friends and fellow fans well with the news of this legends death. Sammartino's legend lives on.





Sammartino vs 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper (WWE YouTube)



A special look at WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino

EXCLUSIVE - Ernie Ladd vs Bruno Sammartino - MSG 3/1/76 - FULL MATCH

Bruno Sammartino vs. Ivan Koloff - WWE Championship Match: Madison Square Garden November 17, 1975

Piper's Pit with Bruno Sammartino: Madison Square Garden, October 21, 1985

Bruno Sammartino announces his retirement: Championship Wrestling, August 12, 1981

Bruno Sammartino vs. Hercules: Houston Live Event, August 28, 1987